FFRF educates Indiana school district on religious force-feeding

1MishawakaIN

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is educating an Indiana school district about the unconstitutionality of a religious lesson recently taught at a local elementary school.

A concerned parent from Liberty Elementary School in the School City of Mishawka district contacted FFRF to report that a first-grade teacher assigned an art project earlier this year focused on the biblical nativity story. The project includes the usual collection of characters from Matthew Chapter 1–2, such as the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, an angel, and three wise men. Following this lesson, the parent reported, the teacher taught her class that Christmas was Jesus' birthday and read a book about it.

Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion, FFRF reminds the school district.

"When district staff assign children a religious art project, read students the nativity story, and tell students that Christmas is 'Jesus' birthday,' the district has unconstitutionally endorsed a religious message, specifically a Christian message," FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne writes to Superintendent A. Dean Speicher. "It is also a usurpation of parental authority — parents have the right to direct the religious, or nonreligious, upbringing of their children, not public schools." 

While schools may have secular seasonal celebrations, the promotion of Christmas' religious aspects at Liberty Elementary marginalizes non-Christian parents and students, FFRF points out. A public school — and especially an elementary school whose students are very young — should be eager to set an example of tolerance and inclusion, instead of forcing children whose parents may not want them exposed to religious teachings to create art projects honoring religious figures. Such a practice alienates those non-Christian students, teachers, and parents whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school. It is particularly inappropriate for the 24 percent of Americans who are not religious, including the 38 percent of younger Americans who identify as such. 

FFRF is asking that the Liberty Elementary teacher be reminded of her obligations to remain neutral toward religion while acting in her capacity as a public school teacher and that she not teach or promote religious lessons in the future.

"The forced religious indoctrination of children at such a young age is little short of attempted brainwashing," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "A captive audience of children at a public school should not be subjected to religious proselytization."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members across the country, including over 400 in Indiana. 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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