School Board Says Prayer is Allowed at Parent-Teacher Meetings… if Teachers Are Banned From Group Leadership

Last week, I posted about how the Franklin County School Board in Tennessee was debating whether or not the Parent-Teacher Organization should be praying at meetings:

The school board’s attorney suggested that a moment of silence would be okay, but a prayer crossed the line — Since the PTO was a school-sponsored group, it was violating the law.

Well, the school board has finally figured out how to handle this.

Oh, they’re still allowing the prayers. But they’re also telling teachers that they can’t be on the board of the Parent-Teacher group:

In a 7-1 vote, a motion approving the amendments to the School Support Organizations policy was approved…

The School Support Organizations policy now reads:

“Parent organizations and Parent-Teacher Organizations are neither school-sponsored clubs nor student initiated clubs. They are considered independent, ‘outside clubs or groups,’ which must meet the terms of this policy to be able to use the name, mascot or logo of a school or the school district to solicit or raise money, materials, property, securities, services, or other things of value. Neither principals nor teachers of any school shall be on any parent organization or Parent-Teacher Organization board of directors.

You read that correctly: Teachers (and principals) can’t help run the Parent-Teacher Organization. And the PTO is no longer sponsored by the school.

Which I guess keeps the district above the law, but basically defeats the whole purpose of have a parent-teacher group in the first place.

Franklin County, Tennessee: Where public school teachers are told to get out of the car because Jesus needs to take the wheel.

(Thanks to Brian for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • 3lemenope

    They got a good throw arc on the baby that sailed out with their bathwater. No info on whether they got a decent spiral.

    Protip: Don’t spike the baby.

    • wmdkitty

      Shit, I already stuffed with weed and LSD…

  • C Peterson

    The number of hoops that have to be jumped through, and tricks which have to be employed, should alert anybody with a modicum of intelligence that the spirit of the law is being violated here, even if the letter is not.

    The amount of time this governmental body is spending on something entirely unrelated to their elected responsibility is shameful.

  • Lothar Lorraine

    As an European I find that pretty mind-boggling.

    But if it so, why not just claiming the right to also have an atheist prayer:
    “Our Mother Reason, blessed be your name. Deliver us from medieval superstitions…”
    I stop here before making a fool of myself with my limited English lyrical talents :=)

    • code_monkey_steve

      “Three point one four one five nine two six five three five nine. Amen.”

      • Quintin van Zuijlen


        • Ron

          ’tis a prayer circle.

      • Ron

        Kudos for presenting a well-rounded response to an irrational argument.

  • Keyra

    Violation of freedom of speech is only okay if it’s atheists in charge, right?

    • 3lemenope


    • James Stevenson

      When Atheists basically mandate that every significant public and communal institution open its meetings with a group-endorsement of a statement, whose meaning is centred upon everyone saying ‘there is no god’, then maybe you’ll have a leg to stand on. That this does not happen in the US or Europe where you have all the fundies coming out of the woodwork fearing secularism just shows the false equivalency at play there.

    • islandbrewer

      I must echo 3lemenope’s comment.


    • C Peterson

      This “freedom of speech” you refer to: I do not think it means what you think it means.

    • Niall Hosking

      Separation of Church and State is also First Amendment. And freedom of speech isn’t absolute, especially for government department and organisations, such as public schools. Hence why parents can supposedly pray, but the school cannot be involved.

      • Keyra

        Separation of church & state is not in the first amendment

        • God’s Starship

          “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

        • C Peterson

          Yes, it is. Your interpretation of the First Amendment is unimportant. What matters is how that amendment has been interpreted in a very large body of case law and legal decisions. And that interpretation is well described as “separation of church and state”.

          • Obazervazi

            Funny how she only responds to posts that are easy to misrepresent.

            I don’t think she doesn’t understand. I think we have a troll on our hands.

        • EdmondWherever

          Even if it weren’t (which yes, it is), would that mean that teachers must be evicted from meetings where prayers are present? ESPECIALLY in a parent-TEACHER-organization? Just go HOME and pray, if you don’t want to have an actual organization! Go to CHURCH and do it, if that’s the purpose of the organization!

    • Belaam

      Having someone get up on behalf of the school board to proclaim that there are no gods and that Jesus is or has become a mythological figure would likewise not be okay.

      I think you’re seeing an absence of any religious speech as equivalent to anti-religious speech. But removing a special privilege is not persecution.

    • EdmondWherever

      Can you people not pray quietly to yourselves, or pray before or after these meetings? Do you REALLY have to hijack government functions with your prayers, to such a degree that when there’s a legal conflict between the presence of PEOPLE attending and the presence of your prayers, that it’s actually the people who have to go? THAT’S what you call “freedom of speech”? Eliminate the teachers from the parent-teacher organization, so that your prayers are in less inappropriate company? Are your magic, telepathic wishes more important to the function of these meetings than the input of the people who work directly with the children for whom these meetings are intended to benefit?
      I’m sorry to be so vulgar, but this is fucking disgusting. “Violation of freedom of speech” my ass. You people TRAMPLE everyone else with your so-called “religious rights”. Your freedom of speech doesn’t mean that people who don’t want to listen to you have to LEAVE.

    • wmdkitty


    • David McNerney

      No it’s not. And I’ve never seen anyone here support that.

    • Fentwin

      Thank you, I was wondering where I’d get my daily dose of non-sequiter.

    • Lthomas320

      You’ve been on this blog for how long and you’re still playing ignorant? What’s the payoff for portraying yourself as a bimbo?

      • Keyra

        Because I don’t agree with you, right? And how am I a “bimbo”?

        • Lthomas320

          No, not because “I don’t agree with you,” but because you never bring a compelling idea to the discourse. You portray yourself as a bimbo (Note: I did not call you a bimbo) when you fail to defend your position cogently. Do the homework. Familiarize yourself with church/state separation case law and judicial precedent. THEN come back and make a persuasive argument for your position. Simple, albeit not easy.

    • Matt D

      Still having trouble understanding the law, Keyra?

  • Lurker111
  • James Stevenson

    Oho I love stuff like this. Just like the fights we have here in the UK about prayer before council meetings. Clearly prayer has a time or distance function that presents it from having power elsewhere. What kind of logical process has you gut the function of an organisation just so you can continue to enforce mandatory prayer in it?

  • Q. Quine


  • A3Kr0n

    We should all send the fruit cakes. 100s and 100s of fruit cakes.

  • Richard Wade

    So this group will be called a PTO, or Parent- Teacher Organization?

    If they don’t know how to use the strike-through html code or they don’t have the patience to keep using it, I suppose they could just call themselves a PO, or Parochial Organization.

    Funny how you never see Joe Klein at Parent-Teacher Organization meetings, with or without the strike-through.

    • Andrew B.

      No, just call it “The Organization.” That sounds insidious. And awesome.

      • Brian Westley

        An Organization without principals…

        • wmdkitty

          I can’t even think of a word that rhymes!

          • Richard Wade

            It’s Argumentum Ad Homonym.

            • wmdkitty

              No, no, no.

              “We got no class
              We got no principals
              We got no innocence
              We can’t even think of a word that rhymes!”


            • David Kopp

              Homophone. Homonyms are like lead (to go first) and lead (the metal) ;)


  • corps_suk

    Just wondering if they would respect my right to yell “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA” as loud as I can during the prayer!

  • tubi11

    Our school’s PTO is independent of the school and district. It’s a 501c3 organization that keeps its own bank account and doesn’t receive any funding form the school. We can’t send flyer home in school packets, or advertise on the school’s website.

    So far, no one has tried to initiate opening prayers. We’re just working on following Robert’s Rules for introducing motions. Baby steps, I guess.

  • God’s Starship

    Now it’s just silly.

  • Rain

    Good thing they didn’t have any teacher organizations with just teachers in them. Everybody would be allowed to pray, but nobody would be allowed to attend. I can hear the lawyer now: “I’ve got some good news and I’ve got some bad news. The good news is everybody can pray. The bad news is nobody is allowed to go. Do you want the good news first or the bad news first.”

  • Mick

    …basically defeats the whole purpose of have a parent-teacher group in the first place.
    The parents and teachers will get together for an informal chat before the meeting begins. They will reach all the decisions as they have done in the past – and then, when the meeting actually begins, the parents on the board will vote in accordance with the earlier decisions. They won’t mind the extra time taken because it’s all so jolly exciting: not only are they breaking the spirit of the law, they are getting away with it. Brave little Christians.

  • David McNerney

    The completely bizarre but necessary next step is that they are going to have to create a group within the school to allow teachers to interface with parents in this PTO. And that group is going to have to hold meetings… which they won’t be able to pray at.

  • Lthomas320

    That was one righteous rant, EW. Thank you for that.