Teacher's ‘Prayer Requests' Board Raises Church/State Concerns

A request for prayers in a Mississippi schoolroom has a teacher at the center of controversy as a national group is calling to enforce the separation of church and state. 

An Oak Grove Middle School teacher in Purvis, Miss., painted a "prayer requests" chalkboard on a closet door covering an air conditioning unit in a nook in the classroom, according to Lamar County Superintendent Tess Smith. 

An eighth grade student took a photo of the prayer requests board this month. The student's family says the teacher, Randi Rodgers, confronted the student after class and accused the student of disrespecting the teacher's religion.

On behalf of the student's family, the American Humanist Association wrote a letter to the Lamar County School District requesting the prayer requests board be taken down and that no other place in the room serve as a place for prayer requests or an endorsement of religious practice.

Rodgers' "insistence on continuing to take prayer requests and keep the board up (even if she must remove the word 'prayer') violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," the AHA wrote in the Aug. 23 letter. The Establishment Clause cause prevents the government from making laws about religion.

The AHA said in the letter it will pursue legal action against the district if it doesn't receive a response within seven days.

Smith says that the school's attorney has attempted to contact with the AHA to request a delay for a response because the next school board meeting date isn't until Sept. 8.

"It's being reviewed by our school board attorney. He will present the finding to the board of education at the next meeting," Smith said. 

The school district will take no action before then, Smith said, but noted that the teacher is not actively using the board at this time. 

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