In response to an American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee letter, the Cannon County REACH after-school pro-gram has educated their staff on students’ constitutional rights in public schools, circulating ACLU-TN’s letter to staff members.
ACLU-TN’s letter explained that students have a constitutional right to read religious texts of their own volition during free-reading periods.
The civil liberties group sent the letter on behalf of a Cannon County family who reported that REACH staff told their son that he could read any book except the Bible and that he would have to put the Bible away. When he refused, staff tried to take his Bible from him, mistakenly claiming that the state could shut the program down if they allowed him to read it.
The letter requested that the REACH program train its employees on “their obligation under the law to safeguard their students’ religious liberties without imposing religion on them.” The letter also asked that the child be allowed to read his Bible during free read periods and other student activity time.
“ACLU-TN has a long tradition of defending Tennesseans’ religious freedom. We are gratified that the REACH program has clarified what seemed to be a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Constitution protects students’ religious liberty. We hope that they—and all public schools—will protect religious freedom for students in the future,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee executive director.
“I am so proud of my son for standing up for his right to read the Bible during free reading time at his after-school program, despite multiple staff members wrongly telling us it was against the law,” said Lisa Koepfgen, mother of the Cannon County student.
“Clearly the REACH program also realized that they needed to retrain their staff on the Constitution’s protection of students’ religious freedom. I am so glad that they have taken steps to ensure that my son, and all children, can read religious books during free time in the future,” Koepfgen said.
REACH's response also met with good words from Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU of Tennessee legal director.
“We are pleased that the REACH program has trained their staff on their obligation under the law to safeguard their students’ religious liberties without imposing religion on them. We will continue monitoring the program to ensure that students’ religious freedom is protected,” Castelli said.