Boy Forced to Stop Reading Bible During Tenn. After-School Program; ACLU Defends Student

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has offered to defend a local Cannon County boy who was recently told that he could not read a Bible during an after-school program.

The ACLU of Tennessee has sent a letter to the Cannon County REACH after-school program on behalf of the boy, who attends an elementary school in Cannon County. Staff of the REACH program reportedly told the boy that he could not read the Bible during a free-reading period. The staff then tried to take the Bible, telling him the after-school program could lose its state funds if they allowed him to continue reading it.

In the letter sent to the REACH program, the ACLU requests that the after-school program train its employees on religious freedom rights while not imposing religion on the students. It also requests that the after-school program allow the student to continue reading his Bible during the free-reading period or any other student activity time.

"Tennessee public school students cannot be denied the right to engage in religious activities during student activity times, recess and other free time, provided they do not cause a disruption or interfere with the education of other students. Reading the Bible, or any other religious text, during a free-read period would fall within these protected freedoms," the letter states.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director for the ACLU's Tennessee branch, also said in a statement that the goal of their letter is to clarify how constitutionally-guaranteed religious freedoms work.

"ACLU-TN has a long-standing commitment to uphold and defend Tennesseans' ability to practice religion, or not, as they choose," Weinberg said. "The goal of our letter is to clarify for the REACH program what seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Constitution protects religious liberty."

There have recently been other incidences regarding religious liberty in public schools. Around the holidays, 6-year-old Isaiah Martinez was banned by his teacher in West Covina, Calif., from passing out candy cane treats to his fellow classmates that each included a religious message about the meaning of Christmas. Similarly, Brynn Williams, 6, was banned by her teacher in Temecula, Calif., from telling her class about the nativity story during a one-minute presentation on the holiday season.

The legal group representing these children and others contends that public school teachers are uneducated on First Amendment rights to religious freedom. "The pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction that public schools are becoming a place of hostility toward Christian and other religiously-based worldviews," Robert Tyler, general counsel for Advocates for Faith & Freedom, the group defending Martinez and Williams, said in a statement regarding Martinez's case.

"It's time to push the pendulum back in the right direction where kids can experience true tolerance without religiously motivated hostility from their teachers and school officials."

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