Massachusetts Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Children and Families (DCF) will now refrain from making inappropriate religious references in their correspondence.
An HHS employee forwarded FFRF an official letter from a DCF employee which included the phrase “may God richly bless you.” FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt noted that “the United States Supreme Court has held that public officials may not seek to advance or promote religion” in her Jan. 25 letter to HHS Chief of Staff Stacey Monahan.
Monahan replied after FFRF sent a March 19 follow-up letter. She said the departments “regret any offense engendered,” and affirmed that they would “caution employees generally regarding inappropriate religious references in communications made in their official capacities.”
Indian Caves State Park in Shubert, Neb., has removed a large, wooden cross from its property after receiving a letter of complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Ron Stave, Chair of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, on May 22: “No court of final resort has ever upheld the government’s permanent display of a Latin cross on public land as constitutional. The inherent religious significance of the Latin cross is undeniable and is not disguisable.”
The director of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission responded promptly, notifying FFRF the following day that the cross has been removed.
Granite City, Ill., residents will no longer have to tacitly endorse a church or face a fine, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The Granite City municipal code required residents to purchase and prominently display sticker permits on their car windows each year. This year’s permit featured a photo of St. John United Church of Christ. Drivers who did not want to showcase the religious building faced up to $100 in fines for each day that the permit was not displayed. A local FFRF member opposed this use of city permits and contacted FFRF.
Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to Granite City Mayor Edward Hagnauer in late April. Elliott pointed out that the mandatory church stickers violated the First Amendment rights of residents. "No person can be compelled to display a message that violates her rights of conscience," wrote Elliott. He added "The stickers give the impression to observers that the city approves of. . . St. John UCC."
In response to FFRF's complaint, the city council met on May 15 to adopt a resolution allowing residents to refrain from displaying the vehicle permits. The resolution provided that police would not enforce the sticker requirement. Residents would still have to pay the permit fee but a receipt would suffice as proof of a permit.
Students and coaches will no longer be praying in the locker room at McAllen High School (McAllen, Texas), thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
McAllen’s head football coach reportedly asked a student to recite the Lord’s Prayer before each game. FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote to Superintendent James Ponce on Feb. 1: “The coaches’ apparent organizing and obvious participation in a team prayer constitutes an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.”
Assistant Superintendent Mike Barrera responded after an April 18 follow-up letter, replying on May 9 that the district “has taken steps to orient staff and heighten awareness about the proper procedures involved in student led prayers at public events.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has ensured that disclaimers will be placed on religious clubs’ fliers at Foothill High School in Redding, Calif.
The school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes put out fliers inviting readers to an event called “Campus United” to “join…in a night of worship as God breaks down barriers between our schools and churches.” FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Superintendent Jim Cloney on April 9, 2012: “It is important for a school district that allows such distribution to be cognizant of how that literature will be received by its students and parents and to exercise the control it retains over the content of that literature.”
Cloney responded on May 1, saying that he agreed “that flyers announcing events such as this one typically carry a disclaimer to clarify that the event is sponsored by the club and not the school” and that future announcements would have the disclaimer.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has silenced a proselytizing first-grade teacher at Minford Elementary School in Minford, Ohio.
Prior to FFRF's complaint, young and impressionable first-grade students were subjected to bible lessons in their public school classroom. The offending teacher was cited with inserting religion into the curriculum during the holiday season. This teacher issued religious assignments and referred to Christmas as "Jesus' birthday." She also asked students to color a sheet depicting Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in a manger. The worksheet included an overtly and leading Christian question: "Who has a birthday on Christmas?" FFRF and its local complainant were concerned the teacher would continue "to teach biblical stories as fact and indoctrinating her very young students."
FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt first wrote to Superintendent Mark Wilcheck on Feb. 16: "No public school employee may urge religious points of view on students. If this teacher taught her students that Christmas was the day that Jesus was born, she violated basic constitutional principles."
It wasn't until Schmitt complained again in April that she received a response. A representative of the school district confirmed that the administration warned "all of the first grade teachers about the legal parameters for teaching about religion in the classroom."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has ensured that there will be no further Christian prayers by government employees in Mecklenburg County, N.C.
FFRF received a complaint after three different Mecklenburg County employees gave sectarian prayers at a mandatory training luncheon for the county’s Department of Social Services (DSS). In a Feb. 8 letter to DSS Director Mary Wilson, FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt informed the agency that “the prayers and statements made at the DSS training meeting on Jan. 25 impermissibly advanced Christianity and led a reasonable observer to believe that the department is endorsing not only religion over non-religion, but also Christianity over all other faiths.”
After an April 18 follow-up letter, a county attorney responded on April 23, assuring FFRF that “the matter has been addressed and is resolved. The County and DSS are very much aware of Constitutional constraints placed on governmental behavior.”
Students at Lakeside High School (Ashtabula, Ohio) will no longer be forced to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt informed Superintendent Joseph Donatone of this blatant First Amendment violation via an April 13 letter of complaint. She pointed out that some faculty members required that students participate in the pledge against their will. "Students have a constitutional right not to be forced to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or to be compelled to stand for its recitation," advised Schmitt.
Schmitt added that students should not be singled out, told they must stand, or otherwise be penalized for following their freedom of conscience.
Donatone promptly replied to Schmitt's letter on April 19: "We can assure you that we recognize our students' right not to participate in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and we have directed our staff accordingly."