A public school district is Georgia is drawing national attention for its controversial policy that forbids employees from participating in prayer.
It's not new for public schools wary of a lawsuit to warn teachers and coaches about public prayer, but the Coweta County District sent out a letter with explicit instructions after atheist group Freedom from Religion Foundation came knocking.
Coweta County, located southwest of Atlanta, is home to approximately 138,000 citizens.
After FFRF obtained a photo of a football coach bowing in prayer, the school district's attorney sent out a letter stating school employees "cannot join hands, bow their heads, take a knee or commit another act that otherwise manifests approval with the students' religious experience."
"If it's student-initiated prayer, it's protected," responds Pacific Justice Institute attorney Brad Dacus.
"And a teacher or coach simply being there in the presence of those students, and possibly bowing their head," says the attorney, "has never been found in our courts of today to be a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment."
Dacus, Brad (PJI)FFRF and similar groups often cite the establishment clause as their pretext to send threatening letters that often warn of a lawsuit.
The atheist group's threat to Coweta, and the school's threat to its employees, caught the attention of Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes.
After receiving a copy of the new policy, Starnes reported in a Nov. 7 commentary that football coach John Small was captured in a post-game video bowing his head with the football team. That image apparently found its way to FFRF.
By punishing the football coach or anyone else for participating, says Dacus, the school district is actually failing to show neutrality toward religion.
"It shows hostility to religion," he warns, "a potential violation of the First Amendment establishment clause."
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