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Atheist Community of Austin
prayer in school

I am a teacher in texas...public school. I am asked to pause for a prayer several times during the year. It's already happened this school year and will for sure happen tomorrow at our convocation assembly tomorrow. These are manditory meetings for me! Can they do that? I am a state employee!

No. They can't.

Contact the Freedom From Religion foundation - http://ffrf.org/contact/

And Americans United for the Separation of Church and State:

http://www.au.org/site/News2?abbr=resources&page=NewsArticle&id=9059&security=1441&news_iv_ctrl=2422

These organizations MAY want to get involved by writing cease and desist letters, and possibly even filing legal action.

Thanks for speaking up. STAND UP for the separation!!

Out of curiosity, what grade/course do you teach?

Article VI of our Constitution provides that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." This prohibition applies to all subdivisions of government ... legislative, executive, and judicial ... federal, state, and local.

There is little doubt that Article VI protects all government school teachers from religious tests.

[This person sent mail directly to the ACA in addition to posting here. Below is the response I sent directly. I'm posting this as I imagine others might be in a similar situation. --Don]

What you're describing is a violation of the first amendment to the US constitution in that it is a government office providing an establishment of religion. While many of the defining Supreme Court cases on this topic have been about leading students in prayer, they also apply to adults. The establishment clause is under attack on a regular basis from zealous believers, who ironically claim to be patriots. The Atheist Community of Austin considers this such an important issue that it's part of our mission.

I personally feel that it's important to defend the Constitution in these cases. You can make a patriotism argument and a fairness argument without hesitation. Unfortunately, acting in the defense of the Constitution is sometimes a hard row to hoe. It's not uncommon for people who speak out to be ostracized, have their morals challenged, or even get death threats. (Fortunately, I've never heard of such a thing being carried out.) Intimidation is an easy way to shut someone up.

I would encourage you to bone up on the first amendment and how it is being defended by organizations such as the ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and People for the American Way. (All of them are on the front line and easily found on the web.) Texas Freedom Network is a Texas-based group that also helps with first amendment issues. With the appropriate background, you can feel more confident to educate others and stand your ground should you desire to speak out. Depending on your tact and the level of zealotry there, you may be able to encourage them to do the right thing without a big confrontation. I think the key would be to evangelize the idea and get a group of supporters, even informally.

If you feel passionately about it, you might consider writing a letter to the editor, a web article, web log, or otherwise getting the word out about the issue. Publicity is a powerful lever. Some of this you can do anonymously without drawing attention to yourself, should you be concerned about a backlash. We would be willing to publish a well written article on our web site about the problem, for example.

If you want to get more serious about it, you can start escalating the issue up the chain of command using the argument that the school district is opening itself up to expensive law suits that it cannot win. I think this is a powerful argument that is sincerely in the best interests of the school. I would like to make you aware that people's attachment to religion is often very strong an irrational and they won't play fair. I don't know of very many cases where such groups did the right thing without a bit of a fight. If/when that alternative is exhausted, you can find a group who can assist in you suing the school or district. Such things are hard and take a lot of stamina, but that is the only way the Constitution of our country will be enforced. Sometimes people have more courage within them than they realize.

We would be happy to help you publicize the problem on our various outlets. You certainly have our moral support and we'd like to hear more about your situation and how it progresses.

--Don Baker ACA Vice President

Not if it is use in reference to a god

It is ok to pause for meditation

Just my opinion

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