Protect The 1st has stood fast to protect the First Amendment rights of Americans to the free exercise of religion – for Native Americans seeking to hold on to lands sacred to their worship, to the right of religious schools to participate in tuition assistance programs, to the right of a high school coach to pray after a game.
The First Amendment also protects us from the imposition of religion as well.
Balancing the free exercise clause of the First Amendment is a preceding clause that prohibits the establishment of a religion. It is instructive to see what a violation of that sort looks like.
A public high school in Huntington, West Virginia, sent students to the school’s auditorium in mid-morning. They were told to raise their arms and pray. An evangelical preacher told the students to give their lives over to Jesus and follow the Bible or else face going to hell.
This event, organized by the school’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, was supposed to be voluntary. But many students were told it was mandatory. At least one Jewish student tried to leave, only to be told by his teacher that he was locked inside. Later, nearly a dozen students and parents sued the local school board, superintendent and principal in federal court asking for $1 per plaintiff, attorneys’ fees and a permanent injunction against future proselytizing events.
To their credit, the school system superintendent and high school principal acknowledged that this event was not handled properly and would not be allowed to happen again.
“School authorities have said that the event was improperly handled and offered assurances that similar mistakes would not occur in the future,” said Rick Boucher, former Member of Congress and Protect The 1st senior policy advisor. “But this event is a teaching moment that demonstrates that the First Amendment – while assuring freedom to worship – also protects against compelled religion.”