Atheist Group Upset After Youtube Captures Christian Minister's Lunch Prayer at School

A student walks by the Bovard Administration Building at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, April 7, 2010.
A student walks by the Bovard Administration Building at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, April 7, 2010. | (Photo: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)

A Missouri school district recently received a letter from an atheist group complaining about the presence of a youth minister on campus.

The Hollister School District received a letter earlier this month questioning why administrators allowed a representative from K-Life, a local youth Christian organization, on campus for a lunchtime prayer.

The letter was sent by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation after a YouTube video surfaced showing Robert Bruce, the chapter director for K-Life, leading students in prayer in the school cafeteria.

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Dr. Brian Wilson, superintendent of the school district, told the KY3-TV news station that he has not heard any complaints regarding Bruce's presence at a local level.

"There's not been a parent of Hollister schools nor a student that has issued a complaint. However, we did receive a letter out of Madison Wisconsin," Wilson said.

The superintendent told the News-Leader that the minister's prayer was a one-time incident. While students regularly participate in their own prayer during lunchtime, Wilson said this unique situation happened when Bruce happened to be visiting the campus and was asked by a student to lead prayer. Bruce was unaware that his actions violated school policy, and Wilson said the issue has since been properly addressed.

A letter sent to the school district and dated February 16 demanded that the administrators stop allowing the promotion of religion.

"It is well settled as a matter of established law that public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion," FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote. "It is unconstitutional for a public school to allow an evangelical Christian organization to impose prayer on all students."

"Giving the group access to all students as part of school programming suggests that the school district has preference not only for religion over nonreligion, but also evangelical Christianity over other faiths. This sort of entanglement between religion and public education is inappropriate," Elliott adds.

Wilson confirmed to local media outlets that after investigating the situation and educating Bruce on the incident, it will still allow community groups to visit the campus before and after school hours to maintain its connection to public leaders.

Students will still be allowed to pray on their own during lunchtime, Wilson added, telling KY-3 News that the school policy is to not "promote any particular religion. However, we are also not going to inhibit that religion either."

The FFRF has previously sent letters to schools regarding prayer on campus, including threatening a lawsuit against Emanuel County School District in Swainsboro, Georgia in November 2015.

As the atheist group reports in a press release, it agreed to drop the lawsuit against the Georgia school district after school administrators ended teacher-led prayer.

The FFRF also filed a lawsuit against the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education in California in November 2014 for prayer taking place at school board meetings.

Earlier this month, the national atheist group won their lawsuit against the Chino Valley school district, with U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal ruling that "reciting prayers, Bible readings and proselytizing at board meetings" must be stopped.

"The court declares that the resolution permitting religious prayer in board meetings, and the policy and custom of reciting prayers, Bible readings and proselytizing at board meetings, constitute unconstitutional endorsements of religion in violation of plaintiffs' First Amendment rights," Bernal wrote.

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