Last week, counsel for the American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit against Maryetta Public Schools in Adair County, Oklahoma for violating the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The schools have been mandating that young students participate in evangelistic religious activities during school time.
“Maryetta school officials have brazenly violated the First Amendment rights of their students.” said Monica Miller, Legal Director and Senior Counsel of the AHA.
For decades, Maryetta Public Schools has brought Christian missionaries into its classrooms, from prekindergarten through eighth grade, in a monthly class called “Missionaries.” During this hour-long class, three “Missionaries” proselytize Christianity to a captive audience of schoolchildren. Students are given bibles, coloring books, and sing songs about Jesus, all during school hours and under the direct authority of school officials. Non-Christian students have been forced to attend this class without their parents’ knowledge or consent.
“No school official could reasonably believe that it is constitutional to subject impressionable prekindergarten students to overt Christian proselytization in a class called ‘Missionaries’ led by church officials, held during school hours and with no option to leave,” Miller explained.
The AHA filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma on behalf of its members, including two parents and their five-year old daughter who was forced to attend “Missionaries” even over the parents’ express objection. The AHA’s lawsuit seeks to vindicate this serious infringement of students’ First Amendment rights through damages against the school district and responsible school officials, including several named in their personal capacities.
Miller added: “The fact that school officials have run this ‘Missionaries’ program for decades, together with the fact that they have forced children as young as four to participate and have done so without parental consent, makes this case appropriate for punitive damages.”
In a statement attached to the complaint, the five-year-old student testified, “I always felt very uncomfortable during Missionaries class because I don’t like pretending to believe in god.” The mother confirmed that her daughter “acted down and melancholy for several days afterward.”
As soon as the parents learned of Missionaries, they contacted the AHA and informed school officials of their objection to the program. Yet school officials still forced their daughter to participate in Missionaries over their objection.
The lawsuit can be viewed here.