Activist award: Child litigants in Puerto Rico each earn $5k

Richard & Beverly Hermsen Student Activist Awards 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has bestowed the $5,000 Richard & Beverly Hermsen Student Activist Awards to each of the two child litigants in its successful lawsuit ending prayer in a Puerto Rican grade school last year.

The children in the case, who were in the second and eighth grades at the time of the 2020 lawsuit, were bullied and harassed after their mother complained about the illegal 40-minute-long, mandatory biweekly prayer sessions. 

When the mother’s complaints did not end the violation, she arranged for her children to avoid the prayers by coming to school after the pray sessions. Teachers then threatened the children, who had exemplary grades, with tardy marks, which would have lowered their grade-point average. 

The suit was filed by FFRF and Humanistas Seculares de Puerto Rico in February 2020, with the mother and her two children as pseudonymous plaintiffs. After a March 2020 mediation session, Puerto Rico’s Education Secretary and the principal at Luis M. Santiago School agreed to immediately take action to stop the school-led prayer, take steps to ensure a harassment-free environment and remove any negative marks related to the students’ records. A memorandum was circulated on the policy of nondiscrimination and nonsectarian education in public schools to Department of Education employees, and a training was scheduled for Luis M. Santiago school staff. The case was settled last August.

FFRF has been told the children are doing much better since the case has been resolved, and one child has moved to a different school. 

“Our dedicated plaintiffs were the whistleblowers on this case, and we were only able to stop this egregious violation thanks to their dedication and courage. We also thank Humanistas Seculares de Puerto Rico, and warmly acknowledge our generous FFRF members Rich and Beverly Hermsen, for making possible these special awards,” says Dan Barker, FFRF co-president.

The scholarship will help the students with educational expenses, such as computers, and future higher education.