A Clear Violation of Georgia and United States Constitutions

On May 1, a “spontaneous” prayer began in the offices of a Lumpkin County High School coach. According to news reports, it was a started by a student at either 7:30 am or 8:00 am and continued for three to six hours, depending on the source.

50 students and at least four members of faculty were involved. Five if you include the coach. The students were informed through the newest in rumor control devices, cell phone text messaging.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation claims that four teachers abandoned their classes to attend this prayer vigil. FoxNews Atlanta (Fox 5), three of the teachers left their class to a teaching assistant while the fourth abandoned the students completely.

Lumpkin County School Superintendent Dewey Moye told WSB-TV of Atlanta that there would be no action considered for these teachers because public prayer is legal. However, Moye also told the station, “I don’t think they understood there is nothing wrong with praying in school, if it’s a personal prayer, but you cannot have students disrupting the education process to go to the gym and pray.”

It appears that the Superintendent will not be disciplining the Coach John Doe (still unnamed) the principle of the school for allowing this prayer vigil to take place, and the students use of cellphones while in school, a clear violation of the school’s student code of conduct.

Examining multiple reports, it appears that a student had questions concerning faith and God. The student went to one of the coaches, “a man known for his Christian faith,” for advice. Which coach becomes another murky issue.

ABC affiliate WSB-TV and Atlanta’s Fox-5 reported the person to be the weightlifting coach, but a review of the Lumpkin High School’s website shows no specific weightlifting coach. The LCSB’s Code of Conduct states that students can be disciplined for

“Classroom and school disturbances,” “Unexcused absence, chronic tardiness, skipping class, leaving campus without permission,” and “Possession of pocket pager, cell phone or electronic communication device, except for health or unusual reasons approved by the board of education.”

It appears that discipline of the students involved is justified under these terms. Coach Doe, though being asked for advice, should know that any discussion of religion is outside his responsibilities as a coach and while on school grounds that his/her capacity is education and coaching, not Christian religious studies.

Discussions concerning religion and faith, unless done in a philosophy or world history class including world religions is, at least, improper; at worse, a violation of the state and federal constitutions. Article I, Section I, Paragraph III of the Georgia constitution reads,

“Freedom of conscience. Each person has the natural and inalienable right to worship God, each according to the dictates of that person’s own conscience; and no human authority should, in any case, control or interfere with such right of conscience. ”

The “dictates of that person’s own conscience” includes the freedom from religion as it does freedom of religion. The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

By faculty and possibly school administration allowing and joining the students in prayer during class hours and supported by school staff may be a possible violation of the Establishment Clause.

The fact that the coach permitted students and faculty to join in this vigil, during school hours would indicate that he had sanctioned the prayer. That the coach was representing the high school and school district is not in dispute. Therefore, the coach’s actions would lead the possible violation of church and state separation.

These are not fine lines that are occasionally blurred. In Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), the United States Supreme Court established a criteria to determine if an action taken by any governmental entity would be a violation of the Establishment Clause. That test asks three questions;

  1. Does the action have a secular legislative purpose?
  2. Does the action have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion?
  3. Does the action result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion?

In this situation, it appears that the coach clearly established the advancement of his faith and created an ‘excessive government entanglement’ by promoting his faith’s religious traditions to the entire high school in the guise of a prayer meeting. The “proofs” of violation is the perception of the persons affected, not the provider of the religious service.

If students or parents of students believe this activity disrupted education in any manner, the activity crosses Jefferson’s wall of separation.

Calls to the Lumpkin County School Board have not been returned at this time.

I am afraid that this is an important story that will be dropped from the national and regional stage. I am afraid that the religious-right will take this incident to enhance their already inflated vision of a war against Christians.

I am asking my Georgia friends and friends of religious freedom and the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause to voice your positions openly and often – To Dewey Moye, Superintendent of the Lumpkin County School System, Dr.  John D. Barge, Chief Executive Office, Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens. Tell them:

  1. the prayer activity of May 1 is a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by the actions of the still unnamed coach sanctioning the activity;
  2. the prayer activity of May 1 is a violation of the Georgia state constitution;
  3. the prayer activity of May 1 disrupted the school’s activities by teachers abandoning their classrooms and over 50 students leaving classes for a school sanctioned prayer meeting, and;
  4. the use of cell phones to announce the prayer activity was in direct violation of Lumpkin County School’s code of conduct.

 Thank you  

Dr. John D. Barge  Chief Executive Officer
Georgia Department of Education  Tel: (404) 656-2800 E-mail:state.superintendent@doe.k12.ga.us
Dewey Moye, Superintendent
Lumpkin County School System
56 Indian Drive
Dahlonega, GA 30533
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens
Office of the Attorney General 40 Capitol Square, SW Atlanta, Ga 30334
Phone: (404) 656-3300
E-mail: AGOlens@law.ga.gov

Contact David today to speak to your organization about America’s Religiosity, history and law.   Dave@InkandVoice.com

About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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