Teacher reprimanded for giving students 'prayer cards' after atheist group accuses her of ‘proselytizing’

Students sit in a high school classroom.
Students sit in a high school classroom. | Reuters/Stephane Mahe

A separation of church and state advocacy group that touts itself as the largest atheist legal group in the nation is lauding a school district that agreed to reprimand a teacher who handed out “prayer cards.” 

In a statement released on Oct. 17, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which had contacted the school district accusing the teacher's actions of violating the U.S. Constitution, announced that it had “successfully persuaded the Jackson County School District to reprimand a teacher and update staff training after a middle school teacher placed ‘prayer cards’ underneath students’ desks.” The Jackson County School District is located on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. 

FFRF first contacted the Jackson County School District about the situation via a Sept. 12 letter to the district’s legal counsel Jack Pickett. Legal fellow Samantha Lawrence said that “a concerned District community member reported that [an] East Central High School teacher,” whose name was redacted in the publicly available version of the letter, “recently placed cards with prayers written on them underneath all of her students’ desks during the first week of school.” 

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“We write to request that the District investigate this matter and ensure that its teachers refrain from using their positions to proselytize and promote prayer going forward,” she stated. Lawrence insisted that “students have the right to be free from religious indoctrination in the public schools,” pointing to the teacher’s actions as a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution. 

A screenshot of a Facebook post written by a separate teacher whose name was redacted shows a general request that people pray for students and teachers, along with her publicly shared plan to give each student a prayer card, and was accompanied by the FFRF's letter to the school district. FFRF included the Facebook post in its demand letter because the teacher who wrote the post claimed to have been inspired by the teacher who was reprimanded for distributing prayer cards to her students.  

The unnamed teacher added that she planned to “write my prayer on a card and place it in their book bags."

She added, "It’ll be there any time they feel depressed, anxious or just need to know how much they are valued and loved. ... “This idea was inspired by” the teacher in question, noting that “she’s placing prayer cards under each of her [students' desks].”

Pickett responded to FFRF on Oct. 4 outlining the actions the district took to address the atheist group’s concerns. “Upon receipt of your letter, Superintendent, David Baggett, immediately directed Assistant Superintendent, Monty Noblitt, to investigate the incident,” he wrote.

According to Pickett, “The investigation revealed that the teacher identified in your letter had indeed placed prayer cards under the desks of her students at the beginning of the school year after having earlier requested that prayer cards be sent to her for that purpose on Facebook.”

After clarifying that the conduct occurred at East Central Middle School as opposed to East Central High School, Pickett explained that “the teacher in question was officially reprimanded on September 13, 2023, by the Principal of East Central Middle School.”

Pickett added that “the letter of reprimand stressed the seriousness of the teacher’s misconduct and expressly stated that teachers are prohibited from using their positions to promote personal religious beliefs.”

“The letter also stated any expressions of religious view points in the classroom and like settings is considered a constitutional violation and must cease immediately,” he continued.

Pickett also pointed to the presentation of a slide show titled “Religion in Our Schools” that was shown to all district principals so they could train district personnel on “the legal framework regarding religion under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution” as they seek to “prevent similar conduct from occurring in the future.”

After describing the “steps the district has taken” as “satisfactory,” FFRF shared a statement from the organization’s Co-President, Annie Laurie Gaylor, who argued, “This teacher deserves an ‘F’ for presenting her vulnerable young students with prayer cards in their first week of school. Our public schools exist to educate, not to indoctrinate children in the religious faith of their teachers.” 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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