Illinois School District Bars Students From Announcing Prayer Gatherings on Facebook Page

(Photo: Reuters/Jason Redmond)People pray during a community vigil at the Grove Church following a shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington October 24, 2014. .

Another public school district has caved to the demands of the most prominent atheist legal organization in the United States.

Wayne City Community Unit School District 100 in Illinois has barred students at Wayne City High School from using the school's public Facebook page to encourage their peers to participate in prayer gatherings and religious events after the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation complained about a Facebook post announcing a prayer gathering during a "Bring Your Bible to School Day" event in October.

The post, which was published on the Wayne City High School Facebook page by a student on Sept. 30, invited students to bring their Bibles to school on Oct. 6 and advertised a meeting in the school library at 7:50 a.m. "to pray over the day."

"Everybody is welcome to join in on this activity," the post read. "We will be carrying our Bibles around school this day. This is not just a Wayne City thing, it's happening nationwide."

(Screengrab: Freedom From Religion Foundation)

Needless to say, such an advertisement of religion on the school's official Facebook page drew the ire of at least one local resident, who complained to the FFRF, an atheist legal group that pressures public schools around the nation to crack down on any perceived  endorsement of religion.

FFRF attorney Ryan Jayne sent a letter to the school district's Superintendent, Jeff Mitchell, on Oct. 5 arguing that such a posting violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

"This Facebook posting violates the basic constitutional prohibition by creating the appearance that the school and, by extension, the district prefer religion to non religion and Christianity to all other religions," the letter states.

Jayne's letter requested assurance that school district employees would not be participating in the "Take Your Bible to School Day" prayer gathering. Jayne also demanded that the school district's social media accounts would not be used in the future to "promote religious events or practices in the future."

Additionally, Jayne asked that the post be removed from the school's Facebook page and the administration issue a statement saying that the it does not endorse religious activities.

"Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools," Jayne's letter added. "These restrictions clearly extend to the official Wayne City High School Facebook page, which any reasonable viewer would perceive as representing the views of the school."

FFRF received a reply letter from Mitchell on Dec. 27.

"One of our high school students had apparently posted this announcement," Mitchell wrote. "[R]est assured that the posting was taken down very shortly after it was posted and the student as well as all others involved have been notified that they cannot promote this sort of program on any district sites."

Mitchell assured that the prayer gathering was student led and explained that he knows students have the constitutional right to bring their Bibles to school and "can do so at any time as not allowing them to do so would be First Amendment abridgement of their rights."

FFRF was pleased with the response.

"We appreciate that the school district is promising to be more vigilant," FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement. "Hopefully, this will mean a clearer adherence to the Constitution from now on."

In addition to schools, FFRF interjects itself into other areas of the public square, including a recent letter to President-elect Donald Trump urging him to keep prayer out of his Jan. 20 inauguration ceremony. Additionally, Trump was urged to place his right hand on the U.S. Constitution instead of the Bible when he is sworn into office.

The letter came after it was announced last week that six prominent faith leaders, including evangelist Franklin Graham and televangelist Paula White, will offer prayers and readings during the inauguration ceremony.

"Our message to you is, as it is to public officials everywhere: Get off your knee and get to work, using reason, compassion and the Constitution — not religion — as your guide," the letter written by FFRF co-founders Gaylor and Dan Barker reads.

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