The supervisor of all Oklahoma schools has vowed that people of faith will not be bullied in his state. Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters was reacting after one of his districts halted daily prayers read by primary students and broadcast over school loudspeakers, after being pressured by a secular organisation based 1400 kilometres away.
It followed a complaint from atheist activist group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). It said: “A concerned district community member informed FFRF that Prague Elementary School had been hosting daily prayers [read by children] during its morning announcements. The Prague Public Schools Facebook page regularly posted the photos and full names of young students who supposedly asked if they could pray.”
The FFRF argued that “school sponsorship of prayers” is unconstitutional, proclaiming it is improper and illegal to broadcast prayer over a “school-controlled loudspeaker to a captive audience of students.” It wrote to the school district which is near Oklahoma City and urged school officials to halt the prayers.
The FFRF said its request was “immediately heeded” and Prague Public Schools halted the daily prayers by the students. That prompted Mr. Walters’ defiant response that the state would continue to fight for religious freedom in Oklahoma. He labelled the FFRF a “radical atheist group” and said his state has no plans of “bowing down to these bullies,” claiming the group has targeted children who wish to initiate prayer.
“We’re going to continue to fight for religious liberty here in the state of Oklahoma. It’s outrageous. We have to take a stand for our students’ freedom of religion, their freedom to express their religious beliefs, no matter what those religious beliefs may be. We will never back down to your bullying antics,” he addressed the FFRF and other groups like it. “We will not allow atheism to be the state-sponsored religion of our school system. Leave our kids alone.”
Earlier this year, the FFRF successfully pressured another Oklahoma school district to remove Christian displays from multiple classrooms. They included a prominent display quoting John 3:16. Another had a sign based on a verse in the book of Daniel saying He is still good.
The FFRF which is based in Wisconsin claims to have 40,000 members. It has long targeted Oklahoma and other strongly Christian conservative states. In 2010 it was in involved a battle of billboards over the promotion of Christianity versus atheism in Oklahoma. It sees smaller school districts as soft targets because they find it much easier to comply than become involved in costly legal disputes.