A southern Indiana school superintendent’s letter asking local churches to pray for the district has led to criticism that he may have overstepped the boundary between church and state.
The letter from Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corp. Superintendent Jerry Sanders was posted on social media earlier this month by Turning Point Apostolic Church, The Herald Times of Bloomington reported.
Sanders was hired as superintendent as the school system based in Ellettsville in November. He said he sent out the letters to 20 Christian churches in the area in December as part of his marketing plan to generate local support for the district.
Sanders asked the churches to pray for him as he leads the district, and to pray for the safety of students and staff.
“God will bless RBBSC with a strong partnership between school and home,” the letter said.
The letter was inappropriate because it was written on official district stationary, said school board president Dana Kerr.
“The letter that Dr. Sanders sent out was a personal letter to the pastors,” Kerr wrote. “Such a letter should not have been sent on RBBCSC letterhead.”
Kerr emphasized that the district is a public school corporation that is neutral on religion. The school board would be tasked with considering any disciplinary measures regarding the letter, which would be kept confidential because it’s a personnel matter, he said.
Sanders said he’s open with his faith and doesn’t see an issue with the letter.
“I think it’s important to point out that I did not send this letter out to R-BB parents, students or staff,” he said. “I believe as superintendent it’s my job to provide our students with a safe, educational public place to attend school, and that is for all students.”
Becky Hillenburg, an Edgewood Junior High School science teacher, said she supports Sanders’ move.
“It wasn’t like he was knocking on your door to try to convert you to his religion,” she said. “Whether you believe it or not, it’s not hurting anyone to pray for us.”
But Jimmy Moore, pastor of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Bloomington, disagreed.
“To do this in his official capacity on corporation letterhead reflects a misunderstanding of the Constitution, and his role as an educator in a public school system,” he said.