Aclu-tn v. Sumner County Bd. of Education

Decision Date03 May 2011
Docket NumberNO. 3-11-0408,3-11-0408
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Tennessee



Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' Emergency Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order (Docket No. 8). Plaintiffs' Verified Complaint alleges a pattern and practice by Defendants of violating the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution by endorsing and promoting religion in the Sumner County School System.

The pending Motion asks this Court to issue a Temporary Restraining Order ("TRO") enjoining Defendants from (1) allowing the distribution of Bibles to students on school property during the school day; (2) holding school events at religious facilities when alternate non-religious venues are available; (3) allowing teachers to display religious iconography in the classroom; (4) allowing members of the public unsupervised access to students during the school day in order to proselytize to students; (5) allowing students to read biblical verses or announce prayers over the loudspeaker at an elementary school; (6) allowing teachers, staff and school administrators to lead and/or participate in prayer and religious worship with students during student club meetings or events; (7) not adhering to the school district policy governing the distribution of religious literature and giving preferential access to religious organizations; (8) allowing invocations at school boardmeetings; and (9) allowing teachers and staff to signal their endorsement of a particular religious faith by allowing religious songs to be overly represented in choir programs.

The Court held a hearing on the Motion on May 2, 2011, which was attended by counsel for all parties. For the reasons stated from the bench at the hearing and described herein, the Emergency Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order is DENIED.

In determining whether to issue a TRO pursuant to Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court is to consider: (1) the plaintiff's likelihood of success on the merits; (2) whether the plaintiff may suffer immediate and irreparable harm absent the injunction; (3) whether granting the injunction will cause substantial harm to others; and (4) the impact of the injunction on the public interest. Fed. R. Civ. P. 65; Abney v. Amgen, Inc., 443 F.3d 540, 546 (6th Cir. 2006). Based on the Motion, declarations, testimony of witnesses, briefs, pleadings, arguments of counsel and the entire record, the Court finds as follows.

The only alleged unconstitutional behavior which is immediately threatening or imminent is the Teens Against Alcohol and Tobacco Use ("TAATU") program scheduled for May 3, 2011, at Long Hollow Baptist Church. For the following reasons, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have not demonstrated a strong or substantial likelihood of success on the merits of that claim.

In reviewing government actions challenged under the Establishment Clause, the Court uses the three-part test set forth in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 91 S.Ct. 2105 (1971). Under that test, in order for a governmental practice to satisfy the Establishment Clause, it must (1) reflect a clearly secular purpose; (2) have a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion; and (3) avoid excessive governmental entanglement with religion. Doe v. Wilson County School System, 564 F.Supp.2d 766, 792 (M.D. Tenn. 2008). The parties agree that the Lemon test applies to this case.

Defendants' witnesses testified that the TAATU program has been offered by Defendants for sixth graders in the Sumner County School System for thirteen years. It is a day-long presentation by health care, law enforcement, mental health and other professionals which includes speakers to the entire group of students and twelve break-out workshops for groups of 20-25 students each. The particular program scheduled for May 3, 2011, combines 400-600 sixth graders from two middle schools. There is a legitimate pedagogical basis for a combined program.

Pat Connor, who is the Safe Schools Coordinator for Defendants, testified that Long Hollow Baptist Church was chosen for the TAATU program because it is the only available facility large enough to accommodate this many students. She testified that no one from Long Hollow Baptist Church is involved in any way with...

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