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Humanist group demands end to teacher-led prayers at Fayette High School

Kearston Winrow/ColumbiaFAVS.com

  The American Humanist Association is demanding that weekly prayer sessions at Fayette High School be stopped on grounds that they are unconstitutional. 

A student at the school submitted a complaint to the association website, and the association sent a letter to the school on Wednesday. According to the letter, teacher Gwen Pope leads students in morning devotionals and prayers at 7:30 on Friday mornings in her classroom. 

"The big concern here is that we have a teacher using her governmental position to promote her religous beliefs to public school students," said William Burgess, the director of the legal center for the American Humanist Association. He said this goes against separation of church and state, as the public school is part of the state system.

"Yes, it's peopled by employees who are individuals and have of course their own right to their private religious practices, but they cannot bring them into the classroom, and they cannot use their position to promotte their beliefs to their students."

Burgess said this does not mean that students can't pray privately. 

"They have the right to pray when they are taking a test, or talking to their friends, or before they eat their lunch, or anything else they are doing," he said. "They are not allowed to gather together and use the school facilities and be encouraged by school a employes like a teacher to pray. That's the real problem here. It's the schools involvement that makes this unconstitutional."

According to the letter, the school could be sued in federal court. Principals and teachers might also be subject to lawsuits. The center has asked the school to stop the activity immediately. As of Thursday afternoon, Burgess said the American Humanist Association hadn't heard back from the school. 

Principal Darren Rapert said the school has no comment at this time – Superintendent Jim Judd, who acts as the spokesperson, was out of the district for the day.

This piece was produced in partnership withColumbia Faith and Values. Find more news like this at ColumbiaFAVS.com. 

Kellie Moore left KBIA in the spring of 2014.