Atheist Group Forces Arkansas High School to Remove Bible Verse, Gospel Song Displays From Choir Room
The Searcy School District in North Central Arkansas has ordered a high school choir teacher to remove biblical-themed signs and wall hangings on display in her classroom after receiving a complaint from the nation's largest atheist legal foundation.
The school district recently informed the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation that it has removed Christian displays from the Searcy High School choir room in response to a letter sent to Superintendent Diane Barrett by the organization.
Choir teacher Tina Niederbrach had put up several displays in the school's choir room that highlighted messages from Scripture.
One display quoted Colossians 3:14: "Love binds us together perfectly in harmony." Another quoted Psalm 42:1 in stating that "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God."
While those two displays didn't specifically reference the Bible verses they quoted, other displays in the room did.
One display cited Jeremiah 29:11 in offering a message of hope to students that states: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."
Another display cited Ephesians 5:19 and read, "Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord."
The teacher was also told to remove words from the gospel song "Take My Hand, Precious Lord."
In November, FFRF legal fellow Colin McNamara sent a letter to Barrett, arguing that Niederbrach's Christian displays on public school property constituted an illegal entanglement of government and religion and a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
"The district violates the Constitution when it allows its schools to display religious messages," the letter reads. "Public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion."
McNamara argued that Niederbrach's free speech and free exercise rights granted to her under the First Amendment would not be violated by forcing her to take down the signs.
"District employees have access to captive student audience solely because of their position as teachers or administrators," the letter states.
McNamara cited several U.S. Supreme Court cases that dealt with the issue of school prayer. He also cited a number of U.S. Court of Appeals cases dealing with religious displays in the classroom, including Lee v. York County. The court ruled in that case that a school may prevent a teacher from putting religious displays on a bulletin board.
"A music room should not be a place of discord," FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement. "We're pleased that the school has taken action to ensure that student chorus members of minority faiths and no religion feel equally welcomed."
FFRF regularly pressures school districts and local government entities to adopt a strict adherence to the principle of separation of church and state and put an end to what the group considers to be violations of the law.
In another case, FFRF pressured the McKinney School District in Texas to stop hosting its graduation ceremonies at a Plano megachurch.
On Tuesday, it was reported that the McKinney School District will no longer hold its graduation ceremonies at Prestonwood Baptist Church, which is pastored by former Southern Baptist Convention President Jack Graham.
The news did not sit well with Graham, who serves as an informal faith advisor to the Donald Trump administration.
"It appears religious freedom is under attack at the McKinney Public Schools," Graham tweeted. "It was our refusal to remove the cross from view that created this cowardly decision."
In other cases, schools and government officials have pushed back against the organization's claims.
Such an incident occurred last month when Superintendent Rod Gardin of the East Porter County School Corporation in Indiana declined FFRF's request to put an end to an in-school leadership program led by pastors from a local church.