- FFRF sues Walker administration for open records violation
- FFRF sues over school board prayer in Chino Valley, Calif.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit Dec. 17, 2014 in Dane County Circuit Court, Wis., charging that Wisconsin open records law was violated by Theodore Nickel, state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance and Commissioner. In addition to FFRF, Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott is a plaintiff.
Elliott made a series of open records requests of the Office of the Commissioner after a reported agency decision that Wisconsin's contraceptive mandate, known as the Contraceptive Equity Law, would no longer be enforced because it was preempted by the June 30 Hobby Lobby ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
FFRF and many other observers disagreed, since the Religious Freedom Restoration Act under which the ruling was decided applies only to the federal government, not states. FFRF charges that OCI violated numerous portions of the law and seeks an order directing the defendants to produce the requested records, award reasonable attorneys' fees, damages of not less than $100, punitive damages and other actual costs.
"Let there be sunlight," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, who thanked the firm of McGillivray Westerberg & Bender for representing FFRF.
The case is in the courtroom of Circuit Court Judge Amy Smith.
On November 13, 2014, FFRF filed a lawsuit in the Central District of California, Eastern Division, against the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education, whose meetings “resemble a church service more than a school board meeting.” There was such an outpouring of support that FFRF amended its complaint on December 15, adding 18 plaintiffs, for a total of 22. All the plaintiffs are families with students in the school or school employees who have had the prayers foisted on them.
School board meetings open with a prayer, and often include bible readings and proselytizing by board members. Board President James Na injects Christianity into many of his official statements, FFRF's legal complaint notes. At one typical meeting, Na “urged everyone who does not know Jesus Christ to go and find Him,” after which another board member closed with a reading of Psalm 143.
Students often attend the meetings to receive awards, speak about issues affecting their schools, attend disciplinary hearings and do performances. Student attendance is mandatory in some instances, and a student representative is a member of the board.
FFRF is represented by Attorney David J.P. Kaloyanides, who won a lawsuit in February on behalf of the American Humanist Association, which stopped the city of Lake Elsinore, Calif., from building a war memorial depicting a soldier kneeling before a Christian cross. FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert and Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel are co-counsel on the case.
The complaint asks the court to declare the board's religious practices unconstitutional under both the federal and state constitutions and to permanently enjoin the board from any further school-sponsored religious exercises.
U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal, an Obama appointee, is handling the case (Case No. 5:14-cv-02336).
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The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit on December 16, 2014 against Franklin County, Ind., which annually places a prominent nativity display in front of the Franklin County Courthouse in Brookville. The devotional tableau is erected shortly after Thanksgiving and stays up until early to mid-January.
In addition to FFRF, two Franklin County residents are local plaintiffs in the suit. FFRF is represented by Senior Staff Attorney Gavin M. Rose of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. FFRF Staff Attorneys Rebecca Markert and Sam Grover are co-counsel.
The lawsuit asks the court to order Franklin County to remove the nativity scene permanently. A motion for a preliminary injunction was also filed and the case is set for a hearing on Friday, December 19, 2014.
The case, No. 1:14-cv-02047-TWP-DML, sits before Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, an Obama appointee, at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division.