Members of a South Carolina school board have agreed to tell the superintendent and a principal to stop sending sectarian email messages to staff after Americans United protested the practice.
AU acted after receiving complaints about some of the messages being sent by Interim Superintendent Allie Brooks and Roy Ann Jolley, principal of Delmae Elementary School in Florence School District 1.
Brooks and Jolley were sending scriptures passages, theological advice and prayers to district employees on a regular basis.
For example, on March 21, 2011, Jolley sent a long message to school employees. It opened with “Today’s Scripture” – a passage from the New Testament’s Book of Romans – and included an exhortation to “Know that God is working in your life. Keep being faithful. Keep doing the right thing, knowing that in the end God is going to turn things around in your favor. If God is for you, who can be against you?”
The message ended with “Today’s Prayer” addressed to “Father in Heaven.”
On April 7, Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan wrote to the nine members of the district’s board, warning that the actions of Brooks and Jolley had crossed a constitutional line.
“[P]ublic officials are constitutionally prohibited from presenting prayers or other religious messages in the course of their duties,” wrote Khan. “Mr. Brooks and Ms. Jolley’s religious emails, memoranda and prayers are thus plainly unconstitutional.”
Board members voted unanimously April 14 to stop the messages. It was obvious that some of them weren’t happy about the decision, but AU’s letter cited case law and made it clear that the school officials were in violation of court rulings.
According to the website scnow.com, Brooks said, “It’s simple. We are public officials and we have a responsibility to follow the law, and we will follow the law. Those emails were sent to staff for encouragement. We won’t stop encouraging; we’ll just change the wording. Instead of saying, ‘Have a blessed day,’ I guess I’ll have to start saying, ‘Have a good day.’”
District officials have also been including prayer in staff meetings. AU has warned them about that as well.