A national group that works to keep religion out of government and schools is complaining again about Hampshire County.
But the letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which was sent to a Review reporter Monday, has yet to make it to the inbox of Schools Superintendent Jeff Pancione Tuesday afternoon.
The letter brought up3 cases of promoting Christianity to Hampshire County students.
The foundation had complained to Pancione last September about instances of prayer that “illegally endorse and advance religion.”
This time, the foundation’s senior counsel, Patrick Elliott, wrote of 3 incidents in late May that he said a concerned parent had notified his group about.
• A call by the speaker at a Capon Bridge Middle School assembly honoring its 8th-graders for all the school’s students to follow Jesus;
• A Christian invocation and another call to follow Jesus at the senior honors assembly; and
• Handing out New Testaments to all members of the Class of 2019 during graduation practice.
“School sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible ‘because it sends the ancillary message to ... nonadherents 'that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community,’” Elliott wrote, quoting a Supreme Court decision.
He pointed out that courts have more than once prohibited handing out Bibles during the school day.
“We note that Hampshire County Schools’ vision is, ‘Learning for all ... And all means all.” We hope the District will follow this vision by making Hampshire County Schools a welcoming place for all students and families, regardless of religious affiliation,” he concluded the 933-word letter.
Last fall, Elliott wrote that the foundation was notified by a parent in the county about 2 separate prayer issues — the board opening each meeting with a prayer offered by a different board member each time and the official schools Facebook page being used to promote a religious back-to-school rally sponsored by a group that called itself “the ministerial leadership of Hampshire County.”
As in September, the letter makes no threat of further action, but asks that Pancione inform the foundation of the steps Hampshire County takes to “remedy these constitutional violations.” o