College agrees coach’s prayers unconstitutional
Coaches at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., have been instructed to stop proselytizing student athletes after getting a Nov. 8 complaint letter from FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.
Football coach Jerry Moore, had been inviting preachers to give sermons and pray in Jesus’ name at pregame dinners, which all football players attended. Moore also led a bible study class and encouraged players to attend.
Elliott wrote Chancellor Kenneth Peacock, asking him to “discontinue the practice of instituting team prayers, sermons and bible studies for ASU football players.”
ASU’s general counsel responded Feb. 6 that Moore’s proselytizing has “no legitimate place in the University’s athletic programs” and that a student could see the coach’s “religious observances” as coercive.
“It is highly unlikely that a coach would look favorably upon a student athlete who walked out of a team meeting when a preacher, at the coach’s invitation, began to deliver a sermon or a team prayer,” the response letter said. “In these circumstances, it would not be unreasonable for a student athlete to consider the atmosphere created by such religious observances coercive.”
Moore has left ASU for “unrelated” reasons, but the school’s attorney said ASU has reminded all coaches that proselytizing is unacceptable.
FFRF ends Texas
Religion was forced to take a knee in the Pottsboro [Texas] Independent School District after FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell’s Feb. 6 letter of complaint that the football coach was leading players in pregame prayer. The football games of both the middle school and high school also featured a prayer addressing god and Jesus over the loudspeaker.
Cavell’s letter to Superintendent Kevin Matthews outlined the constitutional violations.
Legal counsel responded the next day to say that the school had discussed its policy regarding staff-led prayer with all coaches and will discuss the issue with stadium personnel before the next football season starts.
School ditches religion for positive choices
Ohio’s Wauseon High School will now have an inclusive spring assembly instead of a proselytizing Easter assembly.
Previous Easter assemblies encouraged students to accept Jesus as their Lord and savior and pressured them to sing Christian songs. A group of students protested the sermon-like assembly by walking out of last year’s.
FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt sent Superintendent Marc Robinson a letter last May 7, asking him not to schedule religious assemblies in the future.
Robinson responded Feb. 7 that the district had asked the high school principal to change the nature, speakers and format of the assembly. He said the spring assembly will focus on positive student choices.
Religious music scratched from schools
Choir concerts at grade schools in Ocean Springs, Miss., no longer include Christian worship songs and are held at the school instead of a church. A concerned parent contacted FFRF after their child participated in a school concert held at a Baptist church, where six of 14 songs were religious.
Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote to Superintendent Bonita Coleman-Potter on Nov. 12. Schmitt found one of the songs, “Joshua Fit the Battle,” particularly worrisome because it proudly recounts a battle in which Joshua is instructed by his god to commit genocide on the people of Jericho. Schmitt quoted Chapter 6 of Joshua where “they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.”
On Feb. 14, FFRF was informed the school’s choir and band held a fall concert, which in previous years was called a Christmas concert, on Dec. 3. The concert was held in the school’s auditorium and featured entirely secular music.
Georgia teacher warned about religious songs
A sixth-grade science teacher at Lakeview Middle School in Rossville, Ga., will no longer sing Christian songs during instructional time to students.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote a Feb. 1 complaint letter and a Feb. 11 follow-up letter to Catoosa County Public Schools Superintendent Denia Reese. He expressed concern that several co-workers reported the teacher’s behavior to administration, but that she allegedly continued to impose her beliefs on students.
District legal counsel responded that the teacher admitted singing inappropriate songs to children. Administrators discussed the law with her and instructed her to stop proselytizing.
FFRF ends Indiana staffer’s proselytizing
An elementary school principal in Ligonier, Ind., will no longer push his religious beliefs and judgments on other district employees through religious newsletters and prayers at staff lunches. A newsletter the principal sent to staff read: “People may be able to take away the symbols of Christmas, but they can never take away the meaning of Christmas; that a Savior was born to save the world.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott called the principal’s actions inappropriate in a Dec. 19 letter to West Noble Schools Superintendant Dennis VanDuyne.
VanDuyne responded Jan. 28 that the principal will apologize to his staff and stop promoting religion. VanDuyne added that district policy on separation of church and state will be reviewed by all principals at the next administrators’ meeting.
Bible handouts ended at Georgia school
Bible distribution is out at S.L. Mason Elementary, a public school in Valdosta, Ga. The Gideons set up a table in the main hallway. When one girl and her friend refused to take a bible, other school children told them they were going to hell.
On behalf of a concerned parent, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel contacted Valdosta City Schools Superintendent William Cason in a Feb. 12 letter. “The public schools should protect the personal conscience of students, especially those students of a very young age who were given bibles at the elementary school.”
FFRF was informed by the parent complainant that Cason personally contacted her to apologize. Cason said he would update school administrators to let them know the Gideons and other groups are not allowed to enter schools and distribute bibles.