ADF: Fla. school faculty can participate in, communicate about community-led prayer event

ADF letter corrects inaccuracies in Freedom From Religion Foundation accusations
Tuesday, October 25, 2011

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. — The Alliance Defense Fund sent a letter Friday to Clay County School District officials informing them that voluntary faculty participation in a community-led, before-school prayer event is protected by the First Amendment despite the objections of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The letter also explains that a school principal’s internal newsletter, which mentioned the event, is also constitutionally protected.

“Christian faculty acting in their private capacities do not lose their constitutionally protected right to free speech,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “The Constitution guards the right of staff to participate in the voluntary prayer event just as other community members can. The inclusion of the event in the newsletter that the principal circulated is also fully protected. Neither amount to an endorsement of religion by the school in any way, shape, or form.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the School District of Clay County on Oct. 11 demanding cancellation of a weekly, community-led “Prayer Around the Flagpole” event at Clay Hill Elementary School that occurs before class time and is not sponsored by the school.

The letter also objected to Principal Larry Davis’s mention of the event in his internal newsletter. The newsletter, which he calls “The Bark,” also mentioned several other events and announcements of interest to school faculty and staff, the only recipients of the newsletter. The newsletter is not circulated to students.

The ADF letter cites several court precedents and U.S. Department of Education guidelines that support the right of faculty and staff to engage and participate in religious expression at work and to participate in community-sponsored religious activities before and after their contracted work times.

“Principal Davis did not violate the Establishment Clause by giving equal treatment to the Prayer Around the Flagpole event as was given to other announcements that he believed would be of interest to the teachers and staff,” the ADF letter explains. “Furthermore, based on the cases and the U.S. Dept. of Education guidelines above, staff and teachers have the constitutional right to voluntarily participate in the before-school Prayer Around the Flagpole when doing so in their private capacities as citizens. Their voluntary participation in such events does not cause the District to violate the Establishment Clause. Any attempt to abridge the First Amendment right of school administrators and teachers to participate in voluntary before-school prayer groups would be a violation of their constitutional rights.”

Roger K. Gannam, one of nearly 2,100 attorneys in the ADF alliance, also signed the ADF letter to the district.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.