Advocacy group objects to El Paso-Gridley promoting prayer rally

The El Paso-Gridley school district has promised to exclude faith-based events from its promotional announcements. (Photo courtesy Pixabay)

By Eric Stock

EL PASO – A group that advocates for separation of church and state has objected to a local school administrator promoting a prayer rally in a school district email to parents.

El Paso-Gridley Superintendent Brian Kurz said after receiving a letter from the Madison, Wisc.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, the school district said it wouldn’t happen again.

“In our small town, we really value letting our community know what is going on,” Kurz said. “Sometimes we let people know what’s going out events that may have some connect to church and we have to be thoughtful about that. We try to walk that line and it’s always a challenge.”

An email to parents from El Paso-Gridly Junior High Principal Robby Tomlinson referenced a Christian ‘See You at the Pole’ prayer event last September, though the email gave no indication the events was faith based. It indicated while the event was mainly for students, parents were also invited.

“Looking forward to seeing you at the pole,” Tomlinson said in the email.

The Freedom From Religion groups said in a news release any religious event must be truly student-led.

“It is unconstitutional for public school employees to participate in the religious activities of their students,” FFRF attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to the district. “Government employees must refrain from actively participating in religious activities while acting within their governmental role to avoid any perception of government endorsement of religion and/or excessive entanglement with religion.”

Kurz said the district simply wants families to know about community events.

“Certainly, we are not in the business or the interest of proselytizing but we care about out community and want to allow them to stay connected and we see the school as an important part of that,” Kurz said. “We’ll be mindful of that as we move forward. We certainly want to serve all our kids and all our families we here at EPG.”

Eric Stock can be reached at eric.stock@cumulus.com.

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