The Freedom From Religion Foundation has helped to remove an unlawful religious quilt display from a public hallway at the University of Florida.
A large religious quilt display hanging in a hallway shared by the veterinary department and the department of aging and geriatric research said "all creatures great and small/the Lord God made them all." This religious endorsement prompted a concerned student to contact FFRF. Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote a letter to university president Bernie Machen on March 1, 2012, noting that "when a publicly-funded college... posts a statement promoting a religious viewpoint, that statement sends a message that people adhering to certain religious beliefs are favored members of the community and that people who have different religious beliefs or are nonreligious are outsiders in their community."
"Such a religious message offends Florida's underrepresented minority religious population," added Schmitt.
The associate vice president, in a June 29 response said that the quilt was left behind when the veterinary department changed buildings, that she anticipates "removing it from its current location" and does not "have plans to display it at this time."
FFRF was contacted by a curious researcher in November 2011 who “wanted to look up religion statistics and tried www.census.gov,” the U.S. Census website. The census stopped collecting religious statistics in 1936, but provides links to “more information.” These links included the Hartford Seminary and the Glenmary Research Center (GRC). The link to the GRC in fact linked to Glenmary Home Missioners, a Catholic missionary organization “dedicated to establishing a Catholic presence in rural areas and small towns of the United States where the Catholic Church is not yet effectively present. Glenmary missioners strive to proclaim and witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ and the power of God's love, mercy and justice.” GRC “supports and assists Glenmary Home Missioners by providing applied research to Glenmary leadership, individual missioners, Church leaders and the wider society. The GRC operates under a mandate from the Glenmary Executive Council.”
FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel wrote Dr. Robert Groves, Director of the Census Bureau, a letter on May 22, 2012: “The Glenmary website provides little statistical information and, given the goals quoted above, it is clear that demographic research takes a backseat to winning converts.” Seidel argued that by linking to the GRC, “the U.S. Census Bureau appears to be endorsing Christianity, and specifically Catholicism.” A statistics hound himself, Seidel made a secular suggestion: “There are numerous other organizations and studies the website could mention in place of this proselytizing sectarian one. The Pew Forum on Religion & the Public Life provides a significant amount of excellent information on religious affiliation, demographics, regions, beliefs and practices, and even individual topics. This would provide citizens with more information and eliminate the appearance of religious endorsement.”
After numerous follow ups and phone calls, the Census’ Web and Social Media Branch reviewed all the links to religious information — and as of July 2, removed them all. Accepting Seidel’s suggestion the Census now links to the Pew Research Center. See the new page with the link to Pew at http://www.census.gov/prod/www/religion.htm.
The South Dearborn School Board (Ind.) will no longer open its monthly meetings with a prayer, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
A concerned school district parent informed FFRF that school board officials began each monthly meeting by reciting the Lord's prayer. These meetings are open to the public and often include young students from the district. Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt sent an April 20, 2012, letter to School Board President Daryl Cutter: "It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule prayer as part of its scheduled meetings." She added that federal courts have consistently struck down prayer by school officials in a public setting.
Schmitt wrote that "opening school board meetings with a Christian prayer discriminates not only against nonbelievers, but also against any non-Christian attendees. Parents and students should not be made to feel like outsiders when attending meetings."
An attorney for the school district responded on July 3: "In response to your letter of April 20, 2012, the School Board has discontinued the prayer at meetings."
A restaurant in Blue Ridge, Ga., will no longer offer a preferential discount to church-going patrons, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
On a sign posted next to the cash register, Blue Ridge Mountain BBQ offered and promoted an illegal 10% discount to customers who presented a church bulletin on Sundays. The sign also promoted free meals for pastors who dined with a paying customer.
In a June 26, 2012, letter, Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt warned the manager that the restaurant was in violation of the Civil Rights Act and that “it is illegal for Blue Mountain BBQ to discriminate, or show favoritism, on the basis of religion.”
On July 5, FFRF received confirmation that not only had the sign offering the church discount been removed, but it had been replaced by a framed copy of FFRF’s letter of complaint.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has stopped a teacher in the Clear Creek Independent School District (League City, Texas) from passing out class materials with inappropriate religious messages on them.
The teacher had been handing out lessons with a variety of bible quotes and references printed on them. FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote to Superintendent Greg Smith on April 30, 2012: “It is unconstitutional and completely inappropriate for a public school teacher to promote his religious beliefs in the classroom.”
Clear Creek ISD’s General Counsel Sheila Haddock responded positively on July 9, saying that the lessons were unauthorized supplemental materials. Haddock informed FFRF that she and the school principal had talked to the teacher multiple times, and that she “explained the constitutional implications of his actions.” She also said that she had met with the Secondary Social Studies Coordinator “in an effort to reinforce this important message to all instructional staff district-wide.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has halted illegal prayer before Henrico County Board of Supervisor meetings in Henrico, Va.
Henrico County officials decided to drop the 25-year-old tradition on July 10 after the group received a letter of complaint from FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott, as well as an objection from a local concerned citizen.
Joseph P. Rapisarda, the Henrico County Attorney issued a statement: "The Board was beefed on the legal ramifications of having a sectarian prayer. After careful consideration, the Board decided to end the practice of having an opening prayer, effective immediately."
"The Board compounds the violation when the prayers are to Jesus and/or most of the officiants are Christian or Christian clergy. Sectarian prayers make religious minorities and nonbelievers feel like political outsiders in their own community, and show an unconstitutional governmental preference for Christianity over other faiths and for religion over non-religion," wrote Elliott in a July 12 letter to Chairman Richard Glover.
Elliott pointed out that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has consistently struck down prayers to Jesus and this would likely be the case in Henrico. Elliott added that county officials are free to pray privately, as long as it's not on taxpayers' time and dime.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation ended an inappropriate use of official email by a government agency employee in Alabama.
An employee of the Alabama Medicaid Agency used her official email account to send out an email asking recipients to help ban a supposed upcoming film depicting Jesus as a homosexual. Her email included a quotation from the bible and urged recipients, “Let’s stand for what we believe and stop the mockery of Jesus Christ our Savior.”
FFRF staff attorney Stephanie Schmitt sent a letter to the agency commissioner on June 20, 2012. She argued “it is grossly inappropriate to include religious references in an email from an official government employee.” Schmitt also pointed out that this action was against the Alabama Information Technology Policy regarding email usage.
In a July 13 response, acting commissioner Stephanie McGee Azar agreed that this employee violated the policies of the agency and “appropriate disciplinary action” was taken against her. Azar assured FFRF that all agency employees were reminded that “state email systems shall not be used for conducting any religious or political activities.”
Thomas County School District, Ga., will no longer allow bibles to be distributed in its schools, after receiving a letter of complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The principal at Thomas County Middle School announced over the intercom on March 20, 2012, that representatives from The Gideons International were in school and would be distributing bibles to students. After receiving a complaint about this from an unhappy parent, FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt informed Superintendent George Kornegay, Jr., in a March 23rd letter, “It is unconstitutional for public school districts to allow the Gideons to distribute bibles during the school day.”
In a July 16 letter of response, Kornegay wrote that the school district would comply with the Constitution, and bible distributions to students “will not occur in the future in the Thomas County Schools.”
Seven months after the Freedom From Religion Foundation first protested a city nativity scene, the Ellwood City Borough Council (Pa.) has agreed to uphold the First Amendment. The council voted down a proposal on July 16 that would likely have brought the nativity back to public property, through a lottery system allowing a lone display in front of the municipal building during December. The lottery would have discriminated against non-residents.
On behalf of local complainants, FFRF wrote several letters in December. And in late December, the council voted to move the nativity to private property. After things quieted down, the council formed a “Nativity Committee” dedicated to replacing the nativity. The Nativity Committee wrote what one reporter called “a convoluted, complicated, constitutionally bereft proposal that slaps a figurative ‘SUE ME’ sign on the borough’s back.” The council voted the proposal down 4-3 this week, despite ministerial support.
“The invaluable help of FFRF member Stephen Hirtle contributed to the victory. Often having area residents with the courage to take a stand will make all the difference. Stephen, we salute you,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. Barker thanked FFRF Staff Attorneys Patrick Elliott and Andrew Seidel for their hard work in ending this violation.
Hastings Area School District in Michigan refrained from including a prayer in their 2012 high school graduation ceremony after receiving a letter of complaint from FFRF.
For at least the past 10 years Hastings High School has included an illegal invocation in its official graduation program and selected a student to lead the prayer.
FFRF staff attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote in an April 13, 2012, letter, “The Supreme Court has settled this matter — high school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students.”
In a July 17 reply, Superintendent Todd Geerlings assured FFRF that, “there were no prayers said at the Hastings High School graduation ceremony on May 25, 2012.”