With the school year underway, the Kentucky branch of American Atheists has sent letters to public schools in Hardin, Jefferson and Fayette counties about religious issues.
Johnny Pike, state director of the organization, said this is the first year the organization has sent such letters, and he wanted to raise awareness about common issues the association has seen.
In the letter to school administrators, Pike said schools should keep school-events secular, which includes field trips. The organization particularly was concerned with field trips to Ark Encounter in Williamstown and Creation Museum in Petersburg.
Additionally, he wrote school staff and employees shouldn’t lead or direct religious activities such as prayer, and said students do not have to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, citing Supreme Court decisions.
Pike sent letters to all schools in Hardin County Schools.
HCS spokesman John Wright said in a statement students are treated equally, no matter their system of beliefs.
“We share with staff that the sharing of personal beliefs in regards to politics and religion must remain within the guidelines that have been set forth by law,” he said.
Pike said American Atheists wasn’t looking to take away someone’s religious rights but didn’t want schools to overstep. He said their goal was inclusivity.
“Atheists care,” Pike said in a news release. “We want all children in school to feel included during school hours. Schools should be focused on education and not pushing religious agendas.”
Pike said his children have faced harassment in school. The letters are a proactive effort, he said.
“As government officials, school administrators must not simply ‘tolerate’ viewpoints different from their own, but actively protect the rights of students to express them,” Pike wrote.
Under state statute, students are allowed to pray in a public school, vocally or silently, and express and discuss religious viewpoints in a public school. Students also can distribute religious literature in a public school, subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.
State statute also allows students to be absent, in accordance with attendance policy, from a public school to observe religious holidays and participate in other religious practices.