‘Praying Parent’ testifies about group’s activities at school
NASHVILLE (AP) — A parents’ prayer group regularly held meetings at a public elementary school with the support of the school’s administration, according to testimony Wednesday in the trial of a lawsuit by parents opposed to the religious activity.
The Praying Parents held meetings at Lakeview Elementary School before and during school hours, had access to the teachers’ lounge, brought teachers treats and distributed fliers about the group for students to take home to their parents, prayer group member Jennifer Walker testified.
“I believe it is important to live out my faith by the way I act and react to people, not necessarily by beating them over the head with the Bible,” she testified.
Walker also testified that she asked a teacher who ran the school’s Web site to post a link that led to a page about Praying Parents.
The school’s principal, Wendell Marlowe, testified that he attended two meetings held by the Praying Parents, including one on the National Day of Prayer. Afterward, he wore stickers reading “I Prayed,” that were also available to students.
One of the plaintiffs in the case, identified only as Jane Doe, testified that she felt compelled to remove her son after he completed kindergarten to protect him from proselytizing.
During a meeting with the principal and vice principal, Doe said she was given the impression that the administrators were not even willing to negotiate about toning down the religious activity.
“They even suggested maybe we’d be better off pulling him out,” she said.
Both her children are now being home-schooled, which has kept Doe from working, she said.
“I would have loved for my younger child to go to kindergarten because I think kindergarten is a big deal … He missed out on making new friends, learning to be without Mommy,” she said.
The case, in which the Does are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, went to trial after the school district’s board voted on Tuesday 3-2 against settling.
The original suit only named school officials, but members of the Praying Parents intervened as defendants, claiming the Does are violating their rights by attempting to deny them the exercise of religious freedom. The Does’ lawsuit contends the school officials in Wilson County are violating the First Amendment.
The Praying Parents are represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based legal fund that defends religious speech cases and was opposed to settling.
Testimony from defendants largely did not dispute facts about the Praying Parents’ activities, but attorneys asked about the family’s decision to send their children to Lakeview.
Doe and her husband said they bought a house in the school district in suburban Nashville specifically so their children could attend the well-regarded school.
Under questioning from defendants’ attorneys, the Does acknowledged that their son attended day care at a Baptist church before going into kindergarten at Lakeview.
Jane Doe, who is identified in court documents as being Jewish, defended that decision, saying that choosing to send a child to a religious school is different from having religion chosen for them at a public school. The Does also home-school their children under the Heritage Christian program, but they said it does not require any religious curriculum.
Testimony was expected to be completed today, and the case will be decided by U.S. District Judge Roberts Echols.
Published in The Messenger 12.13.07