Outreach & Events - Freedom From Religion Foundation
Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

FFRF filed an amicus brief April 22 in a case over government-sponsored prayer in Eureka, Calif. In Beaton v. Eureka, city resident and atheist Carole Beaton filed suit over prayers that start city council meetings. FFRF's "friend of the court" brief supports Beaton's position that prayers at government meetings violate the Constitution.

FFRF argues that the California Constitution provides extensive protection of state/church separation, broader than that required by the Establishment Clause, and that the government should refuse to lend its "prestige and power" to religion by endorsing religious practices.

The brief also criticizes U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Marsh v. Chambers and Greece v. Galloway, which upheld legislative prayer. The cases reject legal principles in favor of relying on a misguided view of history, alleges FFRF, urging California courts to refuse to incorporate flawed reasoning into state law.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science were successful in getting a science teacher in Arroyo Grande, Calif., to stop teaching creationism. The groups sent a letter that sparked an investigation by the Lucia Mar Unified School District into lessons on creationism by Brandon Pettenger at Arroyo Grande High School.

In an April 29 email to Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Chuck Fiorentino reported that he and the school principal met with Pettenger on April 23 and told him "to immediately cease using [creationist materials] and not to instruct at all on the topics of creationism, intelligent design, or anything related."

They also told Pettenger he must adhere to state-adopted science standards and that anything outside those standards needed approval. Creationist material was also removed from his school district Web page.

In addition, the district "will be reminding all teachers of their legal obligation to teach only material that is in the State adopted Standard, or Curriculum, or Board approved."

Dawkins Foundation CEO Robyn Blumner praised the anonymous student for bringing the situation to light. "That student helped bring evidence-based science back into a public school classroom hijacked by religious teachings."

St. Elmo Junior & Senior High School removed religious signs from its property, after the Freedom From Religion Foundation contacted the St. Elmo Central Unified School District in Illinois.

FFRF learned the school had four signs posted on the school’s fence alongside a road reading “Plow the Land / Plant the Seed / Love Our God / Follow His Creed.” FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent Superintendent Deborah Philpot a letter on Nov. 25, 2014, asking the district to take down the sign. “Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools,” Grover wrote.

“The signs suggest that the school has adopted one god, the Christian God, above all others and encourages readers to ‘follow His creed.’ This endorsement of a Christian message alienates those non-Christian students, families, teachers, and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school,” he continued.

After two follow-up letters, Superintendent Philpot informed FFRF on April 17 that the district had the signs removed in February.

After protests by local activists and a letter from FFRF, the Venice, Fla., City Council voted 5-2 on April 28 against displaying "In God We Trust" in its chambers.

David Williamson, head of the Central Florida Freethought Community, a chapter of FFRF, spoke at the meeting, as did Marie Glidewell of the Gulf Coast Humanists Association. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that about 20 supporters of the display also showed up.

"This is not a chamber of the majority, it is a chamber of all," Williamson told the council.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor sent the council a letter April 27: "Posting 'In God We Trust' interferes with citizens' rights of conscience and is a misuse of city property for the benefit of a system of religion."

The proposal was just the latest in a series of nearly identical efforts pushed nationally by a California-based group called In God We Trust ~ America Inc. Its aim is to display the phrase "in every city and county chamber in America."

Such campaigns show why the phrase, adopted by Congress in 1956 at the height of the McCarthy era, should not be a national motto because it excludes a large percentage of the population, Gaylor said.

A Chicago Public Schools teacher who regularly promoted weekly religious club meetings to students during instructional time will no longer be allowed to do so. A Greeley Elementary School teacher promoted meetings of WyldLife, a Christian club that meets in the school's gym after the school day ends. WyldLife is sponsored by Young Life, an organization dedicated to "introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith."

The teacher also regularly invited students to bible study with his wife and other adults.

"A public school may not sponsor or provide preferential treatment to a Christian club," said FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover in a complaint letter. The district responded that it advised the teacher he could not promote the club or bible study during the school day. In addition, FFRF received word on March 25 that all staff had been issued guidelines regarding religious clubs.

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a March 6 letter objecting to letting a church permanently post signs on the fence of University High School in Los Angeles. Vintage Church had been permitted to keep signs up around the clock for at least two years.

FFRF's complainant reported March 20 that the signs had been taken down.

The St. Clairsville High School spring sports banquet in St. Clairsville, Ohio, did not include prayer, unlike its fall banquet, thanks to a Jan. 5 complaint letter from Staff Attorney Sam Grover. He sent the letter after learning that the St. Clairsville-Richland City School Board president reportedly led a sectarian invocation and benediction at the fall banquet.

FFRF's complainant reported March 18 that the spring banquet had no prayer or mention of religion.

Palm Beach County School District in Florida has stopped making students watch a motivational speech by Christian evangelist Nick Vujicic. Boca Raton Middle School had required all students to watch one of Vujicic's speeches. He also spoke at several other schools in the district.

Vujicic's organization, Life Without Limbs, encourages visitors to its website to "become a Christian" and "understand and accept that you are a sinner." The district reportedly also showed videos of his presentations to preschool and elementary students and had plans for future events.

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel complained in a March 9 letter. An administrator responded March 16 that the district would "immediately cease sharing this video with our students."

Principal Dan Noll, White Oak [Texas] High School, has stopped his practice of reciting bible verses during morning announcements over the intercom. The district originally doubled down after getting Staff Attorney Sam Grover's complaint letter March 5. White Oak ISD Superintendent Michael Gilbert wrote in a statement that he was fully aware of the practice and, "we have not (in my opinion) violated anyone's rights and/or subjected anyone to undue stress. Bible studies and scriptures are allowed in schools." Gilbert's recommended response to FFRF was, "I'm sorry you feel that way. I will be praying for you and your staff daily."

Gilbert reconsidered later, however, according to a March 15 article in the Longview News-Journal. It quoted Gilbert saying that Noll's "thought for the day" would remain a part of morning announcements but added: "It will consist of material intended to encourage students to consider positive choices in their daily life and plans for the future. The thought for the day will come from a variety of sources and will not include chapter and verse from Scripture."

Chandler Public School District in Chandler, Okla., has resolved several constitutional violations after getting a Jan. 30 complaint letter from Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, who wrote to object to reports about school-organized prayers at football practices and other athletic events, as well as a teacher giving religious explanations for scientific matters and proclaiming the teacher "did not believe in science." Crosses and other religious items were also being displayed in classrooms.

Superintendent Wayland Kimble responded March 9, saying the issues had all been resolved and that he did not foresee them resurfacing.

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