Tempe Preparatory Academy, a public charter school near Phoenix, Ariz., has adopted new policies to crack down on two separate state/church violations brought to its attention by FFRF.
Religious Iconography at School Events
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to Temp Prep in May 2013 based on complaints from parents about a large cross positioned at center stage during graduation ceremonies and other school events, which are held in a church. Although the school was founded by Catholics in the mid-‘90s, Seidel noted that its status as a public charter school means that Tempe Prep “cannot ask citizens to enter a place of religious worship for a secular rite of passage.”
After several communications back and forth, on April 23 a representative of the school indicated the school will modify its church space policy. All future uses of the church must be approved by the headmaster, who will then assign a school employee to remove religious items and iconography from the church prior to the event.
Teacher’s Religious Handout
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover and Andrew Seidel, in an April 3 letter, alerted Tempe Prep about a teacher who passed out a religious handout to students in a science class. The class had just finished watching an episode of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos.” The handout offered to students without explanation or the opportunity for discussion, was a rant about how the episode was anti-Christian. FFRF’s letter reminded the school that “Tempe Preparatory Academy has an obligation under the law to make certain that subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion.”
On April 23, a representative for the school informed FFRF that the teacher had been disciplined and removed as head of his department. The school recently adopted a policy that requires all teachers and coaches to sign an acknowledgment that they must remain neutral toward religion while at work.
A parent reacted to the school’s disciplinary measures: “To my knowledge, this is the very first time in Tempe Prep’s 17-year history that a staff member has been disciplined for foisting religious beliefs on students. . . . This victory is one that I hope will send a message loud and clear — to those on staff and in our parent community who feel they have tacit permission to violate the rights of others because they suffer no consequences for doing so — that Tempe Preparatory Academy will not tolerate the violation of the law and the rights of students.”