Parents sue public south Georgia school for holding prayer in class

Two members of Freedom From Religion Foundation are suing a south Georgia school because they say it is conducting daily prayers in class and embarrassed their children after the parents complained.

One teacher proselytized one child and another child felt so uncomfortable at school that the parents started to home school, said the lawsuit filed in federal court in Statesboro Monday.

Attempts to reach Valerie Watson, principal of Swainsboro Primary School, and Kevin Judy, superintendent of the Emanuel County school system, were unsuccessful.

The lawsuit cloaks the parents and two children in anonymity. It describes the two children as Jesse and Jamie Doe and their parents as John and Jane Doe. They are members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an advocacy group regarding church-state issues assisting in the lawsuit.

“Jesse was pressured all semester long to pray,” the foundation said in a statement. “(His first-grade teacher) even held Jesse back from recess to explain her personal Christian beliefs at length, and said that Jesse’s mother was a bad person for not believing in God.

“At the end of the semester, Jesse began to join in the classroom prayers because of … continued coercion.”

The prayers before lunch were not long —- “God our Father, we give thanks, for our many blessings. Amen” was one example. But the foundation noted they still interfered with the family’s beliefs.

The issue arose at the start of this school year when the parents learned that group prayers were being led in their children’s kindergarten and first-grade classrooms in the primary school.

They protested to principal Watson. That only made the matters worse when the two teachers involved responded by telling the Doe children to sit in the hall during prayers, the lawsuit contends.

Jamie’s teacher announced to the entire kindergarten class that Jamie was not allowed to pray to God and then told Jamie to wait in the hallway while the rest of the class prayed, the lawsuit said.

A classmate teased Jamie because he thought he was being punished for failing to pray, the lawsuit said. Jamie became so uncomfortable his parents started home schooling him, the lawsuit said.

Jesse told his parents that his first-grade teacher “used her ‘mean voice’ when instructing him to wait in the hallway.” The teacher also “told the class that Jesse cannot recite the Pledge of Allegiance with the rest of the class, since it contains the words ‘under God’ … which further stigmatized and singled out Jesse,” the lawsuit said.

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