Football coaches at Hoover High School (Hoover, Ala.) will no longer engage in pre-game locker room prayers, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Hoover City Schools Superintendent Andy Craig on Jan. 6 to alert the school district that such prayers are unconstitutional. “By leading and participating in prayers, the coaches are sending a message of exclusion to nontheists on the football team and to those believers whose religion is not being professed during these locker room prayers,” Markert added.
FFRF received confirmation from the school district’s attorney on June 4 that coaches would not lead prayer or arrange for other adults to pray before football games in the future.
Lewis County Intermediate School (Hohenwald, Tenn.) will stop teachers from handing out religious materials in the classroom.
A local parent contacted FFRF after his fifth grade student came home with a bible and a permission slip for summer vacation bible school on separate occasions. FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote to Director of Schools Benjamin L. Pace taking issue with these unconstitutional violations. “Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion,” Schmitt wrote in a May 23 letter. “When a school distributes religious literature to its students, it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message, in this case a Christian message.”
Pace responded on June 7, saying the district would re-visit materials that had been sent out and assuring FFRF that “we are ever aware of the constitutional protection of religious freedom.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation successfully persuaded a post office in Huntersville, N.C., to remove a Christian cross from behind a customer counter.
A local complainant noticed that the post office displayed a wooden, half-foot tall Latin cross behind its customer counter, on a prominent shelf, clearly viewed by all postal patrons. Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the Huntersville postmaster on March 16, 2012: "This cross display violates post office regulations and the U.S. Constitution and must be removed immediately."
Markert pointed out that U.S. postal regulations prohibit the display of religious symbols, other than stamp art on postal property. She added that "no court of final resort has ever upheld the government's permanent display of a Latin cross on public land as constitutional."
The postmaster informed Markert on June 12 that "the cross has been removed."
Byron Nelson High School (Fort Worth, Texas) will no longer mix prayer with school-sponsored assemblies, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt sent a June 1, 2012, letter to Superintendent Karen Rue outlining significant "constitutional concerns" brought on by an end-of-the-year assembly. A prayer was delivered during this special event, which was scheduled to honor the senior class. A local complainant told FFRF that school officials had full knowledge of the prayer before it was given and that the assembly was mandatory for all students.
"It is unlawful for any school-sponsored event to open with prayer. FFRF asks that you immediately take action to ensure that future assemblies do not open or close with prayer," wrote Schmitt.
An attorney for the school district replied to FFRF on June 18: "The District has recently provided its administrators and educators with in-service training over a variety of issues, including those addressed in your letter." He added that the district staff was specifically trained on the "'do's and don'ts' of religion in public schools."
Students at Gloucester City (N.J.) Junior-Senior High School were spared participation in a church-hosted baccalaureate service, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF was contacted by a complainant whose daughter was told that she could not opt out of the religious performance and that if she missed rehearsal or the ceremony, it would affect her grade. Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Superintendent Paul Spaventa on June 11, two days before the service was scheduled: “No student should be forced to participate in the baccalaureate or suffer a failing or lower grade because they, in good conscience, cannot perform at a religious event.”
The school district’s solicitor replied on June 19, informing FFRF that after they received the letter, district personnel told all students that participation in the service was optional and that their grades would not be affected if they did not attend. He assured FFRF that “in the future a similar procedure will be used by the School District to ensure that only individuals who volunteer will participate in any type of Baccalaureate Service.”
Although the kids may be out of school, the Freedom From Religion Foundation knows that the Constitution doesn’t take a vacation.
Hazelwood Elementary School’s Summer Program in Haywood County, N.C., includes gardening crafts and games. However the school also scheduled trips to Vacation Bible School at a local Baptist church this year and in years past. The school arranged to allow transportation of students to a Baptist church to participate in Vacation Bible School for morning activities for a week (June 18-22, 2012), even after a shocked parent had complained and been assured it would not happen. Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott objected to the school’s entanglement with a bible school in a strong letter to the district’s superintendent, Anne Garnett. In his letter, Elliott explained that the school’s summer programming, including its registration forms, program handouts, and advertisement on the school website, all served to “facilitate student recruitment for religious indoctrination.” In citing legal precedent (including FFRF’s victory in Doe v. Porter), Elliott concluded, “The school’s promotion and coordination of a religious program is unconstitutional and cannot continue.”
Patrick Smathers, attorney for Haywood County Schools, wrote on June 21, “I have advised the Superintendent and Principal of Hazelwood Elementary School that in my opinion the coordination and advertising of a Vacation Bible School with a summer school program is improper. Though the Haywood County School System takes pride in complying with all laws involving religion, this matter unfortunately occurred.” The Superintendent “will implement plans to assure that future summer program . . . will not coordinate or advertise Vacation Bible School activities.”
Students at Horace Elementary School (West Fargo, N.D.) will no longer be forced to perform religious music after receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Grades 3-5 at the school put on a program that included seven songs with strong religious themes, including “Jesus Take the Wheel” and “Long Black Train.” Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the school on June 8, explaining that “teaching these very young and impressionable students pervasively Christian music in a public school violates the First Amendment.”
Superintendent David Flowers responded June 25, saying that he agreed the concert had been inappropriate and that the district would be reviewing guidelines about religious music with the music staff in the fall.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation got two illegal church advertisements removed from Lexington School District One in Lexington, S.C.
Lexington School District One rents district facilities to local churches for worship services on the weekends. Forts Pond Elementary School had a permanently installed sign advertising worship services for United Tabernacle of God, IHPC. This sign was attached to the ground with wooden stakes. Another sign was positioned at Pelion High School and was displayed on weekends. This sign advertised worship services for Redirect Church. FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Superintendent Karen Woodward on June 5, 2012: "It is inappropriate for the district to permit advertisement of religious organizations or churches, especially a permanent advertisement, on school property."
Markert noted that even if it is permissible to rent district facilities to churches, a public school should not allow any activity giving the appearance of promoting or supporting religion.
The school district sent a positive reply on June 25: "We were unaware of the sign at Forts Pond Elementary School. Thank you for pointing it out. It has been removed. We have also clarified with Pelion High School that the sign for Redirect Church is to be posted only on Sundays, the morning of the service."
Bret Harte Union High School (Angels Camp, Calif.) will stop distributing student contact information to St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, which was using the contact information to solicit student attendance at its annual baccalaureate.
A Bret Harte student contacted FFRF after receiving an invitation to the baccalaureate at St. Andrew’s. FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel wrote Bret Harte Union High School District Superintendent Michael Chimente, taking issue with this constitutional violation.
In his June 18 letter, Seidel wrote that the school’s conduct “would lead any reasonable person to believe that the government is endorsing a particular religion – Catholicism in this instance – and religion over nonreligion.” He further reasoned it was “shocking that a school, entrusted with the care, education and protection of minors, would give children’s information over to an organization known to harbor and shield sexual predators.” Seidel emphasized that the “Stockton diocese, of which Angels Camp is a part, has a sordid history of priests sexually abusing minors (at least 10 priests have been accused of sexual abuse of minors, two recently fled to Ireland)” including “one of the most notorious cases of a priest raping children ... Oliver Francis O’Grady, [who] confessed … to abusing at least 25 children.”
On June 26, Seidel received a call from Mr. Chimente assuring FFRF that Bret Harte would stop distributing students’ information to religious institutions, including St. Andrew’s. Mr. Chimente further assured FFRF that he would be more vigilant in upholding the Establishment Clause.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has put an end to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base's practice of placing bibles in medical center waiting rooms.
Prior to FFRF's complaint, the Wright-Patterson Medical Center on the Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, displayed Gideon bibles throughout its surgical unit waiting room, a government-run facility. FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote to facility management on April 27, 2012, that "providing such material to patients and guests sends the message that they are expected to want to read the religious publications and that the hospital endorses the message found in the material." She added that "government-run hospitals have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral towards religion."
Schmitt noted that if a patient desires to read religious material during their hospital visit "they can bring their own."
A local resident informed FFRF on June 26 that all bibles have been removed from the surgical unit waiting room.