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Group Alleges Missouri School District Forcing Religion

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A nonprofit group that advocates for the separation of church and state alleges that a Missouri school district on the outskirts of Kansas City is forcing religion on students and threatened to sue if it didn't stop.

Oak Grove Superintendent Bryan Thomsen said the district is investigating the claims from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The group alleged in a letter this month that the district, which is about 27 miles (43 kilometers) east of Kansas City, Missouri, repeatedly violated the First Amendment's establishment clause, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over others. 

The letter said many middle and high school teachers instruct students on the "biblical view of the creation of the world" while teaching them about evolution. The letter said that high school students who express belief in evolution "sometimes face skepticism and questioning from their teachers."

The letter also said students also were sent home with fliers for vacation Bible school and Christian summer camp, which might give the appearance that the school endorses the events. It says crosses are displayed in the district's front office and that Bible verses are posted on teachers' bulletin boards. It also claims that the district "regularly opens mandatory faculty meetings with Christian prayer led by a local preacher or district employee."

Thomsen said that before getting the letter, officials had not received any formal complaint from parents. But on more than one occasion teachers, "in passing conversations," had questioned some of the practices that seemed to bring religion into the public school, he said.

The group wants the district to respond within 30 days. Sam Grover, the group's associate counsel, said a parent who tipped off the group is agreeable to filing a lawsuit if changes aren't made.

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