COLUMBUS— Today the ACLU of Ohio sent a letter to the Superintendent of Sidney City Schools in response to a mandatory school-sponsored prayer ceremony that he initiated in place of the March 14 National Student Walk Out Day. The Superintendent, together with a Methodist religious official and the county sheriff, forced his students to gather in Christian prayer in the school gym. This intimidation and coercion violates the students First Amendment rights, said the ACLU of Ohio.
“Our constitution is incredibly clear on this: public schools may not impose religious views on their students,” said ACLU of Ohio staff attorney Elizabeth Bonham. “This is precisely what Sidney School officials did on March 14 when – as students attempted to peacefully express their beliefs about a political issue – the school forced students to instead pray about it. Not only does this suppress students’ free expression, it intimidates and marginalizes minority-religion students in a space where they should feel safe.”
Sidney High School planned its assembly to occur at the time the National School Walkout was scheduled, and posted teachers to block every exit of the building so that students were confined. According to news reports, the invited reverend told students there were “spiritual issues” behind school shootings and led them in Christian prayer.
Sidney Schools was recently profiled in national news for its aggressive investment in guns and ammunitions to arm both its teachers and hired uniformed guards in the schools. The ACLU says this militarization of the schoolhouse has discriminatory application against children of color and kids with disabilities. “Endangering students of color, ostracizing minority religion students, and silencing student speech does not make a learning environment safe,” concluded Bonham.
The ACLU of Ohio will monitor the district’s compliance with the constitution in connection with future student First Amendment activity at school. A second round of planned walkouts is scheduled nationwide on April 20.