'Freedom from Religion' group questions prayer in local district - WSMV Channel 4

'Freedom from Religion' group questions prayer in local district

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A Middle Tennessee school district is facing some heat for bringing prayer into meetings and religious influence into the classroom.

Thesa Burt feels passionate about her faith, which is why the vice president of the Franklin County Parent Teacher Organization starts each board meeting with a prayer.

"It's so important that we open with prayer, so that he gets all the glory and the credit for it," Burt said.

But a Wisconsin-based group called the Freedom from Religion Foundation said the act is illegal.

"It's certainly unconstitutional, yes, and there is case law that supports that. There are court decisions that support that," said Andrew Seidel, attorney for the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

The foundation recently sent two letters to the PTO president and the director of schools, one about the PTO prayer and the other regarding a memo sent out to the parents of North Lake Elementary School that said Merry Christmas and told parents to teach their kids the "real reason for the season."

"Religious education of children is up to the parents of those children. It's not up to the government," Seidel said.

"I felt very violated that I could not pray and that someone told me that I couldn't pray in my school," Burt said.

The director of schools is now recommending a moment of silence instead, but Burt refuses.

"No plans to stop as of right now," she said.

As for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, they're asking for changes.

"We always prefer to work with school districts and not against them," Seidel said.

But, they say legal action is possible.

The Franklin County director of schools tells Channel 4 News she suggested the moment of silence because she thinks that's an acceptable way for everyone to pray in their own way.

She scheduled a special meeting with the PTO board Thursday, and says she hopes to discuss options and find a solution that everyone can agree on.

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