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May 18 2013

The Lumpkin Prayer Case Gets Worse

Remember that situation a couple weeks ago at a school in Georgia where a coach and 50 student prayed together in his office for two hours as the students missed class? Things seem to have been much worse than originally indicated. The FFRF has written a letter to the school with new information from their investigation.

According to this letter, here are the new developments:

1. 12 teachers and staff members took part in the prayers, at least three of whom are related to members of the school board.

2. The whole thing lasted six hours, not just two, apparently on and off with different teachers and different students.

3. This isn’t the first time this school has had a problem with church/state violations, including Principal Conner. A New York Times article from 2006 tells the story of a biology teacher at the school being called into Conner’s office to talk about the teaching of evolution. According to that article, Conner took out his Bible and said he believed every word of it and asked the teacher if he did.

4. At least three people from outside the school were allowed to enter and join in the prayers, with one of them allegedly going into the cafeteria and telling other students that they should be in the gym praying too.

So this isn’t just a few students skipping class, it’s teachers leaving their classes to go have a prayer session in the gym. All with no reaction from the school administration and no disciplinary action at all. This story is going to get a whole lot bigger. I’d say it’s time for that school system to clean house in their administration.

38 comments

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  1. 1
    raven

    prayed together in his office for two hours

    This seems odd.

    Two hours? Why?

    Is god deaf? Does he give out favors based on number of people praying and hours prayed?

    This looks like superstitious mumbo jumbo on the level of Voodoo or witchcraft.

    Hmmm, well I know exactly what the subject of the next Lumpkin prayer marathon will be. Asking god to toss a few lightning bolts at the FFRF and their lawyers.

  2. 2
    Modusoperandi

    “So this isn’t just a few students skipping class, it’s teachers leaving their classes to go have a prayer session in the gym.”

    I BET THEY HAVE TENYUR! TYPICAL TEACHERS UNIONS! ANYTHING FOR A BREAK! AND JUST TRY TO FIRE ‘EM!

  3. 3
    whheydt

    Sounds like some of the school board need to be replaced as well.

  4. 4
    Artor

    Raven @1
    It was actually six hours, not two.

  5. 5
    raven

    It was actually six hours, not two.

    Oh.

    further down:

    The whole thing lasted six hours, not just two, apparently on and off

    So how much prayer is enough to get what you want? Two hours, six hours, 60 hours. Seems like after 3,000 years someone should know this basic fact.

    Even when I was a xian, prayer seemed sort of silly. The god is supposed to be omniscient. It already knows. And why should he act like a magic genie from a magic lamp and give out favors to people who perform the proper rituals the right way? Besides which, it never seemed to have any tangible effects in the real world.

    These days, it seems like pretending to talk to an imaginary sky fairy.

  6. 6
    Michael Heath

    [Principal] Conner took out his Bible and said he believed every word of it and asked the [biology] teacher if he did.

    Even the falsified assertions?

  7. 7
    chrismorrow

    raven:

    Is god deaf? Does he give out favors based on number of people praying and hours prayed?

    This looks like superstitious mumbo jumbo on the level of Voodoo or witchcraft.

    When you think about it, it’s not much stranger than thinking prayer is needed at all (for the reasons you mentioned). So long as God is going to “reward” prayer, he may as well tie the reward to measurable factors like length of time.

    I don’t think you can really justify the idea of intercessory prayer except by embedding it into various theodicies, along the lines of “Well, God makes the rules.” Just like God (arbitrarily?) made it so that people with access to vaccination will do better than those without, so too did he make it so that people with religious friends who pray for them will do better than others. (Except of course for the evidence gap between the efficacy of those two methods.)

    Micheal Heath:

    Even the falsified assertions?

    Especially the falsified assertions!

  8. 8
    Modusoperandi

    Michael Heath “Even the falsified assertions?”
    Oh, please. I believe every word of the Bible. It’s at the phrase level where it gets iffy. Move up to sentences and it turns genuinely problematic. And don’t get me started on the paragraphs!

  9. 9
    democommie

    “Sounds like some of the school board need to be replaced as well.”

    Sounds like it’s time for the ghost of Judge W. Arthur Garrity to put the schools in that jerkwater shithole into receivership.

    There’s a reason that this idiocy takes place, mostly, in southern states; top down authoritarian bullshit just comes natural to them rebs*,

    * Irony intended.

  10. 10
    space cadet

    Look at all of this persecution! What else are these poor christians supposed to do? It’s not like they have some place, some building, somewhere they can come together to worship their god! The only place they can fuck around for 6 hours pray for 6 hours is at the public school!

  11. 11
    dogmeat

    I would suggest caution with the “firing people” rhetoric. A full investigation is warranted, and, from what I’ve read so far, yes, the principal likely should be relieved, but I don’t know that we know enough about the teachers’ actions to so blithely go around firing people. Remember that the easier you make it to fire people you believe have exceeded their authority and power, the easier it is for your opponents to do the same thing. Whether they actually have done so or not can end up being irrelevant depending on the circumstances.

    I personally know teachers who had their jobs threatened for teaching evolution, another who was recorded and then brought before administration because he wouldn’t allow the teaching of “all the theories.” In at least one of the cases, at least one of the administrators agreed with the parent but was unable to proceed because of legal limitations. In other cases I know that the administration was completely behind the teacher, but given different circumstances they could have been putting their jobs on the line as well.

    I personally was the subject of an administrative meeting over my “teaching of atheistic evolution” and have had a number of complaints by fundamentalist parents who don’t like me talking about things like the age of the earth, the age of the universe, the evidence for evolution, evidence that there wasn’t a global flood, etc. Again, fortunately for me I had administrator’s who supported me, I presented the evidence of what I had actually taught, cited the state standards to support my curriculum, etc., but as I said, given the wrong administrator or a lack of support; rather than annoyed and inconvenienced, I could have been fighting for my job.

    I’m leery about attempts to make it easier to fire people when we don’t know all of the facts and when we don’t have any established criteria for their termination.

  12. 12
    Modusoperandi

    dogmeat “…the principal likely should be relieved…”
    A heady brew of semantics and boredom makes me read as the principal leaning back in his chair, wiping his brow and going “Whew. That’s a load off.”

  13. 13
    space cadet

    @ dogmeat, #11

    From the letter sent by MRFF:

    we have confirmation that some students went through entire class periods without any adult supervision or teacher present..

    I agree that an investigation is warranted based on the information we have so far. But the call for firing of the teachers involved is not, IMO, rhetoric. This isn’t a case of a biology teacher promoting creationism over evolution. These teachers willfully left students unattended in the classrooms in order to go pray. That is a gross dereliction of duty (I know that is a military term, but it seems appropriate), and they abused the trust that the community placed in them to keep watch over their children.

  14. 14
    space cadet

    That should read “letter sent by FFRF”, not “MRFF”

  15. 15
    Reginald Selkirk

    According to that article, Conner took out his Bible and said he believed every word of it and asked the teacher if he did.

    The obvious should be no. A biology teacher should not believe that the world was created in six days, with whales and sea birds being created before land mammals.
    Getting beyond the evolution thing, a biology teacher should not believe that placing sticks near the watering trough can cause livestock to bear striped and speckled offspring (Genesis 30), nor that a rabbit chews its cud, a bat is a type of fowl, and insects have four legs (all from Leviticus 11)

  16. 16
    monimonika

    I’m of the opinion that the students who participated in the prayer should not have to face discipline this time around, since there were teachers/staff involved who would have confused the students about whether what they were doing was allowed or not. However, it should be made clear to all the students (whether they had participated or not the first time) that any subsequent incidents will be handled the same as willful skipping of classes and handled as such. No excuses (other than being forced to participate against their will) should be accepted.

    On firing the teachers/staff, I’m on the fence since I don’t know the teachers/staffs’ work histories, performances, etc. to make a judgement nor what things are usually considered for such positions.

  17. 17
    dogmeat

    But the call for firing of the teachers involved is not, IMO, rhetoric. This isn’t a case of a biology teacher promoting creationism over evolution. These teachers willfully left students unattended in the classrooms in order to go pray. That is a gross dereliction of duty

    I would argue that while the claim is confirmed, it hasn’t been proved. The teachers in this case, like anyone else accused of wrongdoing, deserve the same rights that anyone else would get, namely that the charges against them be proved.

    I also do see this somewhat as rhetoric. We see this a lot regarding charges of misconduct in various professions. “Fire them” is generally one of the first things that pops up in such a discussion. Don’t bother proving anything, don’t find out if the accusations are valid, just “fire them.” We’re seeing increasing efforts to make it quite simple to fire teachers, a lot of these efforts are based on this sort of rhetoric.

    As monimonika points out in 16, there are a number of questions to be asked even in the event that the teacher is found to be guilty of wrongdoing, simply firing them is something of a nuclear option. It might not be warranted, necessary, or even desirable to do so.

  18. 18
    cry4turtles

    I’m curious if any teachers may have felt pressured? Somebody mentioned tenure.

  19. 19
    space cadet

    I would argue that while the claim is confirmed, it hasn’t been proved. The teachers in this case, like anyone else accused of wrongdoing, deserve the same rights that anyone else would get, namely that the charges against them be proved

    I agree completely, and even stated in my previous post that an investigation is warranted based on the information gathered so far. I’m not advocating blindly firing people based merely on accusations. If the wording in my previous post made it seem like I was willing to throw due process out the window for these teacher, then I apologize, as that was not my intent.

    I also do see this somewhat as rhetoric. We see this a lot regarding charges of misconduct in various professions. “Fire them” is generally one of the first things that pops up in such a discussion. Don’t bother proving anything, don’t find out if the accusations are valid, just “fire them.” We’re seeing increasing efforts to make it quite simple to fire teachers, a lot of these efforts are based on this sort of rhetoric.

    I’ll take you at your word concerning the last sentence. For this specific case, though, I haven’t seen commentary calling for no-questions-asked firing of the teachers -or- I’m guilty of projecting my own thoughts of “pending the investigation” onto comments that do say the teachers should be fired. I don’t think it’s rhetoric to say that, if the accusations are true, these teachers should be fired. .

  20. 20
    fifthdentist

    “Conner took out his Bible and said he believed every word of it and asked the [biology] teacher if he did.”

    So he believes the bit where it says no one has seen the Lard’s face AND the part where Jacob wrestles the Lard face-fo-face?

  21. 21
    Dr X

    @Raven:

    “Is god deaf? Does he give out favors based on number of people praying and hours prayed?”

    In the back of my Catholic school catechism, there was a page devoted to “ejaculations.” Really, that’s what they were called. Ejaculations were praryers that could be as short as one sentence and as long as several. The ejaculations came with specific indulgences in the form of months or years off future time in purgatory. The longer the ejaculation, the more time off. And you could repeat the ejaculations and accumulate many years off from purgatory, which only served to make us think that if it was so easy to erase 100 years from purgatory time, the typical sentence must be for tens of thousands of years.

    For a while, I became quite profient at multiple ejaculations, but gave it up after the material had lost most of it’s stimulative value.

  22. 22
    monimonika

    Dr X: “For a while, I became quite profient at multiple ejaculations, but gave it up after the material had lost most of it’s stimulative value.”

    *giggle* Thanks for putting a smile on my face. :-)

  23. 23
    Scott Hanley

    Is god deaf? Does he give out favors based on number of people praying and hours prayed?

    It’s rather like those public displays of mourning when Kim Jong Il died. It’s bad for your future if you don’t put on a convincing display of really, really, really meaning it.

  24. 24
    Nibi

    Dr X

    For a while, I became quite profient at multiple ejaculations, but gave it up after the material had lost most of it’s stimulative value.

    How-to or it didn’t happen.

  25. 25
    Kevin

    @8: thereisalittleproblemtherebecausetheoriginalhebrewhasneithersentencesnorparagraphsandnotevenspacesbetweenwordsbecausenoneofthatshithadbeeninventedyet.

  26. 26
    Modusoperandi

    Kevin, the Bible was written in English, dummy.

  27. 27
    Pieter B, FCD

    Sheesh. MO beat me to TWO snarky comments this thread. Well played, sir.

  28. 28
    steve84

    @3
    Elected school boards need to be abolished altogether. They are a big reason for the miserable state of the American education system and have way, way too much power. Why should someone with no experience in education at all be allowed to decide such matters? In many cases it hardly takes anything to be elected. Just a couple thousand votes can be enough. This is exactly why the religious right has targeted these elections for decades. There are few school boards they don’t control.

  29. 29
    lofgren

    It still seems to me that there must be something else going on here. It’s not impossible that a 6 hour prayer session would spontaneously organize itself in the middle of a school day, but it seems less likely than that there must have been some inciting incident that is being deliberately obscured.

  30. 30
    Marcus Ranum

    Can you imagine the shitstorm that would ensue if those teachers were telling the students about the Koran?

  31. 31
    Uncle Glenny

    Raven said,

    So how much prayer is enough to get what you want? Two hours, six hours, 60 hours. Seems like after 3,000 years someone should know this basic fact.

    Are two enough? Are six too many?

  32. 32
    dan4

    “…who would have confused the students about whether what they were doing was allowed.”

    Come on, a student doesn’t know that, outside of the context of an excused absence, s/he is not allowed to miss a class? Give me a break.

  33. 33
    democommie

    “Come on, a student doesn’t know that, outside of the context of an excused absence, s/he is not allowed to miss a class? Give me a break.”

    See: Freshwater v. Mount Vernon Board of Education et al.

    Are you blind, as well as being a moron?

  34. 34
    slc1

    Re steve84 @ 28

    What is the evidence that school boards appointed by mayors and city council members are any better? If the mayor and city council of a particular jurisdiction are nutcases, they will appoint nutcases to the school boards. Note that the nutcases on the Dover school board were given the heave ho by the electorate in the election following the trial.

  35. 35
    dan4

    @33: What part of that case involved students missing class?

  36. 36
    monimonika

    dan4:

    @33: What part of that case involved students missing class?

    I’m wondering about that as well, dan4.

    As for confusing the students, it’s possible that the presence of one or more teachers gave them the impression that the students’ absences will be legitimately excused. Also, they’re in a school culture where anything (of the right type of) Christian gets deference, so to expect these students to know better when they’ve been taught otherwise is just being too harsh on them. Hoping that they can be untaught this way of thinking now that this incident has exposed the school.

  37. 37
    democommie

    “@33: What part of that case involved students missing class?”

    You are a fucking moron.

    Your comment:

    “32.

    dan4

    “…who would have confused the students about whether what they were doing was allowed.”

    Come on, a student doesn’t know that, outside of the context of an excused absence, s/he is not allowed to miss a class? Give me a break.”

    Freshwater’s students thought it was okay to be FUCKING BRANCED. Do you seriously think that “skipping class” might not be a little bit more defensible than physical mutilation?

    If your answer is, “no.”, then wtf is your comment @32 supposed to be about?

  38. 38
    dingojack

    Demo – Kids in Freshwater’s class got burned with a Tesla Coil and ”FUCKING BRANCED” as well?
    Quelle Horreur! :) [Yes I knew what you meant]

    Dan – In my view the issue is not that kids knowingly or unknowingly missed out on classes, that’s a red herring. The real problem here is why didn’t the adults in this situation realise that this kind of prayer meeting (even if it were lead by the students themselves) wouldn’t pass muster legally*. Surely, as educators, they would be expected to know the the laws and recent judgements relating to their own profession. It’s not the kids job to know the laws that regulate their teacher’s professional lives, it’s the teacher’s (and the school administration’s) job to know that.

    Dingo
    ——–
    * They seem to be involved during the six hour prayer meeting and they seem to have been involved covering up afterward when information about it got out, so they can’t claim that they didn’t know about it.

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