Tennessee school system promotes Christianity, lawsuit claims

A pair of atheist families are suing a Middle Tennessee school district in federal court, claiming officials there promote Christianity.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Nashville by the American Civil Liberties Union, claims Smith County school officials engage in unconstitutional practices including school-sponsored prayer during assemblies and Bible distribution during classes.

The ACLU filed suit on behalf of plaintiffs Kelly Butler, Jason Carr and Sharona Carr on behalf of their children and names the following defendants: the Smith County Board of Education, Smith County Director of Schools Barry Smith, Smith County Middle School Principal Kelly Bell and Smith County High School Principal Dusty Whitaker.

“Christian, Muslim, and atheist students, among others, attend Smith County High School and Smith County Middle School in the Smith County School System. But that matters little to school officials,” the 21-page suit reads. “For years, they have routinely promoted and inculcated Christian religious beliefs by sponsoring religious activities and conveying religious messages to students at these two schools.”

The suit goes on to state religious iconography and messages adorn the walls of the schools and that teachers proselytize their Christian faith.

“All of these activities send a clear message to minority-faith and non-religious students that they are second-class members of the school community while their Christian peers are favored by school officials. Public schools belong to all and all belong in public schools. School officials’ blatant promotion of Christianity cannot be reconciled with this principle. Nor can school officials’ promotion of religion be reconciled,” the suit states.

Smith could not immediately be reached for comment.

Plaintiff Leyna Carr is a student at Smith County High School. She said in a news release, “At school everybody makes it seem like you have to believe in one thing, just like them. It’s very awkward and uncomfortable.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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