Public school officials in Georgetown, S.C., ordered a local woman to stop handing out religious materials and leading prayer sessions at a high school after receiving an inquiry from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Violet Infinger had been visiting Georgetown High School to lead prayer sessions with students for at least 10 years. During the meetings, she often distributed religious literature to students.
A community resident contacted Americans United, and AU’s Legal Department asked the school for information about the practice. Officials immediately ordered Infinger, a member of the First Assembly of God, to stop meeting with students.
Administrators said they did not know the meetings were taking place. They said students have the right to gather and pray on their own but that outside adults may not proselytize on campus.
“We certainly respect students’ rights to pray and assemble,” said Superintendent Randy Dozier. “I think there were some legitimate concerns expressed with the distribution of literature by an individual. I believe that clearly we have processes and procedures in place to address these concerns and to be in compliance with constitutional law and federal mandates.”
Students subsequently announced that they will form a prayer club to meet on campus before the school day begins. Federal law allows secondary school students to form religious groups under certain conditions. The clubs must be student run, and school officials may not encourage attendance. In addition, the same right must be extended to other religious and non-religious clubs.
Georgetown educators said they will no longer permit the distribution of unauthorized material by adults on campus.
In other news about religion and schools:
• Education officials in Cheatham County, Tenn., have agreed to settle a lawsuit over religion in school brought by the Tennessee ACLU.
In the lawsuit, a family asserted that teachers and other school officials were preaching to students and encouraging religious activities. In addition, the school allowed the Gideons, an evangelical organization, to distribute Bibles to students.
As part of the settlement in Doe v. Cheatham County Board of Education, school officials have agreed to stop the religious practices.