Doe v. Wilson County School System

Decision Date29 May 2008
Docket NumberNo. 3:06-0924.,3:06-0924.
Citation564 F.Supp.2d 766
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Tennessee
PartiesJohn DOE and Jane Doe, as the Natural Parents and Next Friends of Their Minor Child, James Doe, Plaintiffs, v. The WILSON COUNTY SCHOOL SYSTEM; Dr. Jim Duncan, Individually and as Director of Wilson County Schools; Wendell Marlowe, Principal of the Lakeview Elementary School; Yvonne Smith, Assistant Principal of Lakeview Elementary School; and Janet Adamson, Teacher at Lakeview Elementary School, Defendants.

Edmund J. Schmidt, III, Law Offices of David Randolph Smith & Edmund J. Schmidt, III, Susan Laurie Kay, Vanderbilt Legal Clinic, Tricia Herzfeld, ACLU Foundation of Tennessee, Nashville, TN, for Plaintiffs.

David A. Changas, Winston N. Harless, Lewis, King, Krieg & Waldrop, P.C., Nashville, TN, Michael Ray Jennings, Lebanon, TN, Larry Lamont Crain, Brentwood, TN, for Defendants.


ROBERT L. ECHOLS, District Judge.

Plaintiffs John Doe and Jane Doe, on behalf of their son James Doe,1 allege that Lakeview Elementary School ("Lakeview") in the public Wilson County School System engages in a pattern and practice of endorsing religious activities and particular religious beliefs. Plaintiffs do not oppose the rights of students to pray at school or to express their religious beliefs. Rather, Plaintiffs allege they are offended and injured by Lakeview's repeated promotion and endorsement of Christianity. They seek permanent injunctive relief to preclude Defendants from continuing to engage in a pattern and practice of endorsement of religious activities and particular religious beliefs.

The Court presided at a bench trial held on December 12 and 13, 2007. At the conclusion of the trial, the Court asked counsel for the parties to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Having carefully reviewed the post-trial submissions of the parties, the trial transcript, the joint stipulated facts, the supplemental joint stipulated facts, and the trial exhibits, the Court now enters its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. To the extent the parties' proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law have not been adopted or are different from those now entered by the Court, the parties' proposed findings and conclusions are hereby rejected.


Lakeview is located in Wilson County, Tennessee, and is part of the Wilson County School System. The school has classes from kindergarten through fifth grade. Students are typically 5 to 12 years of age. The school day at Lakeview begins at 7:15 a.m. and ends at 2:15 p.m. Except for a short-lived chess club, there have been no student clubs or teams at Lakeview. No students asked Lakeview administrators to start a club or organization..

Plaintiffs John and Jane Doe are the parents of James Doe, born December 30, 1999, who attended kindergarten at Lakeview during the 2005-2006 school year. James Doe's assigned teacher was Janet Adamson ("Adamson"). Jane Doe is Jewish and John Doe is Christian. During all material times, the Does were homeowners in Wilson County, Tennessee and paid property taxes in the county. The Does purchased their residence in Wilson County in order to enroll their son, James, at Lakeview. The Does researched several schools, including Lakeview, before buying property. John Doe's research did not indicate that Lakeview had a reputation as a religious school.

Prior to his enrollment at Lakeview, James attended the Baptist Church Child Enrichment Center daycare program. Jane Doe did not object to sending James to the Baptist daycare because John Doe attended the Baptist Church. The Does did not experience any injury by placing James in the Baptist Church daycare program because they chose to place him there for religious instruction. The Does object "if somebody chooses to religiously train [James] on their own." (Trial Tr. at 192.) The Does have a son younger than James who was preschool age in 2005-2006. John Doe's oldest son attended Mt. Juliet Christian Academy in the 2005-2006 school year.

At all material times alleged in the Complaint, Dr. Jim Duncan ("Duncan"), Wendell Marlowe ("Marlowe"), Yvonne Smith ("Smith"), and Adamson were employees of the Wilson County School System/Wilson County Board of Education ("the System" or "the Board"). Dr. Duncan, the Director of Wilson County Schools, retired in December 2006. The Court substituted Dr. Duncan's successor, James M. Davis, as a Defendant in his official capacity as the current Director of Wilson. County Schools. (Docket Entry No. 65.) Marlowe served as Principal of Lakeview from 1986 through 2006 when he was transferred to a position as principal for a middle school in Wilson County. Many Lakeview parents were aware that Marlowe served for 12 years as an elected Wilson County Commissioner. (Joint Ex. 2F at 3; Joint Ex. 2G at 6.) Smith is the Assistant Principal of Lakeview. She has held that position for the last five to six years. Adamson has been a kindergarten teacher at Lakeview for 23 years.

The Intervenor-Defendants, James and Jennifer Walker ("Walker" or "Intervener") and Doug and Christy Gold ("Gold" or "Intervenor"), are parents of children who attended Lakeview during the 2005-2006 school year. The Golds have two children who currently attend Lakeview in third grade and kindergarten. The Walkers have two children who currently attend fourth and fifth grade at Lakeview. Interveners are not school system employees.

A. Board policies

The Board has a written policy, Number 3.206 effective June 3, 2004, which allows school facilities to be used for public, governmental, charitable, civic, recreational, cultural, and other purposes as approved by the Board when such facilities are not in use for school purposes. (Joint Ex. 1 c.) Among other things, the policy provides that "[s]tudent clubs and activities, parent teacher organizations, and other organizations affiliated with the schools shall be permitted use of school facilities without charge[.]" The policy further provides that the Board "will approve and periodically review a fee schedule for the use of school facilities by community or civic organizations and other non profit, recreational, religious, political, or philosophical groups." (Id. at 2.) However, "[w]hen it is clearly indicated that the facilities are utilized for activities related to the school program, no rental fee shall be charged for such usage." (Id.) All non-school activities must be under adult supervision, approved by the building principal, and "[i]n all cases, an assigned school employee must be present." (Id. at 1.) The policy also provides that "[g]roups receiving permission for building use are restricted to the dates and hours approved and to the building area and facilities specified, unless requested changes are approved by the principal[.]" (Id.)

The Board has another written policy, Number 1.806 effective June 3, 2004, governing the advertising and distribution of materials in the schools. (Joint Ex. lb.) This policy, among other things, provides that "[c]ommunity, educational, charitable, recreational and other similar civic groups may advertise events pertinent to students' interests or involvement. Such advertisement, including the distribution of materials, shall be subject to any procedures related to time, place and manner established by the principal[.]" (Id.) The policy further provides that the "principal shall screen all materials prior to distribution to ensure their appropriateness." (Id.) The policy allows the principal to prohibit materials that would likely violate the rights of others or promote activities that "[s]tudents would reasonably believe to be sponsored or endorsed by the school." (Id.) The policy expressly prohibits distribution of political literature to students, to their parents by sending the material home by students, or by placing material directly in teacher mailboxes or lounges. (Id.) The policy further provides that school publications "may accept and publish paid advertising under procedures established by the director of schools." (Id.)

The Board adopted a third policy concerning the recognition of religious beliefs, customs and holidays. (Joint Ex. 1a.) This policy, Number 4.803, effective June 3, 2004, states:

No religious belief or nonbelief shall be promoted by the school system or its employees and none shall be belittled. All students and staff members shall be tolerant of each other's views. The school system shall use its opportunity to foster understanding and mutual respect among students and parents, whether it involves race, culture, economic background or religious beliefs, [footnote 1 omitted] In that spirit of tolerance, students and staff members shall be excused from participating in practices which are contrary to their religious beliefs.


Observance of religious holidays [footnote 2 omitted] shall be as follows:

1. The several holidays throughout the year which have both a religious and a secular basis may be observed in the public schools; [footnote 3 omitted]

2. The historical and contemporary values and the origin of religious holidays may be explained in an unbiased and objective manner without sectarian indoctrination;

3. Music, art, literature and drama having religious themes or basis are permitted as part of the curriculum for school sponsored activities and programs if presented in a prudent and objective manner and as a traditional part of the cultural and religious heritage of the particular holiday;

4. The use of religious symbols that are part of a religious holiday are permitted as a teaching aid or resource, provided such symbols are displayed as an example of the cultural and religious heritage of the holiday and are temporary in nature[;]

5. The school district's calendar shall be...

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    ...6 (9th Cir.1994) ; and even that students can present a living nativity scene as a part of a holiday program, Doe v. Wilson Cty. Sch. Sys. , 564 F.Supp.2d 766, 800 (M.D.Tenn.2008). None of those cases establishes bright-line rules, but each illustrates how in appropriate circumstances, reli......
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    ...that a school district violated the establishment clause by sponsoring National Day of Prayer events. Doe v. Wilson County School System, 564 F.Supp.2d 766, 801-02 (M.D.Tenn.2008); See also Opinion, “Wasted Deseret Morning News, Oct, 20, 2009, at A18 (letter to editor from Mormon reader sta......
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  • Expression of Religion in Public Schools
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