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A legal group that advocates for atheists, agnostics, and nontheists are calling for an investigation into an Alabama teacher after she incorporated a coloring book picture of Jesus accompanied by a Scripture passage into a lesson plan.
Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit organization that advocates for a strict separation of church and state, sent a letter to Lawrence County Schools Superintendent Jon Bret Smith on July 21.
The letter expressed concern that a first-grade teacher at the district’s Moulton Elementary School “taught students about Jesus Christ and Easter, and also provided students with religious coloring book pages to take home.”
The coloring book page in question featured a picture of Jesus Christ along with the words “Jesus is alive” and included a reference to Mark 16:6, a Bible passage that discusses the resurrection of Jesus.
The FFRF letter to Smith follows a complaint from a concerned parent, who maintained that the coloring book page was “not included in the class’ curriculum.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line said that the purpose of the letter was to “request that the District immediately investigate and ensure that [the teacher] and any other teachers in the district are no longer teaching students religious lessons, distributing religious materials to students, or otherwise indoctrinating students into a particular religious belief.”
Line added, “The District must make certain that none of its employees are unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters by giving religious assignments, teaching about religion, or promoting their personal religious beliefs. We ask that the district immediately investigate this situation and ensure that [the teacher] fully complies with the Establishment Clause and stops violating the rights of her students and parents.”
The letter cited the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court case Edwards v. Aguillard finding that “[f]amilies entrust public schools with the education of their children, but condition their trust on the understanding that the classroom will not purposely be used to advance religious views that may conflict with the private beliefs of the students and his or her family.”
“Using a religious holiday, Easter, as a pretext to teach religious lessons in a public school is unconstitutional,” Line maintained. “If the district turns a blind eye to the overt proselytization in [the teacher’s] classroom, it becomes complicit in an egregious constitutional violation and breach of trust.”
For his part, Smith contends that the teacher did nothing wrong. In a statement to The Decatur Daily, Smith said, “From my point of view, an investigation is not warranted” because the teacher was “teaching from the course of study.”
FFRF rejected the comparison of Easter to Christmas, describing Christmas as “a national holiday with pagan origins and many seasonal and secular accompaniments” in contrast to Easter, which it characterized as “a celebration of the supposed resurrection of the Christian deity” and “not a federal holiday.” FFRF officials believe that the teacher went beyond the course of study.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor asserted in a statement, “Public schools exist to educate, not to indoctrinate. The school district must take action to stop proselytization of a captive audience of 5- and 6-year-old students.”