Makes Letter to Lee County Superintendent of Schools and Response PublicRICHMOND, VA - In response to continuing commentary and misconceptions related to a letter sent by the ACLU of Virginia to Lee County’s Superintendent of Schools addressing reports of multiple First Amendment violations at Thomas Walker High School, the ACLU made public today its May 22, 2014 letter and the school division’s response.
“The ACLU national and the ACLU of Virginia are deeply committed to protecting individual voluntary religious expression in schools and elsewhere,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director, Claire Guthrie Gastañaga.
Recently, for example, the ACLU has defended the right of Virginia public school students to wear religious t-shirts to school, post the Ten Commandments on their lockers, and wear rosaries to school.
“The concerns about Lee County’s First Amendment violations involve, however, not the lack of opportunity for each student and teacher to express his or her own personal beliefs, but unconstitutional school mandated participation in religious activities and other actions by school officials that make children of minority faiths feel unwelcome in their schools,” said Gastañaga.
The May letter informed the Superintendent that, based on information provided to the ACLU by County residents, school officials at Thomas Walker High School, including teachers and administrators, were actively promoting one religion during school hours on school grounds as part of official school activities. The letter also requested that the Superintendent take prompt action to restore the rule of law.
“The letter is not an attack on any faith, as some have asserted,” continued Gastañaga. “In fact, it is quite the opposite. Our work is guided by the truth that if government has a religion, then individual religious liberty and freedom – for people of ALL beliefs, including Christians – is in jeopardy.”
“We will not stand idly by when public schools forget that their role is to teach tolerance and protect children (and teachers and other employees) who do not share the faith beliefs of the majority from religious coercion by that majority. We will continue to protect the right to personal voluntary religious expression for people of all faiths,” concluded Gastañaga.