Earlier this spring, FFRF received a complaint from a New York resident who reported that one of the science teachers at Public School 76 Queens (a NYC public school) displayed a cross on the wall next to the blackboard. This display also included the words "love god."
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the principal of the school on May 8, 2012, that "it is well settled that public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion." She added "courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography on the walls..." Markert asked the district to "take immediate action to remove the cross..."
On July 18 the principal responded that "the item has been removed."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has stopped a violation in which soldiers were being forced to mow Catholic Charities' lawn.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel drafted and sent a letter on July 5 on behalf of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and also signed by American Atheists, objecting to using U.S. soldiers to support Catholic Social Services of Augusta. The Regimental Noncommissioned Officer Academy’s Advanced Leader Course (ALC) at Fort Gordon, Ga., ordered soldiers to “provide area beautification support to the Catholic Social Services.”
FFRF’s complainant has assured Seidel that the “program with Catholic Social Services has ceased.”
A graduating senior contacted FFRF to report that East Limestone High School in Athens, Ala., had scheduled an official graduation invocation and benediction, in which te student leading the prayer asked everyone to bow their heads and pray. The invocation and benediction were listed in the graduation schedule.
The student complainant, who identified herself as an atheist, noted she was offended at being told to pray at her graduating ceremony: “I just felt uncomfortable, and it seemed like our school was publicly supporting the faith of the majority in my school.” FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel pointed out in his June 4, 2012 letter that Supreme Court precedent has explicitly “ruled prayers at public school graduations an impermissible establishment of religion.” Seidel also pointed out that these prayers alienate the one in four nonbelieving Americans under the age of 29.
After writing two more follow-up letters to the Limestone County Board of Education, FFRF was told by the superintendent on Aug. 21 that the schools “have been informed of the law and have taken appropriate steps to ensure that religious prayers will not be scheduled or endorsed as a part of the graduation ceremonies or any other school sponsored events.”
A member contacted FFRF regarding an invocation included in the 2011 commencement ceremony at Field Local Schools in Mogadore, Ohio. This prayer was listed in the official program and given by the class treasurer.
FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the superintendent: "The Supreme Court has settled this matter — high school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students." Receiving no response, FFRF followed up on July 2011 and again in February 2012.
In a March 27 letter the attorney for the school district wrote that "Field High School will not have prayer at graduation ceremonies and has enacted policies prohibiting prayer at graduation." The letter included a copy of the newly enacted policies which specifically state ". . . school officials may not mandate or organize prayer at graduation nor organize religious baccalaureate ceremonies." The school district confirmed in late August that no prayer was scheduled for the 2012 graduation ceremony.
FFRF was informed that a staff member at the college sent an email to all district employees via various faculty and staff listservs inviting them all to join a prayer at the pole event. The email advocated for Christian prayer and contained several New Testament verses. The staff member also used the following as his email signature: "BY GRACE ALONE THROUGH FAITH ALONE IN CHRIST ALONE."
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the chancellor at Peralta Community College in Oakland, Calif., April 4, 2012, over inappropriate religious proselytizing via work email. Markert noted in her letter "that statements of college employees — even emails sent to faculty and staff listservs — are attributable to the school" and that "no public school employee may urge religious points of view on coworkers or other employees." Markert asked the college to "take appropriate steps to ensure no employee is inappropriately utilizing state resources to push a religious agenda."
General Counsel for the college informed Markert on Aug. 22 that the employee who sent the email is no longer sending out emails with religious content and was instructed to remove the religious quote from his email signature.
FFRF ended a church bulletin discount at Las Banderas Mexican Restaurant in Valdosta, Ga., giving 20% off of food for customers who brought in a church bulletin.
The restaurant owner agreed to end the discount and remove the promotion from the restaurant website. FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt complained on Aug. 16, 2012, and received a phone call from the owner on Aug. 22.
On behalf of a local complainant, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Dougherty County School, Ga., on May 23, 2012, to point out numerous constitutional violations by an area representative of Fellowship for Christian Athletes, who gave post-game prayers to Westover and Dougherty High School football teams in Albany, Ga.
FCA rep Bill Cox would gather the team and coaches around him and tell them to kneel. Prayers included: “Thank you most of all for the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for us,” “Thank you Lord Jesus for dying on the cross to save us from our sins,” “we thank you most of all for Jesus Christ who died on the cross 2,000 years ago.”
Dougherty Superintendent Joshua Murfree replied on Aug. 23 that Cox “is not connected to the school system in any way.” “His activities are inconsistent with the practices of the school system, and I have issued instructions that, because of his activities Mr. Bill Cox is not to be permitted to come upon school property or to attend school-sponsored functions.” The superintendent “reiterated to our athletic employees our practice of not permitting prayer at athletic functions. . .”
FFRF contacted four separate Florida agencies on May 4, 2012, including the Department of Consumer Services, the Department of Revenue, and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, asking them to investigate what appeared to be a “scam in God’s name.”
The problem involves a Florida policy allowing drivers to purchase specialty license plates for an additional fee. That fee goes to the organization that develops the specialty plate to meet some charitable purpose. These plates feature universities, endangered species, sports teams and “god.” The “In God We Trust” license plates are supposed to “fund educational scholarships for the children of Florida residents who are members of the United States Armed Forces, the National Guard, and the United States Armed Forces Reserve.” But FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel that the “In God We Trust Foundation” had collected over $630,000 and distributed nothing to the children.
After being sent several follow-up letters, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles wrote FFRF on August 27: “Our department is aware of the alleged non-compliance regarding the distribution of funds from sales of the In God We Trust specialty license plate. As this is an on-going investigation we are not at liberty to divulge related information.” However, the Department did state that there was “an active investigation into the distribution of funds from sales of the In God We Trust license plate” and that “our department has not distributed any funds to the IGWT foundation… money collected from purchases of license plate is being withheld until [the] matter is resolved.” One less scam in the name of god.