FFRF spotlights Illinois principal’s preachiness

1LaHarpeCommunity

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking an Illinois elementary school principal to take First Amendment lessons.

La Harpe Elementary School Principal Lila McKeown reportedly uses her position to promote her personal religion to teachers and students.

FFRF has received information that McKeown regularly distributes flyers to teachers at staff meetings, and that the flyers often include bible verses and otherwise promote religion. One is pictured above. Others have included the following language:

  • On This Thanks Giving Day, May Your Home Be Filled With Loving Presence of Our Almighty God, May His Presence Be Felt In Your Home, And May His Gift Of Peace Be Present In Your Home. Reflect Upon His Blessings To You And Thank Him For What He Has Done For You.
  • Isaiah 9:6–7 ("For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God.")

The principal must not promote religion at staff meetings, FFRF asserts.

"As a government entity, La Harpe Elementary is constitutionally prohibited from promoting or endorsing religion," FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne writes to La Harpe Community School District 347 Superintendent Ryan Olson. "When Principal McKeown regularly promotes Christianity to teachers, and distributes passages from the bible at official district-sponsored events, employees will conclude that their government employer is endorsing religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all other faiths."

McKeown reportedly has also regularly allowed outside adults, likely members of the Gideons, to distribute bibles to students at the school's doors, most recently on April 20.

La Harpe Elementary may not allow bible distributions on school property, FFRF contends.

"It is unconstitutional for public school districts to permit Gideons to distribute bibles as part of the public school day," Jayne writes. "Courts have uniformly held that distributing bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited."

Public schools have a constitutional obligation to protect the rights of conscience of young and impressionable students. When a school distributes religious literature to its students or permits evangelists to distribute religious literature to its students, it entangles itself with that religious message — in this case an overtly Christian message.

Principal McKeown's history of distributing Christian religious literature makes her decision to allow outside adults to distribute bibles to district students even more concerning, FFRF contends. It appears that McKeown is committed to promoting her personal religion to both students and teachers at La Harpe Elementary in multiple different ways.

FFRF is requesting that the school district investigate the matter.

"The principal's reading of the Constitution is deeply flawed," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "She needs some remedial lessons."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members and 20 chapters across the country, including over 1,000 in Illinois and a chapter in Chicago. FFRF's 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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