Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

%250 %America/Chicago, %2015

How Not to Kill Catholicism

Mount Zion High School in Carrollton, Ga., will have no further involvement in a baccalaureate ceremony. FFRF Attorney Madeline Ziegler lodged a complaint with the district April 28 about a teacher in charge of planning the baccalaureate, a religious ceremony for graduates to be held at a church. A pastor was slated to speak and seniors were being pulled out of class to learn Christian worship songs to sing at the ceremony. FFRF’s student complainant was told written permission from a parent and “a valid excuse” would be required to skip the ceremony.

Assistant Superintendent Terry Jones replied April 30, noting that the district made changes to ensure it was meeting legal requirements. FFRF’s complainant confirmed that the teacher was no longer in charge of the baccalaureate, practice was no longer held during the school day, and the school made it clear that the ceremony was completely voluntary.

Louis A. Johnson Veterans Administration Medical Center, Clarksburg, W.Va., has taken down a religious sign. A veteran contacted FFRF to report that while at the center to have his photo taken for an ID card, he encountered a sign saying each day was “a gift from God” positioned near the camera.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor sent a letter of objection Feb. 10 noting that 23% of military personnel currently choose “no religious preference” when asked.

The center’s director responded April 22 that the sign had been removed.

Dawson County School District in Georgia took corrective measures about a teacher planning prayer at a class Christmas party. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote an April 8 letter after a complainant reported that a first-grade teacher at Robinson Elementary in Dawsonville told students and parents at the party, “Now let’s all bow our heads for the blessing.” A student then led a prayer.

Attorney Philip Hartley responded April 20, confirming that the incident had occurred as described. He reported that after talking to the teacher, the school was confident it would not happen again.

Nottoway, Va., Public Schools students who do not attend religious “release time” will no longer be forced to clean rooms or do extra homework. At least one student at Blackstone Primary School who didn’t participate in a religious class off-campus was required to sweep and dust classrooms until the other students returned. In addition, class instructors reportedly pressured nonparticipating students to attend.

“Allowing release-time instructors to cajole primary students despite their parents’ objection is impermissible. Forcing nonparticipating students to partake in punitive exercises like dusting and sweeping, rather than enrichment activities, is downright coercive,” wrote Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott in an April 14 letter.

The district responded the next day, saying that what FFRF described as happening was not consistent with school policy and that teachers had been advised of those concerns.

Students at Central Freedom School in Mankato, Minn., will no longer be required to attend religious Alcoholics Anonymous programming.

Central Freedom, a public alternative school for students with chemical dependency issues, required AA meetings during the school day. Students who refused to attend might be found “resistant” or otherwise noncompliant.

“Public school programs may not encourage or require student recognition of a ‘greater power’ and that students turn their lives over to God,” wrote Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott, referencing some of AA’s famous 12 steps.

FFRF’s complainant reported that several changes were being made, including no further 12-step meetings held at the school. The district superintendent confirmed the changes April 16.

Volusia County Schools, DeLand, Fla., remedied state/church violations after getting a Feb. 5 letter from Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel. FFRF received a report that Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange let a church leave a trailer with a church ad on it in a school parking lot all week. The school also scheduled its senior honors awards program at a Baptist church.

Chief counsel for the district responded that the trailer would be removed entirely or have its message covered during the week. The district will use a secular location for the awards program in future years.

Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote the Ankeny, Iowa, Community School District on Feb. 11 about a football coach illegally praying with his students. “We ask that you ensure coaches are not leading, organizing, inviting, encouraging or participating in prayers with their teams in the future.”

Superintendent Bruce Kimpston responded April 16 that the district provided guidelines to all high school activity directors to give to coaches: “Ankeny CSD respects the separation between government activity and religion. While we are grateful for any assistance our sports teams may receive, we understand that sponsoring religious practices is not an appropriate school function.”

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