July/August 2008 Church & State | AU Bulletin

Teachers and administrators at a Tennessee public school may no longer wear “I Prayed” stickers at school, nor give preferential treatment to an outside prayer group, a federal district court has ruled.

The school allowed a group called Praying Parents to meet during instructional time and to pass out fliers to students on campus. The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee filed the case on behalf of an anonymous student who felt the group was promoting Christianity at the school.

On May 29, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Echols agreed. In Doe v. Wilson County School System, he ruledthat “the overtly religious purpose of the group overshadowed any secular purpose it might have had…. The effect of the group’s predominant religious purpose was to advance Christianity at Lakeview.”

The court continued: “The Praying Parents’ practices and programs at the school caused the Lakeview administrators and teachers to become excessively entangled with religion,” a violation of the First Amendment.

One of the ways the school’s administration endorsed Christianity was by wearing “I Prayed” stickers during class time after a National Day of Prayer in 2006.

Wendell Marlowe, principal for the school at the time of activities in the lawsuit, told The Tennessean, “I don’t feel like I was entangled in anything. I didn’t feel like I was treating them any different than any other organizations like Girl Scouts or Eagle Scouts.”

The group may still distribute fliers and signs, but the fliers must include a disclaimer that the public school system does not endorse or sponsor any religious events.