Outreach & Events - Freedom From Religion Foundation
Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

 

American Civil Liberties Union
By Carrie Ellen Sager

A South Carolina school district has agreed to stop allowing the distribution of bibles on school property following a July 3 letter from FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott to Anderson School District One Superintendent David Havird. FFRF’s complainant reported that a man told students they could take a bible as a staffer stood by outside an elementary school library, with bibles on the table.

Elliott’s letter addressed illegal events that occurred in April, when the bibles were distributed to students at Powdersville Elementary School in Greenville, S.C.

“It is unfortunate that some adults view public schools as ripe territory for religious recruitment,” wrote Elliot. “Parents carefully instruct their children not to accept gifts from strangers. Parents also understandably become nervous when adults take an over-keen interest in providing materials to their young children without parental knowledge. As the courts have held, religious instruction is for parents to determine, not for public school educators.” Elliott noted that the distribution was not only in violation of school policy but court precedent.

Counsel for the District responded on July 21 that, “[T]he District will ensure that bibles are not made available to elementary school aged students during the school day on school premises.”

Naval Hospital Bremerton (NHB) and associated clinics in Bremerton, Wash., will no longer block minority religious webpages. Their Internet filtering policy, which is managed by the Enterprise Services Operations Center (ESOC) for the Bureau of Medicine (BUMED), formerly disallowed the webpages of non-monotheistic religions. 

A concerned individual was distressed to learn that the webpage for the Church of Satan was “blocked for reasons of Cult and Occult,” along with other non-mainstream religions such as Scientology, Wicca and various pagan religions. He described the discriminatory practice as “an outrage,” noting that monotheistic websites — including the Westboro Baptist Church, a hate group that routinely pickets military funerals — were readily available.

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote the NHB on May 1, explaining that, “NHB’s viewpoint discrimination and preference for Christianity over non-monotheistic religions and nonreligion in its filtering policy is illegal.”

Furthermore, his letter emphasized that the complainant knew service members who are “deeply involved” with the religions blocked by the policy.

On July 15, Lieutenant Commander David Peck reported that BUMED’s “internet filtering policy has been changed” and that he was able to access the websites www.wicca.org and www.churchofsatan.org.

Thanks to FFRF’s intervention, prayer will no longer occur at Piedmont High School athletic events in West Piedmont, Ala.

Previously, it was the practice for a Christian prayer to be delivered over the school’s public speaker system before football games. A graduate and Piedmont athletics supporter reached out to FFRF, noting that he found the prayers “very offensive to those who do not share in the belief of prayer,” and that a student should not be “subjected to ridicule for not participating.”

On March 20, 2014 FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert notified Superintendent Matt Akin of the unconstitutional actions occurring: “Not only is the District endorsing these prayers by allotting time for them at the start of football games, but it is also providing the selected student with the public address system needed to impose these prayers on all students and community members at the games.”

Markert further asserted that, “Public school events must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students.”

Akin responded on July 2 after two follow-up letters: “Beginning immediately, the Piedmont City School District will no longer allow student led prayer at athletic events.”

Midlothian Independent School District in Midlothian, Texas, will no longer display a religious dedication plaque at Mt. Peak Elementary. The two by three foot plaque next to the front entrance of the school included two Latin crosses and read: “Dedicated in the year of our Lord 1997 to the education of God’s children and to their faithful teachers in the name of the Holy Christian Church — Soli Deo Gloria.”

On June 26, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter to District Superintendent Jerome Stewart, explaining, “The plaque at Mt. Peak Elementary offends the Constitution. . .  since the plaque specifically promotes ‘the Holy Christian Church’ and contains a Latin phrase meaning ‘glory to God alone’ or ‘glory to the only God.’ The two Latin crosses on the plaque further solidify its impermissible purpose.”

Legal counsel for the District responded on July 17, advising that “the plaque will be removed from the Mt. Peak Elementary School as requested.

Church signs have been removed from school property in Castle Rock, Colo., and will no longer be displayed.

A concerned individual alerted the Freedom From Religion Foundation to the unconstitutional advertisements in front of Castle Rock Middle School and Castle View High School. The signs advertised Sunday morning worship at Eternal Rock Lutheran Church and Summit Church respectively. The churches rent from the school district, but have routinely left advertising banners up for months on school property.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Douglas County School District on July 8, informing the District of the constitutional violations.

Seidel explained that, “Public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion. . . It is inappropriate for a church to display signage on a public school campus. Religious advertisements on public school grounds give the impression of District [preference] for that church.”

The following day the complainant confirmed that: “You guys are awesome — the signs are down now!”

Graduation ceremonies in Forsyth County School District in Cummings, Ga., will no longer include religious prayer.

On May 24, Forsyth Central High School’s graduation reportedly included a student-delivered invocation and benediction, both of which specifically mentioned God and Jesus.

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote Superintendent L.C. Evans on May 30 to alert Forsyth County Schools to the constitutional concerns: “School officials may not invite a student to give any type of prayer, invocation, or benediction at a public high school-sponsored event.”

Furthermore, “By scheduling such graduation prayers, the District abridges its duty to remain neutral.”

Counsel for the district replied on July 13, assuring that “The issues which you raise in your letter will not be a part of next year’s graduation program at Forsyth Central High School.”

Rockwall Independent School District in Rockwall, Texas, will no longer permit prayer at any school-sponsored events, thanks to a Freedom From Religion Foundation letter of complaint. According to the report of a concerned citizen, Rockwall High School’s June 10 graduation at the Curtis Culwell Center included a religious prayer led by a local police officer. This graduation was one of two scheduled that week.

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent Jeff Bailey on July 11 to report this constitutional violation. Grover explains: “School officials may not invite a student, faculty member, clergy, or other individual to give any type of prayer, invocation, or benediction at a public high school-sponsored event.”

Grover adds that, “Graduation should be an inclusive, unifying event designed to celebrate the accomplishments and prospects of the graduates. Including religious references does exactly the opposite, isolating non-Christian and nonreligious students, cheapening their participating by sending the message that they are outsiders at their own graduation and in their own community.”

Later that day the counsel for Rockwall ISD assured that the district “has agreed to take [the] appropriate steps to ensure that religious rituals are not part of graduation ceremonies or any school sponsored events in the future.”

At the second Rockwall-Heath High School graduation, which took place shortly after the FFRF complaint, did not include prayer or other religious ritual.

Due to FFRF’s intervention, Manierre Elementary School in Chicago, Ill., relocated its kindergarten graduation from a church sanctuary to its banquet hall.

On June 10, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover, acting on reports from a concerned community member that the ceremony was to be hosted in Moody Church, wrote Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Objecting to the location’s religious iconography, he stated that “this practice creates the impression that Manierre Elementary, and by extension the District, endorses the Christian religion,” and thus contravenes the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Grover also expressed concern about this inappropriate message being foisted on extremely young and impressionable children.

The next day, school attorney James L. Bebley replied that, “the school has arranged for the captioned ceremony to be moved to the banquet hall.” And “at our administrator training this summer, we plan to address again the prohibition on the use of religious sites for public school events.”

Inappropriate religious material, brought to the FFRF’s attention by a concerned individual, has been removed from the official website of the township of Watersmeet, Mich.

The bible quote, accredited to Mr. Jesus Christ, which we will politely refrain from quoting again here, endorsed a belief in heaven, sin and Jesus.

FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote Township Supervisor Mike Rogers on June 16 to relay the information that “Courts have continually held that townships may not display religious messages.”

Rogers agreed moments after receiving the letter to remove the quote. 

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