ELKHART — An atheist group claims Elkhart Central High School and the Elkhart Police Department violated the law when a teacher and police officer joined students in prayer during a See You at the Pole event at the high school on Sept. 26. 

Members of the Northern Indiana Atheists released a video showing students praying at the event.

They claim participation by the adults is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution as well as the Equal Access Act. 

Leading the prayer is Elkhart Police Officer Cody Skipper, who serves as a school resource officer at Elkhart Central.

According to the Equal Access Act, government and school employees cannot participate in, only observe, such events. 

“I don’t care about laws,” the police officer can be heard saying following the prayer.

The Northern Indiana Atheists claim that the woman standing to his right is a teacher at the school. 

“It’s the position of Northern Indian Atheists and American Atheists that a uniformed officer and a public school teacher leading students in prayer is prohibited by the Establishment Clause and is a violation of the Elkhart Community Schools policy,” Northern Indiana Atheists President Troy Moss said.

“It also goes against their statement from 2013 when they said they understood their obligation to maintain a status of neutrality on matters related to religious belief, and to avoid actions which might be construed as endorsement of any particular religious beliefs. Those are their words,” Moss said.

Elkhart Chief of Police Ed Windbigler said he received a complaint from the group and that the city attorney is reviewing it. 

“Depending on when school starts, when school’s out and all these types of things, I want him to legally look at it and give me his opinion before we move forward with it,” Windbigler said.

“We have to investigate and see if there was something that was violated, and if there was, then we’ll take action to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Assistant Chief Todd Thayer.

Elkhart Community Schools has not confirmed that the person standing next to Skipper is a teacher.

“At least my read of the Constitution and the court decisions is that as long as she is not leading the activity and is just there as a bystander, I don’t believe that reaches the level where there is the imprimatur of the state,” said District Counsel and Chief of Staff at Elkhart Community Schools Douglas Thorne.

The alleged teacher does not appear to be leading the prayer, but she is in the prayer circle.

“Now, if this happened during work hours, if this was a school-sponsored function, obviously the rules change significantly at that point in time. She would then, at that juncture, be truly a representative of the state,” Thorne said.

According to Brenda Kolbe, director of communication at the school corporation, teachers at Elkhart Central can choose to work 6:55-2:55 a.m. or 7:05-3:05 a.m. 

Northern Indiana Atheists said the event took place at 7:05 a.m, which would be during a teacher’s workday. A photo of the event, taken on an iPhone, shows a 7:06 a.m. timestamp. 

The complaint from Northern Indiana Atheists and American Atheists asks that both the school and the police department take steps to educate their employees on what they can and cannot do when it comes to religious activities.

“I think that our employees have a fairly decent understanding of what the limits are in terms of their First Amendment rights during the workday in the workplace,” Thorne said. 

He said that if there was a violation, he would speak with any involved employee and clarify the school’s expectations. 

“The challenge for schools in this area is, we have organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation (and) the atheist organization that brought this to our attention on one side, and on the other side we have organizations who like to draw attention to any effort to abridge the religious freedom of students and employees. Quite honestly, I’ve been attacked by both sides. So we try to remain religiously neutral,” he said.

Moss said this has happened before in Elkhart, and that the Northern Indiana Atheists will be expanding its school auditor program in 2019.

“The hope is we don’t find any more violations, but we’ll be watching,” he said.

(42) comments

jmz522

Anyone else wish certain people would stop trolling.

Splattimus

This article was written as clickbait. LOL....

RasmusSJorgensen Staff
RasmusSJorgensen

Hi. I appreciate you and everyone else sharing their thoughts on this. You are not the first to call this click bait, and so I have asked the same question of another person who said the same: What makes you call it that?
Click bait, I would say, is when a headline tries to trick a reader to click on a story, which then doesn't turn out to be what it seemed. I believe the headline for this article represents the story accurately. If you don't think so, or if something else makes you think I was trying to bait you, I would like to hear what that is, so that I can avoid it in the future. Thank you.

Splattimus

My apologies.By definition you are correct. Much like other definitions in the "new world" wiki-dictionaries, this term should have more definitions. What I meant was that some of the articles such as this one are written in a way that divides readers into this hatred of each others' opinions, races, beliefs, etc. These types of articles (IMO) are placed here to get people all wound up and repeatedly CLICK on the article to see others' trolling responses, thus creating more revenue for (throat clears) THE TRUTH.With all due respect, I think the best way to avoid this in the future would be to Disable the comments.

RasmusSJorgensen Staff
RasmusSJorgensen

That's a fair concern. I can honestly tell you I have no idea if a story getting a lot of clicks, as this one has, makes much of a difference to our owners. Either way, that is not my motivation.
I understand your point about the comments, and I hope we can address that in some way soon. I think part of the role of a newspaper is to encourage discussion about our community and society, though attacks and hatred is not something we want at all. Thank you for taking part in the discussion.

Imalwaysright

Typical hate from a left wing fringe group. I find it hilarious they sure give a lot of time and effort to a being they claim does not exist.

myVoice

Looks to me like the officer and 'possible' teacher may have been late to work that morning by about a minute, nuthang to see here, time to move on. I'd wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving but fear that may appear as giving thanks to a deity in someone's opinion somewhere.

Betty Zeta

There is NO WAY that the group was in violation with the 14th Amendment. That amendment translates ESTABLISH or FAVOR any ONE religion thus giving everyone the right to worship as one pleases. I am so sick and tired of hatred, and Narsisstic mentality of what are suppose to be mature, caring adults. The people need to get a life, worship or don't worship but STOP tearing everyone who doesn't believe as you do, down. Is it any wonder that the FBI has reported that Elkhart, IN is the 3rd most dangerous city in Indiana?

fire111

No where in the 1st Amendment does it say you can't pray. It does say...Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. What it CLEARLY says is Congress can't tell WHAT religion to practice or not. Isn't that pretty clear?

deeogee

The call to worship is a completely different thing. It's not people praying quietly at one event but are blaring loud speakers that disturb entire neighborhoods five times a day.

Joe King

It is the same thing....people trying to pray according to their faith. RFRA that passed in Indiana says so right?

Joe King

I guess everyone that is complaining and blaming atheist and "liberals" are the same people that would complain when the call to worship being broadcasted 5 times each day for our Muslims..... Yeah...hypocrisy much?

coldhardfacts

But the atheist and liberals don't complain about that however.

coldhardfacts

islam is NOT part of our countries heritage either. We are founded on Judeo Christian values as part of the fabric of our laws. Typical Red Herring from Josie.

Just Facts

This is why the area is rock bottom in the country in so many ways.

Mohara

I am one of the kids who participated in the see you at the pole event on september 26 2018, and none of the attendees at the event gave permission to be shown or mentioned in any videos or photos, the man who filmed this was not apart of the event and was not grantes permission to show any of our faces or names in photos or videos, which is a violation of our rights, the group who posted this is only trying to slander and degrade our religion, we were not violating any laws, all who attended was there voluntarily and the school had no involvement in the event, if the school allows an lgbt+ club and many other clubs. Promoting beliefs and opinions, which some have been backed by the school, then a simple club that is in no way backed by the school or any other organizations beside those in the group. This article is a complete example of how this community will turn it's back on a group quietly practicing their beliefs, when multiple other groups in the school loudly push their beliefs on other students.

Joe King

you are in a public place. You should have no expectation of privacy. Your rights were not violated. I guess you won't be oppose to hearing the "call to worship" prayer 5 times during the day.... This is why religion MUST be banned from government and public places....Contrary to your beliefs, there are others.

sidearm

You have a real problem with our police don't you Joe. But regardless of that, if and when you need them they will be there for you. Try to use some common sense and be a little more appreciative of our first responders and students who believe in a higher power. I know who you are and you really are better than the comments you post.

Jonas

Why does this guy always get his posts listed and so many others are3 never heard because of editorial staff biases? He has GOT to be related to someone at the "truth"!

Joe King

Sidearm, where do you get saying I have a problem with police from the above comment? But after reading the reports from the south bend tribune and prorepublica about the EPD we should all have concerns with our police dept. and how it is being run...from the top down....but try to stay on topic please and I doubt you know me.

Wellinformed

Just know you have a right to do what you are doing. There is nothing wrong with it. Unfortunately the media now runs in a “click bait” world. These articles create clicks which make them money. The more controversial the more clicks. Just know that the majority of people understand this and are behind you. Honestly shame on Elkhart Truth for putting this in the paper. To the atheists I respect your right to believe whatever you want. A little grown up tolerance would do everyone some good. We don’t have to be so divided.

RasmusSJorgensen Staff
RasmusSJorgensen

Hi there. I appreciate you and everyone else sharing their thoughts on this. I see you are calling this click bait, and I'm curious what it is that makes you say that.
Click bait, I would say, is when a headline tries to trick a reader to click on a story, which then doesn't turn out to be what it seemed.
I believe the headline for this article represents the story accurately. If you don't think so, or if something else makes you think I was trying to bait you, I would like to hear what that is, so that I can avoid it in the future. Thank you.

Wellinformed

Yes you are right. This is not by definition click bait as seen on the internet articles you describe. I wish that I had opened the article to read something different but instead I read an extremely polarizing article (which I might point out that with 37 comments so far clearly the majority of the people reading and commenting do not agree with the athiests here). For a group that preaches tolerance for their own beliefs they surely have a problem with other people exercising their own. This article is only fueling the divide in our country in a time when we should be coming together. That is what I was getting at but misspoke. While this article is not directly about politics it is indirectly. This kind of garbage is exactly why Donald trump won. People are tired of this extremism being portrayed as the “norm” when it is not. If the left wants to win next time, I would suggest less of this childish foot stomping and crying and more attempts at coming together and practicing the so called “tolerance” they like to preach so much.

RasmusSJorgensen Staff
RasmusSJorgensen

I can see your point. My hope in writing this story, beyond the idea that a group does not have to be a majority to have its complaints heard, was that it would create some debate about the issue. I don't care who wins that debate, and The Elkhart Truth doesn't either, but I think it's a good thing for our society when we can talk about different ideas. I do wish it would happen in a nicer way than it does at times. Thank you for participating and for responding to my question.

Michiana Music Scene

If what you say is true, the administrators at your school are incompetent and breaking the law. Allowing groups to "loudly push their beliefs" on unwilling students is absolutely unacceptable. You need to start naming names.

Michiana Music Scene

I guess it takes the atheists to understand our laws separating church and state. In reading the comments, it's quite alarming to see the level of ignorance not only of the law, but the reasoning behind the laws.

deeogee

They could have been more accurate in the title of the article. They should have used the term "Left Wing Radicals" instead of " Atheists" . Atheists are just non believers but don't necessarily go around trying to force others to give up their religion.

thechosenone

HAHAHAHA atheist are sad little people that hate the fact they can't beat the power of god

Jonas

Atheists are people who call out to God when things get really bad just like some of the writers who are constantly bad-mouthing the police but are the first to call them when they need something from them. If the editorial staff was really doing their jobs they would eliminate these little peo;e from constantly trying to stir up trouble.

JMS920

Nothing but a publicity stunt by an obscure group in an effort to escape obscurity.

Deuce Luminox

The atheists are watching. How comforting.

pmorse584

That law needs to be changed. This is being reported like its a bad thing. Which would you rather have? God and prayer in school or evil with kids shooting up the school? The choice is ours to make. Go ahead and kick God out of the school....he will leave but don't come crying why did God let this happen when evil takes over and your kids are dead. You made your choice. God bless Cody Skipper.

fire111

Stories like this just makes you want to move to the boonies. Live your life as you please and be thankful for all.

Wellinformed

*slander

Wellinformed

Oh and wasn’t Cody skipper the police officer who was the one of the heroes from the martins mass shooting a few years ago? Oh but yes atheists. Let’s stander his name because you caught him praying. Shame shame!

sidearm

He is a fine young man and I wish I had son or two like him.

Ecow

And this is why I no longer pay for the elkhart truth. This is a perfect example of an article that should not be given attention and a voice. One person complains and you write this article to upset your readers, who likely strong majority do not agree with this at all. Stop trying to divide our country.

thechosenone

people pay for this newspaper?LOL the only thing it would be good for is puppy papers

sidearm

True that.

Wellinformed

Wow this is just sad. seriously atheists? Do you not have anything better to do than to cause trouble for people who are just trying to pray? Nobody is making you pray so just go walk away and keep your mouth shut for once. You already took away the live nativity that was there for years not bothering anybody because it “offended” you. Grow up. Why should the law have to respect your “right” not to believe in anything but not our right to believe in something. You have freedom of speech and freedom of religion and so do we but apparently only one side is enforced. With how the world is and how many people die daily from mass shootings and disasters give people a right to pray. Your group is a bunch of pathetic whiners. Get a life please.

Michiana Music Scene

No one is suggesting that anyone not pray. The atheist group is merely suggesting that the law be respected.

sidearm

Like the pot laws? You follow them musician?

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