A summary of legal complaints sent by FFRF legal staff since the last issue of Freethought Today. (ISD is Independent School District.)
Contact: Hardin-Jefferson ISD, Sour Lake, Texas
Violation: After receiving a letter from FFRF about a teacher-run Christian club in an elementary school, the teachers wrote an “open letter” to parents asking them to pray for the club, The letter said the club would now be student-led but urged parents to encourage their children to share with the group and told parents to contact one of the three employees to “avoid conflicting speaker scheduling.”
Two district classrooms have crosses on their walls, the high school’s football games open with prayer and the school song includes the line “and when the year is over, God bless our school.”
Contact: Waller ISD, Houston, Texas
Violation: The district’s high school had a poster in its library entitled “The Bulldogs’ Prayer.” The school also solicited faculty to advertise a “Bulldogs Cure for Cancer” T-shirt with the word “Faith” on the back.
Contact: Habersham County Sheriff, Ga.
Violation: The sheriff’s Facebook page regularly posts religious messages, including a lengthy prayer posted on Sept. 11 and misattributed to Thomas Jefferson.
Contact: Chester County Commission, West Chester, Pa.
Violation: The county’s holiday display includes a nativity and a menorah among other decorations. FFRF urged the commission to include a local freethought group’s “Tree of Knowledge” display.
Contact: Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, Ada, Okla. Violation: Course instructors and materials repeatedly promoted religion and a belief in God. Contact: East Whittier City School District, Calif.
Violation: Teachers at East Whittier Middle School and Granada Middle School participate in weekly bible study classes with students during lunch.
Contact: Clinton County R-III School District, Plattsburg, Mo.
Violation: Clinton County R-III Middle School’s principal writes bible verses on the whiteboard in his office and places a bible on his desk in full view of students and visitors.
Contact: Poudre School District, Fort Collins, Colo.
Violation: A Laurel Elementary School kindergarten teacher had a picture hanging on her classroom wall with a bible quote, “I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14.”
Contact: Yukon City Council, Okla.
Violation: The council voted to display “In God We Trust” in the council’s chambers Contact: Clinton Public Schools, Madison County Schools, Pearl Public School District, Miss.
Violation: These schools participated in a swim meet which opened with a Christian prayer facilitated by meet organizers.
Contact: Seminole County Attorney, Fla.
Violation: A county employee in the Water and Sewer Billing Department sends messages to county residents from her county email with a bible quite in her signature, “Thank God for everything, be Grateful. 1 Thessalonians 5:18.”
Contact: Texas A&M University, College Station
Violation: The university began broadcasting prayers over the loudspeaker at football games and also includes prayer at graduation.
Contact: Mayor of Huntington, W.Va.
Violation: The mayor organized a prayer event to end addiction, releasing a video asking local religious leaders to join him in prayer.
Contact: Mansfield City Council, Texas
Violation: The council denied a local atheist the opportunity to give its invocation.
Contact: Madison County School District, Fla.
Violation: A private religious event occurring at the district’s high school was extensively advertised on the grounds of Madison County Central School.
Contact: Cranston Public Schools, R.I.
Violation: Western Hills Middle School students were given a story entitled “A Mustard Seed that Threatened Imperial Power,” presenting the biblical account of Jesus and his apostles as factual, and a game titled “The Medieval Church,” which quizzed students on the origins of Christianity as presented in the bible and Christianity in the Middle Ages, while ignoring historical events like the Crusades that would portray Christianity negatively.
Contact: Naval Base Kitsap, Bremerton, Wash.
Violation: The base’s pinning ceremony, which was mandatory for all officers being promoted, included an invocation and a benediction.
Contact: North Georgia State Fair, University of Missouri volleyball, Mellow Mushroom restaurant, Ala.
Violation: These entities offered church bulletin discounts.
Contact: Poplar Bluff Public Schools, Mo., Thomas-Fay-Custer Unified Schools, Okla.
Violation: Schools broadcast loudspeaker prayers before football games, and the Poplar Bluffs Senior High School team has two team chaplains.
Contact: Iowa Law Enforcement Academy
Violation: The academy included opening and closing Christian prayers at its graduation ceremonies.
Contact: Round Rock ISD, Texas
Violation: Cedar Ridge High School’s internet filter censors websites with information about atheism and certain minority religions as promoting “alternative beliefs,” while granting access to other websites promoting religious ideas.
Contact: Liberty County Elections Supervisor, Ga.
Violation: The Registrar’s Office, which served as the early voting location in Liberty County, displayed bible quotes behind the voter check-in counter.
Contact: Chilton County Schools, Clanton, Ala.
Violation: A bible was prominently displayed in a glass case near the principal’s office at Jemison High School, bible quotes are displayed on banners throughout the school’s hallways during special events, and a teacher regularly displayed bible passages in her classroom.
Contact: U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine
Violation: Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret D. McGaughey, when asked to identify common trends in the profiles of criminal defendants, said, “There was no religion.” She explained that religion “instills moral values in early childhood” that “tend to stick with a person throughout their life.”
Contact: Mesa Public Schools, Ariz.
Violation: Mountain View High School’s marching band dedicated a performance to the military that involved rows of Latin crosses.
Contact: Indiana Academy, Muncie
Violation: A teacher sends regular emails to students promoting a weekly bible study and other religious events like See You at the Pole and a Christian charity drive. She was directly involved with the bible study.
Contact: Valdosta City Schools, Ga.
Violation: Pinevale Elementary School displayed a Ten Commandments poster in its library. Contact: Paris School District, Ark.
Violation: Paris Middle School allowed Gideons to distribute bibles to fifth graders, announcing the distribution as part of its morning reports.
Contact: Fauquier County Public Schools, Warrenton, Va.
Violation: A substitute bus driver at Grace Miller Elementary School passed out fliers promoting a church’s services and events.
Contact: Washington Department of Licensing
Violation: The department’s personalized license plate application prohibits plated deemed to be “blasphemous.”
Contact: Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp., Ind.; Anniston City Schools, Ala.; White Oaks ISD, Texas; Camas School District, Wash.
Violation: Coaches led athletes in prayer and/or participated in students’ prayers.
Contact: Homewood City Schools, Ala.
Violation: Football teams have a team chaplain that leads prayers and sometimes delivers a sermon. Church representatives are permitted to circulate around lunchrooms and recruit students. A Christian club organized by a teacher meets weekly. Students who arrive at school before classes are required to congregate at the club, which operates essentially as a church, with a youth pastor leading a worship service.
Contact: Walker County Board of Education, Ga.
Violation: This school board prays at their meetings.
Name: Rebecca Markert.
Where and when I was born: Green Bay, Wis., 1976.
Education: B.A. in German, international relations and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1998); J.D. from Roger Williams University School of Law, Bristol, R.I., (2008).
Family: I live in Verona (just outside of Madison) with my husband, Mike, and our two children, Dexter, 3, and Audrey, 1.
How I came to work at FFRF: By chance. I was graduating from law school and looking to live in Madison and came across a job posting on a legal jobs board. I thought it would perfectly fit my love for constitutional law, separation of state and church and the ability to work on federal issues.
What I do here: A lot. I’m the senior staff attorney, so in addition to state/church complaints (for issues like crosses on government property, mayoral prayer breakfasts, Good Friday closings, electioneering by churches and religious groups, religion in public schools and holiday displays for the 1st, 2nd and 6th federal appellate circuits), I manage the legal department, assign projects, train attorneys and hire interns and clerks. I put together all the administrative policies and protocols to make FFRF’s legal team work more cohesively and efficiently.
What I like best about it: Working in constitutional law. There are not a lot of lawyers who ever get to work in this area and I get to do it full time. I also love working with FFRF members and seeing how my work directly effects change (hopefully for the better). And the tea. FFRF has some amazing tea.
What sucks about it: Victories that look like losses. My first case involved a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn in 2009 in Manitowoc County, Wis. We were thrown out of court before reaching the merits of the case, but the nativity scene never returned to the courthouse again. During litigation, a church offered to place the crèche on its lawn, where it’s been on display ever since. Victories like that don’t make the news!
I spend a lot of time thinking about: How wonderful life is now that Dexter and Audrey are in the world. And how I’m never going to have the time to see everything in my Netflix queue.
I spend little if any time thinking about: This was a hard question to answer, but NASCAR and soccer come to mind.
My religious upbringing was: Roman Catholic.
My doubts about religion started: I don’t remember an exact time or event, I’ve always been skeptical. My parents never discouraged questioning, or critical thinking for that matter.
Things I like: Hugs from my kids and hearing them laugh, the Green Bay Packers, watching baseball, summers in Madison, the Fourth of July; the National Mall in D.C., going to movies at the theater, Spotted Cow beer from New Glarus Brewing, traveling and Diet Coke. Things I smite: The death penalty, concealed carry and stand your ground laws, the lack of high-speed rail running through Madison, misusing the apostrophe and anything requiring audience participation.
In my golden years: I’ll hopefully be debt-free from my student loans and be able to be a snowbird, spending summers in Madison and winters in Arizona or North Carolina.
The Covington County Commission in Andalusia, Ala., voted unanimously Nov. 6 to rescind a $3,000 appropriation from taxpayer funds to the Covington Baptist Association for a men’s ministry whose purpose is “to get more men to church.”
The vote was in response to an Oct. 27 complaint letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation protesting the flagrant constitutional violation. FFRF represents more than 21,500 members, including 200 Alabama members as well as its longest-lived chapter, the Alabama Freethought Association.
The commission voted Oct. 8 to appropriate $3,000. Katherine Paige, FFRF legal fellow, sent the commission a second complaint letter Nov. 7 after learning that Commissioner Harold Elmore might ask to renew the grant to the ministry under the guise of funding building renovations.
Paige investigated property records and learned that Elmore was an incorporator of the Judson Baptist Church, which owns the building and runs the ministry. Elmore serves as church deacon and is one of the Covington Baptist Association’s four trustees.
“The commission cannot escape the grant’s religious purpose, and Commissioner Elmore’s involvement raises serious ethical concerns under Alabama law,” wrote Paige.
“The grant had, and would still have, a religious purpose: funding a Christian men’s ministry,” said Paige. At the Oct. 8 commission meeting, Elmore was asked if the ministry was for Baptists only. He replied, “No, it’s just a men’s ministry. If any denomination wants to attend, we don’t even claim to be a denomination, that’s what it’s for, just trying to get folks to accept the Lord.”
Any further donation would be “tainted with the religious purpose of the first grant and the men’s ministry,” FFRF noted. “Alabama law prohibits public officials from using their official position to obtain personal gain for themselves or for any business with which they are associated,” said Paige.
FFRF also resubmitted a records request, which it had dropped after learning the grant had been rescinded.
“The Covington Baptist Association and the Judson Baptist Church are free to conduct their men’s ministry, but the government may not support or fund it or their buildings,” concluded FFRF’s letter. “We assume this matter is dropped, but in the event the commission chooses to readdress the issue and provide support for this ministerial endeavor, FFRF will be inclined, at the very least, to submit an official complaint with the Alabama Ethics Commission.”