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Freethought Today · December 2013

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

FFRF Legal Victories

Be on the lookout for Lookadoo lookalikes

 

Critical thinking won a solid victory recently when faith-based speaker Justin Lookadoo was publicly berated for a presentation described as sexist that was given at Richardson High School in Richardson, Texas.

Students used social media to express their disapproval, adopting the hashtag #lookadouche when making statements about the misogynistic views portrayed in Lookadoo’s presentation. Subsequent to Lookadoo’s performance at Richardson, FFRF had sent open records requests to George West Independent School District and Canadian Independent School District, where Lookadoo was scheduled to perform on Nov. 19 and Dec. 11, respectively.

Both districts responded with information that Lookadoo’s performances had been canceled. Whether the districts will be refunded the money they paid (over $3,000 in the case of George West) remains to be seen. Until shortly after the Richardson fiasco, Lookadoo’s website also advertised performances early next year at Eagle Mountain Independent School District, Saginaw, Texas; Tonawanda Middle and High Schools, Tonawanda, N.Y.; various schools in Scottsboro, Ala.; and a student council conference at Lufkin High School in Lufkin, Texas.

“The chilling reality is that Lookadoo’s strategy of masquerading as an expert in order to disseminate his religious ideology to public school students is not unique,” noted Sam Grover, FFRF constitutional consultant. FFRF has received complaints about many “Lookadoo lookalikes” (no, Guy Fieri, we don’t mean you).

A number of religious groups go into schools under the guise of offering sex education, anti-drug and other secular programming. Once in the schools, these noncredentialed performers routinely insert a religious message into their talks or exploit the opportunity to speak before a captive audience to invite all students to a proselytizing evening program, usually held at a church.

FFRF has written letters about public school performances by the Christian ministry group You Can Run But You Cannot Hide (and the band Junkyard Prophet), Team Xtreme (part of Youth With A Mission), Team Impact (which also performed at Richardson ISD), The Power Team, Go Tell Ministries (with BMX biker Rick Gage), Christian hip hop musician Kryst Lyke, B-SHOC, Sons of Thunder, magician/motivational speaker Jason Alvarez (sponsored by Faith Assembly), and Youth Alive-7 Project (with Brian Pruitt Motivational), to name a few.

“It’s important that school districts remember their constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion and to properly research any performer before inviting them to speak before a captive student audience,” advised Grover.

Too often it falls to students to report violations and to be vocal in expressing their disagreement with messages being conveyed.

“FFRF has a homework assignment for school administrators: Perform due diligence when bringing speakers to public schools. A little homework can go a long way toward preventing Lookadoo-like disasters,” added FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.

 

FFRF ends school’s ‘daily devotions’

Until October, Hokes Bluff High School in Etowah County, Ala., started mornings with student-led recitations of bible passages over the intercom, a practice approved by school administration. A concerned student reported the practice to FFRF, and Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter Sept. 24 to Superintendent Alan Cosby. 

“Nothing in the law prevents students, teachers or school employees from freely exercising their religion on their own time and in their own way,” wrote Seidel. “But a public school itself must not broadcast a decidedly religious message to a captive student audience, thereby isolating and excluding those students who are non-Christian or nonreligious.” FFRF has not received a reply directly from the district regarding the illegal readings, but the complainant informed us, “As of now they have not been doing ‘daily devotions.’ ” 

 

No more ‘blessings’ at school meetings

FFRF successfully ended prayers during annual in-service meetings for transportation employees at the Berkeley County School District in South Carolina. 

The complainant informed FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott that formal prayer had become a part of the mandatory event in the current and preceding years. Elliott addressed the unconstitutionality of the practice in an Oct. 24 letter to Superintendent Rodney Thompson: “The prayer at district in-service meetings appears to a reasonable observer to be an endorsement of religion, particularly Christianity. This is exactly the type of government endorsement that is prohibited by our Constitution’s Establishment Clause, and could also be perceived as workplace harassment.”

An attorney representing the district responded Nov. 19: “While there was no blessing or prayer offered as part of a program or included as a formal part of the in-service, an employee did offer a blessing for the food before the employees ate the meal. There was certainly no intent to offend any employees. Further, in order to avoid any misunderstandings in the future, the district will not offer a blessing before the meal.”

 

Chain stops discount for church bulletins

Luna’s Friendswood, a Mexican restaurant with six different locations in Texas, has stopped offering a 10% discount to dine-in customers who presented a current church bulletin on Sundays.

FFRF Staff Attorney Liz Cavell and constitutional consultant Sam Grover sent a letter Oct. 10 to the owner, explaining that under the federal Civil Rights Act, places of public accommodation are not allowed to discriminate on grounds such as race, color, religion or national origin.

“Your restaurants’ restrictive promotional practices favor religious customers, and deny both customers who do not attend church as well as nonbelievers the right to ‘full and equal’ enjoyment of Luna’s Friendswood,” FFRF’s letter said.

On Nov. 8, Luna’s responded, stating, “As of Nov. 4, this ‘discount’ has been eliminated.”

 

Ohio school strikes prayer after letter

FFRF advised the administration of Western Brown High School in Mount Orab, Ohio, to stop including prayers at school events after a concerned parent informed Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel that prayer was part of the National Honor Society induction ceremony earlier this year.

In his Oct. 3 letter to Superintendent Peggy McKinney, Seidel noted that prayer at any event endorsed by the school, regardless of whether it takes place before or after school, is illegal. “Federal courts consistently strike down school-sponsored prayer in public schools because it constitutes a government endorsement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and interferes with the personal conscience of students.”

There were also allegations that the administration had discriminated against the Secular Student Alliance by delaying approval of an SSA chapter for more than six months and complaints that the Christian club received preferential treatment.

“As you are no doubt aware, the Equal Access Act requires schools to treat all noncurricular clubs equally,” warned Seidel.

While the administration denied any wrongdoing, legal counsel informed FFRF on Oct. 22 that the school has dropped prayers from the ceremony “in the interest of not having misleading programs or confusion in the future.”

The school claimed the delay in SSA approval was due to a “coincidental change” in administration and logistical inconvenience.

 

Just say ‘Aloha’ to football prayers

Prayers are dropped from pregame routine in Oregon high school (October 29, 2013)

The Aloha [Ore.] High School football team will no longer include prayers in its pregame routine, thanks to a concerned student who reported the practice to FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel.

Seidel sent a letter of complaint Oct. 25 to Superintendent Jeff Rose. “As a general matter, it is illegal for a public school to organize, sponsor, or lead religious messages at school athletic events,” noted Seidel.

The principal informed FFRF on Oct. 29 that the team has eliminated prayers and any faith-based rituals before games. The school is part of the Beaverton School District.

Thanks to intern Yuna Choi for help compiling victories.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

 

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