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Speakers: Schools restricting religion

More than 250 attend school board meeting

Speakers: Schools restricting religion

Speakers: Schools restricting religion

Floyd Williams of Brooklet raises his...


An impassioned group of teachers, preachers and community members filled the William James Educational Complex Thursday night to express dissatisfaction over a perceived assault on religious expression in area schools.
More than 250 people crammed into the complex’s cafeteria, during a scheduled meeting of the Bulloch County Board of Education, to rebel against rules they say are unconstitutionally restrictive.
Last month, a reminder was given to Bulloch County principals, from administration, about what can and can’t be done, legally, in the classroom regarding religion.
Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson, reacting to correspondence from Americans United for Separation of Church and State — who received complaints from a Bulloch County parent about teachers participating in prayer — reaffirmed to school leaders that teachers are not to include Scriptures in signature lines of emails from school board accounts, or post religious items and Scripture in classrooms or on desks; and stated that they must act neutrally by not giving speeches, or doing anything that gives the impression of endorsing any religion over another, through the leading of prayers or other means.
Christian teachers and community members upset by the requirements rallied together, formed advocacy groups, and assembled for Thursday’s meeting.
In total, 18 people took to the podium, during a public comments portion of the agenda, to cry foul.
“My fight is about freedom — taking back what has been stolen from us. We are losing freedoms one by one,” said Robb Kicklighter, the husband of a local teacher. “Our rights are being destroyed — perhaps forever. We can’t let the enemy take one more inch. We can’t be silenced.”
Speakers, one after another, claimed requirements to be an attack on Christianity and a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Each of the individuals lobbied for teachers to have the right to express their religion — to pray or to display religious items or Scripture — in their classroom.
A petition was presented to the board with signatures of people who say they want to preserve religious expression in schools. An online version of that petition garnered 1,200 signatures by Thursday night.
Lisha Nevil, a former Bulloch County teacher said: “I think it is very sad what is happening here. I pray that teachers will have the right to take God to work with them each day.”
Of the speakers, only one — a professed Christian — spoke supportively of maintaining a separation of church and state.
She said she liked the idea of knowing her children were not being subjected to, or presented with, ideas and beliefs contrary to her own without her knowledge.
In response to the night’s comments, board Chairman Maurice Hill said, “as board chairman, I make every effort to be fair to the school board, administration, principals, teachers and students as well as the citizens in our community.”
“In my position, I make every effort not to be motivated by personal opinions, beliefs, or feelings. I have to make decisions based on facts, our policies, and what is mandated by state law,” he said. “The issue which has recently surfaced has generated much havoc where board members, principals, teachers, students, and parents have been hurt, angry, offended and accused of matters based on misinformation, misunderstanding, and inaccuracies. We, as board members, cannot remedy this overnight.  It must be conducted legally, properly, and ethically. Your concerns and questions are valued.”
Wilson thanked the crowd for voicing opinions and being an active part of the community.
“We appreciate everyone taking the time to come out, caring, and expressing their views. This is not a situation where we can find an easy answer,” the superintendent said. “Thank you again for being here and caring, and we look forward to your help in making our school system stronger. I believe that we can find our way through community concerns with dignity by being loving, understanding, considerate, and respectful of each other, and then moving on to the responsibilities of educating our students, as we are charged to do.”
On Monday, the school board called an impromptu meeting to address the situation.
Board representatives said they empathize with people’s concerns, but must adhere to legal requirements.
“The Bulloch County Board of Education has not changed or adopted any policies prohibiting the rights of school system employees to practice their constitutional rights of religious expression,” Wilson said. “However, there has been a recent reminder from me to school principals about established legal requirements to which we must adhere. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, along with subsequent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, addresses these rights and restrictions. The Bulloch County Board of Education and Superintendent support the employees of this school system and their rights to express their beliefs and concerns. We also support community-based efforts to seek appropriate remedy to infringement, real or perceived, upon freedom of religious expression with the proper authorities. While we stand in support, we are bound to carry out our official duties.”
The Bulloch County Board of Education, in an attempt to further discuss the matter and clear up any misinformation, has scheduled an information session later this month.
In the meeting, the board’s legal counsel will provide an overview of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution, and illustrate how it affects the school system, Hill said.
The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Dec. 19 in the William James Educational Complex, 150 Williams Road.

Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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