ACLU in Tennessee court to defend religious freedom

A trial stemming from an American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee lawsuit asking for an end to the unconstitutional endorsement of religion at a Wilson County elementary school is underway in the United States District Court for the Middle Tennessee District of Tennessee.

The trial was necessitated after the Wilson County School Board rejected a settlement reached on Tues., Dec. 11, in which school officials agreed to hold religious activities on the campus of Lakeview Elementary School in Mt. Juliet outside of regular school hours and make clear they do not discourage, endorse or promote any religious activities or beliefs.

“We are disappointed the school board rejected the settlement agreement we had reached with Wilson County Schools because we felt it would have been an important step toward greater religious liberty in Wilson County and was in keeping with our goal of protecting religious freedom for all Tennesseans,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “But we remain committed to achieving those aims through trial.”

The lawsuit charges that officials from Lakeview Elementary and Wilson County Schools violated the Constitution by encouraging a variety of religious activities to occur on campus, including praying during school hours by a group of parents who then distributed fliers in classrooms informing individual students they had been prayed for.

The lawsuit also charges that teachers at Lakeview Elementary led prayer and religious songs inside school classrooms.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the family of a former Lakeview Elementary School kindergarten student, who says its attempts to have school officials cease the religious activities on campus were rebuffed. The family also says school officials encouraged them to withdraw their child from school.  

“Religion is best served when government stays out of deciding which religions to promote,” Weinberg said. “We want to ensure that religious liberty flourishes by allowing students and their families – and not the government – to determine whether to pray, how to pray and to whom to pray.”

The lawsuit seeks a court order preventing Wilson County Schools from violating the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution by promoting religious activities during the school day and names as defendants Wilson County Schools; James Davis, the district’s director of schools; Wendell Marlowe, principal of Lakeview Elementary School; Yvonne Smith, assistant principal of Lakeview Elementary School; and Janet Adamson, a teacher at Lakeview Elementary School.

The case is being argued by ACLU staff attorney Tricia Herzfeld and ACLU cooperating attorney Eddie Schmidt.

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