“The First Amendment exists to protect religious freedom,” states ACLU-TN Director

Adan Salazar
April 3, 2014

An after-school program at a Tennessee elementary school violated a student’s First Amendment when they told him to stop reading a Bible, the Tennessee chapter of the ACLU argues.

Credit: Jemimus, Flickr
Credit: Jemimus, Flickr
The non-profit organization stepped up to defend the student after he told his mother that Cannon County REACH program staff had forced him to choose a different book other than the Bible to read during a free read period, which the boy refused.

The boy says program staff later attempted to confiscate the religious literature.

A REACH staff member, evidently confused over separation of church and state laws, was under the erroneous impression that allowing the student to read the good book could lead to the program being shut down.

The staff member’s actions “demonstrate a misunderstanding of the religious liberty protections in the U.S. Constitution, the Tennessee Constitution and federal laws,” a letter from the Tennessee ACLU to the REACH program director states.

“The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, §3 of the Tennessee Constitution are designed to protect the religious liberty of all students,” the letter signed by ACLU Legal Director Thomas H. Castelli states.

“The First Amendment exists to protect religious freedom,” Castelli expounded in a press release. “While this means that schools may not impose or promote religion, it also means that students can engage in religious activities that they initiate, provided they do not cause a disruption or interfere with the education of other students.”

“Reading the Bible, or any other religious text, during a free read period would fall within these protected freedoms,” adds Castelli in his letter.

The ACLU concludes the after-school staff meant no harm, but that the incident “arose from a fundamental misunderstanding of the protections and guarantees of the First Amendment.”

They are demanding the REACH program acknowledge in writing that the boy will be henceforth “allowed to read his Bible during free read periods and other student activity time if he chooses.”

The dispute follows another religious freedom case in Florida in which a 5-year-old girl was told not to bow her head and say Grace during lunch.

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