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Freethought Today · March 2014

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

FFRF compiles state/church victories

Wash. school benches praying ‘All Pro Dad’

FFRF stopped White Bluffs Elementary School in Richland, Wash., from promoting religion. Meetings in the school sponsored by All Pro Dad, a private group focusing on religious programming, were advertised in fliers sent home with students.

The fliers failed to indicate the event was not school-sponsored. The meetings were also noted in the calendar along with official school events. 

“The circumstances surrounding ‘All Pro Dad’ events would lead a reasonable observer to view it as school-sponsored,” wrote Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in his Jan. 14 letter to Superintendent Rich Schulte. “Because of the religious aspects of the programming, Richland School District must take measures to address parental concerns regarding school involvement in this event.” 

The district responded in late January, calling the promotion a clerical error and saying it would be removed from the school calendar. Staff will also be informed on the policy barring distribution of religious materials and announcements. 

 

Teachers’ religious symbols removed 

FFRF was informed that a teacher at Southside Elementary School in Pulaski, Tenn., prominently displayed several religious images in her classroom. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter Dec. 17 to Giles County Schools Superintendent Timothy Webb: 

“When a teacher puts up crosses and images of Jesus, they have unconstitutionally entangled the school itself with a religious message, specifically a Christian message. To avoid continuing to violate the Establishment Clause, we ask the teacher to remove the crosses and images of Jesus from her classroom.”

Webb responded two days later with a copy of the memo he sent to principals and supervisors: “The situation mentioned in the complaint has been addressed. Please remind your staff of the federal requirements in matters such as this.”  

• • • 

A teacher in Rusk, Texas, will no longer be displaying religious iconography after FFRF was contacted by a concerned parent of a Rusk High School student. A classroom poster read, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God the salvation of everyone who believes. Romans 1:16.” At the bottom it said, “This poster is illegal in 51 countries.” 

Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote the district Dec. 13 to note the constitutional violation while adding that a public school teacher has no free speech or free exercise right to proselytize.

Superintendent Scott David replied Jan. 9: “All campus principals and department directors will be reminded of our constitutional duties as public school employees with regard to the separation of state and church.” 

• • •

A local complainant alerted FFRF that a classroom in Bernard Campbell Middle School in Lee’s Summit, Mo., displayed a religious poster prominently on the wall facing students. The poster read, “Blessed are the people who know the joyful Sound! They walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance. Psalm 89:15.” 

Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter Feb. 20 to Superintendent David McGehee about the egregious, obvious violation. “When a school teacher places religious posters in the classroom, she unconstitutionally entangles the school with a religious message. It is also a usurpation of parental authority — parents have the right to direct the religious, or nonreligious, upbringing of their children.”  

McGehee called FFRF the next day to say he agreed that the poster shouldn’t be allowed in the classroom and that it had been permanently removed.

 

School Good News Club gets bad reviews

After Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel’s Jan. 24 letter of complaint, FFRF was informed that an elementary school secretary in Sanford, Fla., will no long-er be involved with Good News Club permission slips.

Child Evangelism Fellowship of Central Florida had distributed registration forms to Geneva Elementary students to promote the club. The form told students to return forms to the secretary. 

Seidel said, “Despite the appropriate disclaimer, students might presume that Good News Club is sponsored by the school because of the apparent role of school personnel in facilitating the club’s activities by collecting registration forms. While the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Central Florida is entitled to host meetings, there are limitations on adult involvement.”

The Seminole County School Board’s attorney responded Jan. 28 that the district agreed that the club, not public school employees. was responsible for collecting forms, 

 

Charter school’s church graduations end

The Academy for Academic Excellence in Apple Valley, Calif., will no longer hold its graduation ceremony in a church. According to the complainant, AAE, a K-12 public charter school operated by the Lewis Center for Educational Research, held graduation in churches where crosses, bible verses and other religious symbols were displayed.  

AAE reportedly held a baccalaureate at a second church, advertising it on AAE’s calendar and listing the school’s vice principal as “coordinator.” Many school officials, including the principal, attended. 

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a November letter to Superintendent Thomas Hoegerman: “Religious faith and worship are an intensely personal choice. The government cannot make attendance at a secular school’s graduation ceremony contingent on entering the holy ground of a particular religion.” He also lodged objections to mandatory baccalaureate attendance.

Gordon Soholt, chief academic officer, responded Nov. 20: “It is anticipated that both ceremonies will be held in the new gymnasium in the future, thus removing any potential First Amendment issues. The previously named ‘baccalaureate’ has been renamed to reflect its intent, which is issuance of senior awards and scholarships.”

 

No more forced pledge for Florida student

A student at Southwest Middle School in Orlando, Fla., will no longer be coerced into reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

After refusing to stand for the pledge, the student was taken aside by a teacher and was told by the school’s attendance dean to stand and recite it or face reprimand.

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote a letter Nov. 20 to object: “Faced with the choice of either reciting the pledge or being punished by the school, this student has relented, but now only recites the pledge out of fear of being punished. Students should not be singled out, rebuked, told they must stand, or otherwise penalized for following their freedom of conscience. It is illegal to reprimand a student for choosing not to stand during the recitation of the pledge.” 

The student sent an email response on Jan. 25, “I am so thankful for your help. Thanks to you, I’m now able to sit during the pledge without punishment!” 

FFRF has a lawsuit against the Orange County School District regarding literature discrimination.

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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