BOE likely to rescind ‘Billy Graham Day’

Published 1:30 pm Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The creation just last month of ‘Billy Graham Day’ will likely become null and void during the next Claiborne School Board meeting. County attorney James Estep III recommended during the board committee meeting recently that the Board of Education rescind the proclamation.

“We are operating under a federal court order from about 1988, prohibiting proselytizing religion. The action that was taken (the adoption of Billy Graham Day), in my opinion, violates that order.

“I’m a Baptist. I’m a deacon. I have to separate church from state in this situation. We’re subject to litigation, damages if we allow that to occur,” said Estep, referring to the court case brought against the county for allowing the ‘Bible lady’ to visit the various schools.

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The 1988 court order, he said, cost the county about $30,000, minus any attorney’s fees. In today’s money, the payout would equal about $200,000, he added.

During the 1990s, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling effectively allowing school districts to create ‘release time’ for students who wanted to participate in religious type activities on school grounds.

By agreement with the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), Estep said the county entered an order around the year 2000 stating that the system could “do anything legally and lawfully, allowed by federal or state statutes, subject to constitutional review, specific to release time.”

“We’re at the point where it’s eroding some on the limitations of what you can do as far as schools and religion. It’s still not at the point that we can have a specific holiday event in school, where there are students and teachers organized in allowing this activity to occur,” said Estep.

One of the board members questioned the legalities of celebrating Martin Luther King Day, since it carries connotations of religion.

Estep said that Day is a nationally-recognized, federally-enacted holiday.

“Billy Graham Day is not,” said Estep.

He agreed to explain the legalities to the public, during the April school board meeting.

In other action, it appears that ‘drug dogs’ will be invited to the various school campuses to sniff out illegal substances. Board member Shane Bunch broached the subject, during the committee meeting.

“I talked to a THP (Tennessee Highway Patrol) officer who’s over some of the drug dogs in Nashville. He said ‘all you have to do is get in touch with us. We’ll get you right in.’ He said ‘we’re sitting here, wanting to go to your schools, if you’ll let us know,’” said Bunch.

The ‘unannounced’ visits will need to be set up, by appointment with the THP, he said.

Safety director Bob Oakes said the Claiborne Sheriff’s Office and the police departments are willing to do unannounced drug dog visits, as well.

“I requested that it be done as soon as possible, but they’re not going to give me a time or date of when they’re going to do it,” said Oakes.

Bunch explained why the issue is of such a concern to him.

“I talked to several students and asked them, ‘What do you think? What’s it like? Is there a drug problem in our high schools?’

“They said ‘you can get drugs every day in our schools.’ Now, I don’t know what kind of drugs we’re talking about. Now, if there’s not a drug problem, let’s go through there and come out and say ‘there’s no drug problem.’ If there is, let’s try to nip this in the bud. Let’s try to make them at least a little wary about bringing it in here in backpacks and carrying them from classroom to classroom,” said Bunch.

The unannounced visits could occur before the end of the school year.