First Amendment prevails in Alabama high school

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has been assured that an Alabama high school principal will not abuse his position to promote personal Christian beliefs.

It was reported last month that an LGBT student at Alexandria High School in Anniston, Ala., was suspended after asking her girlfriend to prom during a school talent show. On Feb. 1, Principal Mack Holley used the school’s public announcement system to admonish the couple by stating, “this is a Christian school” with “Christian values.” He went on to apologize to anyone who had been offended by the “promposal,” and asked for the school community to pray for him “during these trying times.”

FFRF sent a letter in February to Calhoun County School District Superintendent Joe Dyar to ensure that Holley would not abuse his position at the high school to preach his personal religion to students in the future. Alexandria High School is a government-run public school, not a Christian school, FFRF noted. And it is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion.

“Principal Holley’s conduct sends a message of religious preference that is itself unconstitutional,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line. “When a district allows one of its administrators to promote religion over nonreligion, and in this case Christianity over all other faiths, to impressionable students, it alienates those non-Christian students whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted.” 

FFRF emphasizes that with nearly half of young Americans identify as non-Christian, Holley’s message was particularly inappropriate.

Dyar informs FFRF that measures have been taken to protect Alexandria High School students’ rights of conscience. In a letter FFRF received earlier this week, Dyar reported that Holley was reminded that his position cannot be used to reinforce his personal religious beliefs.

“He was reminded that employees may have a right to their own deeply held beliefs but that using an administrative position and school resources to share those beliefs was and is inappropriate,” writes Dyar.

FFRF is pleased that Calhoun County School System has taken action to foster the welcoming, inclusive educational environment it claims to strive for.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is is a nationwide nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members across the country, including hundreds in Alabama. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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