Teachers in Swainsboro, Georgia, have settled a lawsuit out of court for forcing their religious beliefs on students and leading their classes in Christian prayer. The teachers humiliated students who did not want to participate, specifically from the “Doe” family, who had children in the first grade and kindergarten. When the children’s parents complained about the unconstitutional violation of the first amendment, the teachers reacted by demeaning the children in front of their classmates.
As a punishment for praying, the teachers, “told the Doe children to leave their classrooms and sit in the hallway while the rest of the class prayed.” A first grader relayed that the teacher, “used her mean voice” as she told the Doe students to sit in the hallway. It is alleged that Cel Thompson, a kindergarten teacher at the Swainsboro Primary School, “announced to the entire kindergarten class that Jamie [Doe] was not allowed to pray to God and then told Jamie to wait in the hallway while the rest of the class prayed.”
The Doe parents took their child in kindergarten, Jamie Doe, out of Swainsboro Primary after complaints about “feeling uncomfortable at school.” Their other child, Jesse, remained in the first grade. The teachers individually addressed the prayer issue with Jesse, pressuring the child to “give in.” The complaint made by the Doe family alleges that Jesse’s science teacher told Jesse to “make a good decision” regarding the school prayers, and that the gym teacher also stressed a similar solution; to just start praying with the class.
The inappropriateness of the situation came to a head, when Jesse’s homeroom teacher, Kaytrene Bright, would not let the child go to recess, instead meeting with Jesse “to talk about Bright’s personal conception of the Christian god.” She went even further with this, according to the suit, saying Jesse’s mother “is a bad person for not believing in God.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation launched the suit against the school district on Monday and announced it had been settled shortly after. The school district apparently agreed to its conditions, which stated that “teachers have received educational training on their obligations not to promote religious beliefs in their classrooms and the Doe family has been financially compensated for harm they suffered.”
Whether or not the Swainsboro Primary School is really planning to abide by these terms or if they simply agreed to the settlement because they clearly violated the basic separation of church and state is still uncertain. The frequency with which these prayers occurred, the seeming school-wide acceptance of this practice, including the encouragement of such a large body of the faculty to get the Doe children to pray anyway, does not sit well with students who should be able to attend a public school without having religious dogma forced down their throats. There were no dismissals of faculty, which seems to be the heart of the issue. These teachers can claim they will change, but these events clearly indicate that they a par for the course at this institution. The Doe children interfered with the routine, but whether or not it will be permanently interrupted is to be determined. America is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society; for the sake of our social cohesion, we cannot allow these kinds of extremist displays in our public schools.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.