The Arkansas Department of Education has followed a recommendation from FFRF in ensuring the removal of religious promotion from its online health curriculum.
FFRF wrote a letter of complaint to the district expressing the concerns of a parent of an Arkansas public high school student that their child’s curriculum, administered through Virtual Arkansas, contained explicit religious proselytization.
In one assignment titled “Healthy Habits for Mental Wellness,” students were presented with “20 suggestions for healthy habits we can practice in five different dimensions, which integrate to enhance mental health.” One of these dimensions was “spiritual,” which was designed as “establishing a relationship with the Giver and Sustainer of life and health.” The program suggested students should tend to said “spiritual dimension” through, among other things, “daily devotionals” and “praying for others.”
“Every religious system promotes a time of prayer and meditation, preferably at the beginning of the day,” the program read. “The devotional session is a time to render worship and express gratitude for life, which you acknowledge that you have no ability to sustain. The sense of connection with God, the Supreme Being, boosts your mental awareness that supernatural support is available throughout the day. You worry less and praise more.”
Under the “Praying for Others” heading, the suggestions continued: “Praying for others provides an opportunity for you to forget your own troubles. It is an exercise which helps you become interested in someone else, whether to request compassion on their behalf, or to share their expectations. Praying for others underscores your personal belief in a God who cares.”
FFRF’s Robert G. Ingersoll Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key, informing him that including proselytization as part of a public school curriculum was completely inappropriate and demonstrated an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
“It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion,” McNamara wrote. “Assigning students reading materials that encourage them to pray and worship a monotheistic god violates this basic constitutional stricture.”
The Department of Education’s general counsel responded to FFRF’s request with assurances that the troubling elements of the curriculum would be deleted.
“The Department of Education reached out to Virtual Arkansas and learned that the materials at issue will be removed on Monday, March 25, by Virtual Arkansas’ design and development team,” the letter reads.
FFRF commends the Arkansas Department of Education for taking such swift action to correct this violation and bring its health curriculum in line with constitutional standards.
“Public schools cannot be used as recruiting grounds for religious indoctrination,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We welcome the removal of this unconstitutional content from the state’s online health program.”