Kentucky high school removes locker room Bible verse after complaint from nontheism group
WHITESBURG, KENTUCKY: A Kentucky public high school has painted over an inspirational Bible verse in the locker room following a complaint from a "concerned area resident."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) had sent a letter to the Letcher County Public Schools in Whitesburg, Kentucky, last November over multiple instances of schools in the district "promoting and endorsing religious messages."
One instance was regarding a bible verse on display at a locker room in Letcher Central High School that read, "But the Lord is with me like a Mighty Warrior. Jeremiah 20:11." The complainant also reported that Fleming Neon Middle School had a display in its hallway that says “Jesus is my savior. You can’t scare me!”
The FFRF, which claims to work as an umbrella for those who are free from religion and promote nontheism and are committed to the cherished principle of separation of state and church, pointed out that by allowing these religious symbols on display, the school district "violates the Constitution."
The organization asked that the district remove all religious messaging and iconography from public school property "in recognition of its constitutional obligation to remain neutral towards religion."
"Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line in the letter of complaint. "These religious displays are particularly inappropriate, given that about 38 percent of Americans born after 1987 are not religious."
"The wanton displaying of religion all over the district shows a callous disregard for students who are not Christian," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor at the time. "The wanton displaying of religion all over the district shows a callous disregard for students who are not Christian. Public schools must be welcoming to all students, and must stay out of religious proselytizing."
Earlier this month, officials at Letcher Central High School and Fleming Neon Middle School both removed the sayings following direction from Superintendent Denise Yonts.
The November complaint had also taken issue with a prayer posted on the official Facebook page of Martha Jane Potter Elementary School that read, "Dear God, Thank you for the gift of education in every form. As our children prepare to start a new year may confidence be their foundation, may grace be their guide and may hope be their compass toward a bright future."
"I pray they would have eyes to see the needs of those around them and a heart to love well. May they face each day with positivity knowing that no matter what comes their way, they do not have to face it alone. Amen.."
The prayer has since been taken down.
The removals were praised by Gaylor, who in a statement, said, "We applaud the district for taking action to remedy this violation. Students in our public schools are free to practice any religion they choose — or none at all."
However, First Liberty Insitute, a religious freedom law firm that successfully defended the Bladensburg Peace Cross — a World War I memorial located in Maryland that was under threat because it represented a cross — at the Supreme Court, has suggested that the district has taken action too soon.
"It is unfortunate that the school took such a drastic step before fully vetting the complaint and doing a proper investigation of the background facts," said Hiram Sasser, general counsel for First Liberty. "It may be the case that the school committed a First Amendment violation by erasing the messages, but until a full investigation is done, it’s impossible to know the correct legal course."