Outreach & Events - Freedom From Religion Foundation
Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

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. 

Graduation ceremonies in Perry Local School District, Massillon, Ohio, will no longer be held at the Faith Family Church. From now on, students wishing to participate in one of life’s most momentous occasions will not be excluded from doing so.

FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Superintendent Martin J. Bowe on Feb. 17, informing him that “It is unconstitutional for a public high school to force, compel, or coerce its graduation students, their parents, teachers, and other members of their families or friends, to violate their rights of conscience at a graduation ceremony.”

Bowe’s May 15 reply reported that the Board has “agreed to find a different site for the 2015 graduating class.”

Onaway Area Community School District in Onaway, Mich., will no longer invite speakers with a proselytizing agenda.

Matt Fradd — who describes himself on his website as “a Catholic apologist and speaker” — was invited to give a presentation to Onaway High School students on the subject of abstinence on April 29. According to his website, his presentation “challenges audience members to open their minds and hearts and embrace the Church’s teachings on human sexuality.” Students were reportedly told, “Romantic love is impossible without chastity.”

FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote Superintendent Rod Fullerton on May 20, citing constitutional concerns over the religious content in the assembly. “Public schools may not advance or promote religion,” she noted, adding that regardless of the motives of the school, inviting such a speaker “gives the appearance that Onaway Area Community School District endorses the program’s message.”

Replying on June 18, Fullerton assured FFRF that the school “had no intention of violating any laws with this assembly” and that it “will not be participating in this type of assembly in the future.”

An advertisement for Vacation Bible School in front of the Caraway Public Library in Caraway, Ark., has been removed. The sign, an electronic, scrolling text marquee, promoted a bible program for children at a local church.

FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliot wrote to Mayor Barry Riley on June 13, noting that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment mandates government “neutrality between religion and religion, and religion and nonreligion.”

Elliott suggested, “The best policy would be for the city to disallow such advertising.”

Mayor Riley responded on the same day that, “The message on the sign has been removed.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter today to Theodore Nickel, of the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance, protesting his decision, as reported by some media outlets, to stop enforcing a state law requiring insurers to cover contraception as part of health plans if they have “religious objections.”

According to a report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, agency spokesperson J.P. Wieske claimed to be “federally pre-empted” by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case.

“If the reports are true, this is a phony excuse, and a decision that Wisconsin women must not tolerate. This state agency most certainly is not ‘federally pre-empted.’ The Hobby Lobby ruling has no bearing on state law. Inviting insurers to violate a state law is not only irresponsible, but is an egregious attack on women’s rights and reproductive health,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel noted in his letter to Nickel that Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., “hinges on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [and] . . . does not apply to state law and state action.” Seidel further notes, “The Wisconsin legislature mandated contraceptive coverage in June of 2009, before the Affordable Care Act.”

“It is curious, some might even say hypocritical, to claim that there is a federal preemption issue with Wisconsin’s contraception mandate,” Seidel wrote. “Gutting mandatory contraceptive coverage is not required by the Hobby Lobby decision, as any staunch states’ rights defender must know.” FFRF requested that the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance “immediately rescind this misguided action.”

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God and Football

The Freedom From Religion Foundation salutes President Barack Obama for doing the right thing today — by not caving to the ugly demand by many religious leaders of various denominations seeking the privilege to discriminate against gays and lesbians while receiving federal contracts. 

This morning the president issued an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers, and prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in federal employment. Obama took matters into his own hands after the House failed to act on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which was passed last November by the Senate with strong bipartisan support. 

“It’s a fact that the only organized opposition to gay rights and non-discrimination against LGBT citizens is religious,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

“Those host of religious leaders who urged Obama to exempt them from the executive order — for the express purpose of shunning gays and lesbians while working on the public dime — ought to be ashamed of themselves,” added FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, a former evangelical minister. “When my mother, a former fundamentalist, left religion, she told me how happy she was that ‘I don’t have to hate anymore.’ It shouldn’t be socially acceptable to be bigoted for any reason, much less in the name of religion.” 

Religionists who contacted Obama included Rich Stearns, president of World Vision, Rick Warrens, Catholic leaders, priests, rabbis, evangelical leaders and Christian college presidents. 

FFRF maintains that the federal government and recipients of federal programs will benefit by weeding out discriminatory would-be contractors. 

CONTACT

Obama’s being targeted for this action by many theocratic groups. If you’d like to thank him for putting people above dogma, here’s how to contact him: 

Please click here to send a message directly to the White House urging President Obama, using the online comment form. 

Or phone the President at the White House comment line now: 202-456-1111.

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