Kentucky Department of Education Reminds Public School Superintendents That Teachers Should Not Proselytize During Work

Earlier this week, the Kentucky Department of Education did something every state’s education department should do: They sent an email to every public school district superintendent in the state (173 of them in all) reminding them what the law says about church/state separation:

This is not a public school. Don’t forget it!

School staff may not participate in the dissemination of Bibles or other religious items, but students may do so as long as such activities take place between classes, at recess or other free time, and “so long as the students aren’t simply acting as agents for adults in doing so,” the KDE email said.

“While the distribution of Gideon Bibles in classrooms by either Gideon members or school officials was once commonplace in schools throughout the country, the practice has been ruled unconstitutional by multiple federal courts and is generally accepted to be an unconstitutional practice,” the agency said. “If a district wants to consider allowing the distribution of religious material by outside groups to students while at school, this should be done in consultation with board counsel upon thorough research of the federal law on this issue and with the understanding that the policy will result in the mandated allowance of the distribution of all religious groups’ material to students and no discretion or denial of a request to distribute can occur.

“The KDE therefore strongly recommends and advises school districts to adhere to the complete prohibition on the distribution of religious material to students at public schools (or during ingress or egress from school) to ensure adherence to the federal law’s requirements and to reduce the likelihood of costly litigation,” the email said.

The email also addressed prayers on school board meetings (don’t do it) and privately-sponsored baccalaureate ceremonies (perfectly fine).

Considering this is a state where administrators have allowed majority-Christian students to vote on whether or not they wanted prayer at their graduation ceremony and principals have endorsed the teaching of Creationism in science class — and it’s the state that’s home to the Creation Museum — it couldn’t have come at a better time.

(Image via Shutterstock — Thanks to Brian for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • the moother

    I bet they’re tired of proselytising fools and complicit schools ringing up legal fees that could better go to, well, educating kids!

  • linb

    good! if only our superintendent here in sw allen co. indiana would do the same…but no, i received a letter yesterday from swac legal stating that it’s okay for our public school kids to fundraise for christian charities in school projects that are graded…

    • Beth

      Did you contact FFRF or ACLU?

      • linb

        hi! right now i’m trying to handly this proactively with the school before a situation arises. last year, we contacted the aclu to get youth ministers out of the cafeterias at lunch and my kid suffered some bullying from it, even though she’s all for us pursuing the right thing. so, right now, i’m doing what i can and documenting everything.

        • Justin Miyundees

          This is just foolishness with other people’s money – when voters get a bellyful, it’ll maybe change. Voters chronically learn too late and only when they get hit in the pocketbook. It sucks for the kids but it shouldn’t suck for your kids instead!

          If my kids were bullied, I’d come back with attorneys loaded for bear. Remember Faye Dunaway in Chinatown? “I don’t get tough with people Mr. Gittes. My lawyer does.”

          Then there’s the Ratzo Rizzo approach they also foolishly court.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c412hqucHKw

          I’d definitely get FFRF on the case – I’d wager they’ll help you document a case.

          • linb

            yeah, right now though, there is no charitable donation project going on…i’m trying to be preventative because of finding out what they did last year. so i don’t have anything at this point (other than last year’s past misdeeds) to complain specifically about. i asked that secular charities be used when this project-based learning takes shape. the legal advisor has told our superintendent and school principal that my claims of coercion and religious entanglement didn’t apply, even though i’ve cited ffrf legal work in similar cases. i will be addressing this with the school as some of my questions remained unanswered, and i will keep pummelling them with separation issues. so for now, that’s where it’s going. just trying to be proactive without causing too much publicity for my family here in this area.

            • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

              You, the parent on the ground in the shit, need to make your own choices that are best for you, and the rest of us, not in the shit, need to back you up and assist you any way we can.

              I’m going to send a little extra to FFRF today so it’s there to back you. And if not you, then someone else.

              • linb

                thanks all! i appreciate you listening to me vent here. if i need to take this issue further, i’ll post & contact ffrf. thanks again!

    • TheG

      Yeah… that might be something Rebecca over at FFRF might want to see.

  • Esquilax

    And countdown until some stupid whining comment about persecution and the war on christianity from somewhere in five, four, three…

  • Anymouse

    I disagree that it couldn’t have come at a better time. It could have come last year, and the year before, and the year before, and so on.

  • Beth

    Wonderful news! A positive and proactive step. Well done.

  • TCC

    I confess, I don’t really know of any record of problems in the KY Dept. of Ed like we’ve seen with, for instance, Texas or Kansas. In fact, my impression (albeit one that isn’t based on a ton of experience) is that Kentucky is actually not that bad in terms of how it handles education and especially in its efforts to reform K-12 education. As tempting as it might be to write KY off as another backwards Southern state (and there is ample reason to consider it in other areas), I don’t think that education is one of the areas where they ought to be criticized.

  • Michaela Samuels

    “Oh, that’s easy to counter. God’s law is over the nation’s law.”

    Just wait for it.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      They’ll get desperate enough to go in that direction sooner rather than later.

    • TheLump

      No need to wait. It’s already here and there. We’ll just hear it louder now.

  • Justin Miyundees

    Here in Jawja, they need to reduce this “the policy will result in the mandated allowance of the distribution of all religious groups’ material to students and no discretion or denial of a request to distribute can occur” to a poster that stares at the teacher from the back wall of the classroom “Would it be okay with me if a Muslim said this?” (look at the fits Jindal supporters had when they realized vouchers could used by Islamic schools! ) or alternately “WWOD?” (What would Obama do?) * G’yuk yuk yuk…*

  • Steph

    When I was in high school (In Kentucky), my AP Chemistry teacher told our class that he believed evolution wasn’t real and that God had just made it look like it had happened to test our faith. That was one of the instances that stick out in my head (And I honestly probably don’t remember most of them–I was more religious at the time, and didn’t have the problem with it then that I do now) but I had some teachers where it was a pervasive thing. They’d try and slip in as many mentions of their religious beliefs as possible.

    That said, I wish this would help, but I’m not holding my breath. The superintendent here is widely known to be a conservative Christian.

    • mjcart2

      Thats interesting..I went to HS in KY and didn’t ever experience that in school. But I went to HS in one of the like three liberal counties we have.

    • Rev. Achron Timeless

      There were a couple little comments I remember from going through the Ky school system, but nothing really even now that I’d make a big deal out of. Very short simple prayer at graduation that was the student’s choice, and wasn’t of the “attack prayer” variety.

      The weirdest thing that ever happened was apparently some parents made a huge deal about their child wasn’t allowed to hear anything about Santa Claus is it was satanic or something. So any time in middle school that we would do some project related to the secularish symbols of the holiday, he’d go sit in the hallway and the teachers had to make a big speech about how anyone else who felt the need to could also wait in the hall as well.

      Incidentally, that same kid was the one that constantly harassed me in high school, bible always in hand. Well, he did, until I pointed out the whole “King James VERSION” on the spine and he ran off crying. Was so sheltered, he’d never read the outside of the book before. *sigh* So mostly it was the school trying to accommodate his crazy ass parents.

  • http://www.everydayintheparkwithgeorge.com/ Matt Eggler

    Looks like the people who pay the bills are laying down the law.

    • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

      Maybe they’re finally picking up on the critical link between “breaking the law” and “paying huge amounts of money after they lose the resulting lawsuits brought on by breaking the law.” It’s amazing to me how fast they seem to have gone from being convinced that school-sponsored evangelism is super-important to advising against it.

  • Brian Westley

    It did take a bit of doing for this to happen; the KY ACLU sent letters to a number of schools about such violations over a year ago, and just recently they said they would start filing lawsuits because the letters didn’t stop the violations. Hence this stern reminder from the Dept. of Education.

  • TheBlackCat13

    Yeah KDE rocks! Down with Gnome!

    …whoops wrong KDE.

  • Zarius Corten

    Or they might just be tired of having bricks thrown through their care windshields…

  • Sue Blue

    Will wonders never cease…still, there’s a cynical voice in my brain that wants to say this is just a sop to pacify the more vocal and litigious rationalists in Kentucky. It will probably be parsed into insignificance by many school boards and ignored outright in the snake-handling backwoods, where it will be seen as a sign of apostasy in state leadership and promptly burned.