Smith County public schools settles lawsuit regarding prayer in class, events

Local News

SMITH COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — Guided prayer in a public school system is costing a school district in a settlement, the district must now stop promoting religion in the classroom and on the field.

“We’re not allowed to do it at the sporting events, which is something we’ve always done,” New Middleton parent Lisa Gibbs told News 2 Wednesday, “It’s a tradition.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), both national and the Tennessee chapter, filed the federal lawsuit last year, challenging the promotion of religion in the Smith County school system on behalf of two Atheist families who made numerous claims about school-led prayer during mandatory assemblies, distribution of bibles during classes, and prayed on loudspeakers at sporting events.

The ACLU said this was in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allowing freedom of religion.

News 2 tried to talk with parents picking up their children Wednesday and every parent we asked was actually upset about the settlement.

“I mean it’s their right, if people don’t want to pray they don’t have to, but I feel like the moment of silence should still be there for us to pray,” said parent Kelly Elrod.

“I don’t think they were forcing it, if you look at the great churches we have in this community, nothing’s ever forced on these kids. They always want to do it, most of them are leading it,” explained Gibbs.

The school board said in a statement last month that they found not all, but some allegations were in fact true. They settled the suit Tuesday paying both families one dollar as a symbol acknowledging they violated constitutional rights and they will also pay for attorneys fees.

The school board also said it will not eliminate any ‘constitutionally-appropriate’ prayer in schools, but will also not infringe on the students’ rights to exercise their religious freedoms from here on out.

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