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What does it look like when Christianity is just ingrained in a public school?

At Swainsboro Primary School in Georgia last year, two teachers (kindergarten and first grade) led their students in prayer before the kids had lunch. There was just an automatic assumption that all the kids came from a religious background, even though that wasn’t the case at all. But when one family said something to the principal, the situation didn’t get any better:

Instead of complying with the Constitution, the teachers instructed our complainants’ children to sit in the hallway while the rest of the class prayed. One child felt Ms. Bright “used her mean voice” when asking the child to wait in the hall. Apparently, Ms. Watkins said something like “other parents who don’t want their kids to participate in class prayer are okay with their children being taken out of class.” This shows that this is a consistent, systematic problem in the school.

One of the teachers also announced to the whole class that the student couldn’t “recite the Pledge of Allegiance with the rest of the class, since it contains the words ‘under God.'” (As if the kid wasn’t already ostracized enough.)

At one point last December, another teacher told the same child that he should “make a good decision” regarding classroom prayer.

And — wait for it — Ms. Bright also told the child that he shouldn’t listen to his mother because she was “a bad person for not believing in God.”

Let’s admit that if an atheist teacher said that about a Christian mother, we’d never hear the end of it.

Some Christians will inevitably say this story is all about an infringement on their rights, as if atheists were trying to take prayers out of school. That would be a lie. The kids were always welcome to pray on their own. But their teachers can’t lead them. And they sure as hell shouldn’t be singling out kids by removing them from the classroom because they don’t belong to the majority faith. This situation was especially egregious.

After the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the Emmanuel County School District, you’d think the problems would have stopped. They didn’t.

So this past February, FFRF filed a lawsuit against the District.

Yesterday, FFRF agreed to toss it out because they had reached an agreement with the school.

Emanuel teachers have received educational training on their obligations not to promote religious beliefs in their classrooms and the Doe family has been financially compensated for harm they suffered.

“We’re pleased that the Emanuel County Schools has taken action to correct the egregious constitutional violations that were taking place in its classrooms,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “No devotions and religious practices should take place in public schools, and no small child should ever be pressured to take part in such illegal practices. More than 50 years of clear Supreme Court precedent bar such coercive conduct, because religion in schools is divisive and builds walls between children.”

Well… good. It’s a settlement that should have happened a long time ago, but it took a polite request followed by a lawsuit to make it happen. This is what atheists have to deal with because too many Christians don’t know where the boundary lines of their churches are. It shouldn’t be this difficult to get public school officials to follow the law.

As one commenter said at The Augusta Chronicle‘s website, “When will the public schools accept that religion is NOT one of the three R’s?”

(Image via Shutterstock)

Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.

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