Attorneys with the American Humanist Association (AHA) have filed a lawsuit against a public school district in Oklahoma for requiring students to take part in religious activities.

The suit targets Maryetta Public Schools in Adair County, which is accused of allowing Christian “missionaries” into classrooms to preach to students in pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade.

A press release issued by the AHA asserts that the school offers a monthly class called “Missionaries.” During the hour-long class, the AHA said, three individuals “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.”

Monica Miller, legal director and senior counsel of the AHA, said, “Mary­etta school officials have braz­enly violated the First Amendment rights of their students. No school official could reasonably believe that it is constitutional to subject impressionable pre-kindergarten students to overt Christian proselytization in a class called ‘Missionaries’ led by church officials, held during school hours and with no option to leave.”

The case, American Humanist Association v. Elementary School District No. 22 of Adair County, Oklahoma, was filed in federal court on behalf of two district parents and their 5-year old daughter. The suit asserts that the child was compelled to attend the “Missionaries” class over her parents’ objection.

“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,” Miller said.

In a statement attached to the complaint, the 5-year-old pupil, known as “Jill Doe” in court papers, testified, “I always felt very uncomfortable during Missionaries class because I don’t like pretending to believe in God.” The child’s mother reported that her daughter “acted down and melancholy for several days afterward.”

 

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