The ongoing debate surrounding the separation of church and state has made its way to several East Tennessee schools in recent weeks.
The school board in Lenoir City announced it has suspended the practice of reciting prayers at several events, including board meetings and football games.
At Pine Haven Elementary School in Jamestown, parents said several displays of the Ten Commandments were recently removed after the Fentress County schools director received a written complaint.
"On Monday we were informed that the Ten Commandments had been taken out
of the school," said Christy Kearns, the parent of a 5-year-old and a 6-year-old who attend Pine Haven Elementary School. "Members of the community are a little upset that they
were taken down. We feel like our rights were violated too when they
took down the Ten Commandments."
Kearns said students are now carrying the message of faith.
"Today a lot of the kids had their shirts on that had Bible verses on them. We met with our church last night and they made laminated copies of the Ten Commandments for students to put in their lockers. We don't have lockers at the elementary school, so I put the Ten Commandments on my boys' backpacks."
Principals at Pine Haven Elementary School were not at school Wednesday and unavailable to comment about the situation on-camera.
Phone calls to Fentress County Director of Schools Mike Jones were not returned as of Wednesday evening. Jones was unavailable while attending meetings in Nashville throughout Wednesday. Jones did send 10News the following statement via email:
"We are continuing to monitor the situation. We are concerned with the
education environment and protecting First Amendment rights." wrote Jones.
10News replied with a request to verify when and where the Ten Commandments were displayed in the school. 10News also requested verification of which organization sent the letter asking Fentress County Schools to remove the Ten Commandments. Media representatives from groups such as the ACLU, Americans United, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation said they were unaware of the situation in Jamestown.
Church leaders have stated that the removal of the Ten Commandments from public schools damages the community.
"Yes, we are in a secular society, but the people in that society still have faith. That faith can certainly make a difference for morality," said Fred Allred, pastor at Faith Baptist Tabernacle.
Allred and other community leaders such as Fentress County commissioner Ray Buck said the non-denominational Voice of Hope prayer group's advisory board will hold a meeting Thursday night at the county courthouse to discuss the removal of the Ten Commandments. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. CST. Organizers said they moved the regularly-scheduled meeting to the courthouse to accommodate a larger than usual crowd.
As for Kearns, she wants the Ten Commandments displayed on the walls of her children's elementary school.
"At least we're trying. At least we're standing up as christians and a community to let our voices be heard," said Kearns.
Parents said the principal of Pine Haven Elementary School, Daryl Rains, is also a preacher at a local church. Several websites list Rains as a reverend and religious leader at Allardt First Baptist Church.