Student in Prayer Suit Against Fayette District Speaks Out

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FAYETTE - District officials for the Fayette R-III School District are keeping quiet after allegations of teacher-sponsored and school-promoted prayer sessions in the high school surfaced in a lawsuit filed against the district.

Monica Miller is a legal consultant for the American Humanist Association (AHA), the group who filed the suit. She said high school teacher Gwen Pope would participate in prayer sessions and promote a club called the Fellowship of Christian Students.

Miller said she was contacted last year by Gavin Hunt, a sophomore at the high school who said Pope was unconstitutionally promoting religion in his class. While Hunt's identity was not revealed in the suit, he agreed to reveal his identity in an interview with KOMU 8 News.

"The AHA reached out to the school and sent a letter informing them that this practice they established is unconstitutional," Miller said. "They decided not to resolve it."

The group filed a complaint against the district Wednesday which includes allegations against former principal Darren Rapert saying he promoted Pope's prayer sessions.

The complaint references the school district policy which says, "Employees of the district or other adults may not sponsor, promote, or lead student-initiated groups or meetings."

Hunt is an atheist and told KOMU 8 News he recently left the school because of the religious environment the school promotes. He now goes to school in Peoria, Ill.

"I would assume Christians would be accepting, but it actually turned out to be the opposite," Hunt said. "But I'm not one to stand down. I've got to stand up for what I believe in."

KOMU 8 News requested interviews with both Superintendent Tamara Kimball as well as current principal, Corey Felten. Both refused to comment on the allegations.

UPDATE: The district has released a written statement to the media saying: "The Fayette School District has recently learned through media outlets that a lawsuit has been filed against the District alleging violations of the First Amendment. The District has not yet received a copy of the lawsuit, and thus it cannot make any specific comment at this time concerning the allegations. The District is mindful of the First Amendment rights of its students and staff members, and its Board of Education has adopted policies which specifically address the First Amendment protections afforded to students and staff members. The District strives to respect and abide by the constitutional rights of its students and staff members. It will vigorously defend against any claim that the District has taken actions which violate any person's First Amendment rights."