WAYNESVILLE, N.C.--Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute successfully defended the First Amendment right of a North Carolina public school teacher to participate in the "See You at the Pole" rally taking place at her school's flagpole on Sept. 18, 2002. "See You at the Pole" is a student-initiated, student-organized and student-led event in which students gather at their school's flagpole to pray for their school, community and nation. "See You at the Pole" rallies are held on school grounds across the nation on the third Saturday in September each year.
Rhonda Haney, a teacher at Waynesville
Middle School in Waynesville, N.C., contacted The Rutherford Institute late in the afternoon of Sept. 17, 2002. Haney informed Institute legal staff that school officials had issued a memorandum prohibiting teachers from participating in the "See You at the Pole" rally scheduled for 7:15 a.m. the following morning. Haney's eighth-grade students had organized and publicized the rally without help from any adults, and she wanted to attend the rally to support their efforts. Jason Sneed, an Institute affiliate attorney from Charlotte, N.C., worked with Institute staff to resolve the matter before the end of the school day. Sneed contacted the Haywood County school district's associate superintendent and advised her of the rights of teachers to meet with the students at the rally. As a result, the associate superintendent advised her faculty that they could attend the "See You at the Pole" rally and stand outside the students' prayer circle and bow their heads as the students prayed. After the "See You at the Pole" rally on the morning of Sept. 18, both the associate superintendent and Rhonda Haney expressed their appreciation for The Rutherford Institute's intervention and assistance. Haney said the rally went "wonderfully" and that several faculty members participated by standing outside the students' prayer circle with their heads bowed in prayer.
"Teachers need not refrain from supporting their students' efforts in organizing and leading a community-wide event merely because it involves prayer," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "We are pleased that the school officials were cooperative and that we were able to help these teachers exercise their constitutional rights."
The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.