Outreach & Events - Freedom From Religion Foundation
Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

Two California school districts have promised to take steps to ensure teachers will not use district resources to promote religious events after getting letters from FFRF.
A teacher at Modesto City Schools’ Downey High School used his district email address to coordinate and advertise the Modesto Area Educators’ 7th Annual Prayer Breakfast, a privately sponsored religious event that took place at the school. A teacher at Sylvan Union School District’s Somerset Middle School also promoted the event with a district email address.

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the districts June 12, explaining that “statements of school employees made using official resources are attributable to the school. This endorsement of a Christian event offends the nearly 30% of American adults and the 37% of California adults that are non-Christian.”

Modesto City Schools responded June 16, promising to enforce its “acceptable use” policy and to review the policy to ensure employees comply with the Constitution. On June 23, the Sylvan Union School District assured FFRF that it would remind its staff on proper use of district technology.

Pender County Schools in North Carolina will put a stop to the classroom display of bible quotes. A Topsail Middle School teacher in Hampstead wrote bible quotes on a dry-erase board in his classroom, in full view of his students, and changed the quotes on a weekly basis. A concerned parent contacted FFRF.

“Religious postings are strictly prohibited in public schools,” wrote Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott in a May 28 complaint. “Matters of faith, or absence of faith, are best left outside of the classroom.”

FFRF received a response June 18, stating that the district provided staff with guidelines for selecting appropriate quotes and will further provide staff with “training on compliance with First Amendment principles of religion in public schools.”

Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns, Fla., will stop illegal athletic prayer and will no longer show a religious video to students. A student reported to FFRF that the school’s football coach was participating in student-led prayers and that the school had shown students a video on safe driving that was “absolutely infested with Christian messages, bible verses and talk of prayer.” The video featured a local student who had been injured in a driving accident and credited prayer as the secret to his recovery.

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel complained to the St. Johns County School District on April 30. The district promptly commenced an investigation and informed FFRF on June 26 that both issues would be corrected. The school’s football coach now understands that he cannot pray with players at school functions, and the school assured FFRF that it will not show any videos promoting religion.

Bethel High School’s Naval Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps in Bethel, Conn., has taken several steps to keep religion out of its instruction. A concerned student reported to FFRF that a mandatory military ball included prayers said “in the name of Jesus.” Students were also forced to recite a statement that included the phrase “May God grant me the strength to always live by this creed,” and a classroom displayed a “God Bless America” poster.

Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote a complaint letter June 15 regarding all three issues.

Attorney Rebecca Santiago responded June 29 and said future military balls would not include prayers, the “God Bless America” poster would be removed and that students would not be required to recite a religious creed.

The city of Bayard, N.M., will no longer close its doors on Good Friday or Easter Monday. A resident reported to FFRF that city offices, the public library and the municipal court were closed in 2014 on Friday, April 18, and Monday, April 21, “in observance of the Easter holiday.”

Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the mayor Feb. 27: “Easter is neither a federal holiday nor a New Mexico state holiday. It is unconstitutional and inappropriate for city offices to close for this Christian holy day.”

The mayor responded June 1 and agreed to remove the days from the city’s holiday schedule in future years.

FFRF reminded the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District in Missouri that schools are not allowed to take time off to observe religious holidays. Colby Cantrell, a teacher at Woodland Elementary School, sent an email to parents saying that students did not have school April 3 “in observance of Good Friday!” FFRF was notified about this incident and sent a letter to the district May 26.

“This practice violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it not only promotes religion over nonreligion, but also impermissibly favors Christianity over all other faiths,” wrote Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert.

The district’s attorney assured FFRF on June 2 that the district would ensure Cantrell understood that the school was not closed for the religious holiday.

The La Farge, Wis., School District in Wisconsin agreed to stop including prayers at athletic banquets and other school-sponsored events after getting a May 7 letter from Staff Attorney Sam Grover.

FFRF had learned that a pastor invited to speak at La Farge High School’s athletic banquet delivered a lengthy Christian prayer. “School events must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students,” Grover wrote.

An attorney for the district told Grover on May 8 that there would be no prayers at future school-sponsored events.

The La Farge, Wis., School District in Wisconsin agreed to stop including prayers at athletic banquets and other school-sponsored events after getting a May 7 letter from Staff Attorney Sam Grover.

FFRF had learned that a pastor invited to speak at La Farge High School’s athletic banquet delivered a lengthy Christian prayer. “School events must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students,” Grover wrote.

An attorney for the district told Grover on May 8 that there would be no prayers at future school-sponsored events.

Gregg County Clerk Connie Wade, Longview, Texas, removed a collection of more than 20 crosses from her county office after getting a July 2 letter from FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert. A local resident alerted FFRF to the violation.

County Judge Bill Stoudt told the Longview News-Journal that the collection belonged to one of Wade’s employees. It was in full public view. “The employee voluntarily took the crosses down,” said Stoudt, noting he didn’t order them removed.

“If the crosses have been removed, we consider that a victory for state/church separation,” Markert said. She pointed to several cases in which federal courts upheld restrictions on displays of religious materials in workspaces, even including in some private cubicles or offices, since posting religious displays in areas the public can access could reasonably be seen as government endorsement of religion.

Wade has been in the news for refusing to issue a marriage license to Patrick Franklin and his 16-year partner Sailor Smith, citing the lack of a gender-neutral application form.
“Wrong side of history. Thanks,” Franklin told Wade after being turned down.

FFRF’s complaint letter made the city of Casselberry, Fla., cancel a planned partnership with an evangelical Christian church. Camp Casselberry, a city-run youth program, was scheduled to partner with Church Together for “Friday Fun Day” at a park June 26. Pastor Andy Searles and church volunteers planned to participate in and facilitate the event.
When Searles partnered with Camp Casselberry in 2014, his message to campers reportedly was to be good at three aspects of life: physical, mental and spiritual. Searles allegedly likened being “spiritually good” to being “scripturally good.”

“Our concern is that Mr. Searles and church volunteers will take this opportunity to again proselytize Camp Casselberry campers,” wrote Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in a June 24 letter.

“Paid or not, Mr. Searles and the church volunteers are bound by the First Amendment like any other government employee and must remain neutral toward religion during their participation in Camp Casselberry,” said Seidel.

A Church Together newsletter obtained by FFRF [see graphic] confirmed that the church would not be participating. The church also urged congregants to pray for people connected with FFRF.

“They can pray for us all they want, so long as they don’t force that prayer on other people’s children,” commented Seidel.

Church Together has a history of proselytizing in secular settings. It was recently known as the Venue Church at South Seminole, one of three Venue Churches in the Orlando area, whose stated goal is “permanently planting churches in Central Florida Schools.” The churches have recently split and been renamed but continue to meet in Orange County Public Schools.

FFRF has tangled repeatedly with Venue churches, and especially with Venue founder Todd Lamphere, particularly for his relationship with Apopka High School. FFRF has learned that Lamphere, pastor at Venue’s flagship church at Apopka, was reportedly forced to resign in June as pastor at the flagship church in Apopka for undisclosed reasons. All mention of him has been scrubbed from the church’s website.

FFRF also previously wrote to Casselberry Mayor Charlene Glancy after she appeared in a church promotional video in her official capacity as mayor.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

 

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