After intervention from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Alma (Mich.) Public Schools will now require a church using its facilities to pay a formal rental fee and remove religious items left scattered around a district school.
The school allowed the church to hold Sunday worship services and frequent church events at the school. The church was allowed to make use of the kitchen, gym, stage, and extra rooms, had free use of building supplies and custodial services, and were even allowed to store religious items at the school, including an eight-foot wooden cross that was left on display in the school cafeteria.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter to Superintendent Sonia Lark on Oct. 19, 2012, pointing out that the religious symbols left in the school demonstrated “district preference for religion over nonreligion, and Christianity over other religions.” Markert pointed out that this “excludes those who are not Christian and the 19% of the American population that is nonreligious.”
The school district responded on Oct. 23, 2012, informing FFRF that the cross and other religious items were removed or covered. The district further informed FFRF on Jan. 3, 2013, that the church would now have to pay for custodial services and rental of school space.
After a program assistant sent home an inappropriate religious gift with students, the Monroe County (Mich.) Intermediate School District is ensuring that school policy will be followed by the assistant and other staff in the future.
The faculty member works with children as young as 4-years-old, some of whom are disabled, and distributed a gift of play dough to the children with an accompanying letter that contained many religious references and urged people to pray. The letter was titled “CHRISTmas is Jesus’s Birthday” and opened with the sentence “So for Jesus's gift you could be like this play dough, and let Jesus mold & shape Your Life so Jesus Can use you for His Glory! [sic].” The letter instructed on how to pray “if you don’t know [Jesus]” and encouraged parents to find a church that teaches about Jesus.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote a letter to Superintendent Randy Monday on Jan. 7, 2013, informing him that “it was illegal and inappropriate” for the teacher “to give this gift with its proselytizing message to young children in her public school class.”
Legal counsel for the school responded the next day, informing FFRF that the teacher had been spoken to about the inappropriateness of her actions and the violation of school policy regarding obtaining approval for sending items home in a student’s backpack. The letter also informed FFRF that parents of the affected students were notified that the staff member had violated school policy and were “tak[ing] steps to ensure such inappropriate correspondence [would] not occur again.”
Thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, members of the Gideon organization will no longer be allowed in Robertson County (Tenn.) Schools.
After FFRF received a complaint from a distressed parent whose child was ostracized for not taking a bible, FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter to Director of Schools Daniel Whitlow. “Courts have uniformly held that the distribution of bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited,” Markert informed Whitlow in the Nov. 19, 2012 letter. “Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion and to protect the rights of conscience of young and impressionable students.”
Whitlow responded on Jan. 8, 2013, informing FFRF that all administrators had been notified that bible distribution was against district procedures.
Main Street K-3 School (Shelbyville, Ill.) has removed two Christian spirituals from its holiday concert after receiving a letter of complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
A concerned parent contacted FFRF after her child’s holiday concert included the songs “Mary Had a Baby” and “Go, Tell it on the Mountain.”
In a Dec. 17, 2012 letter to Superintendent Denise Bence, FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor told the school that it was “wholly inappropriate for public schools to perform songs of Christian worship in a public school setting.” Gaylor continued, “Teaching these very young and impressionable students pervasively Christian music in a public school violates the First Amendment.”
Bence responded on Dec. 21, 2012, informing FFRF that the songs would be taken out of the holiday concert and replaced with secular holiday music.
Thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a house inside George Wyth State Park on Iowa state property will no longer display a lighted cross.
A local complainant reported that a large cross was affixed to the garage of a park ranger’s home inside the state park, and that it was highly visible at night from the highway and within the park.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote a letter on Dec. 14, 2012 to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) informing them that the cross violated the First Amendment. “While it is appropriate for the park ranger to display personal religious items inside his home, it crosses the line when he chooses to display Christian symbols on the exterior of his home,” Markert said. “The inherent religious significance of the Latin cross is undeniable and is not disguisable.”
Markert received a phone call from the Iowa DNR on Dec. 19, 2012, informing her that the park ranger had been directed to remove the cross.
The Cobleskill-Richmondville Central School District (N.Y.) has banned groups from using school facilities for religious worship after the Freedom From Religion Foundation urged them to adopt a revised policy.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor sent a Dec. 3, 2012, letter to the school board informing the board that prohibiting the use of school facilities for worship services was “in line with current law and is the best policy option.” Gaylor detailed how start-up churches often take advantage of low school rental to establish themselves and collect church donations on public property, which amounts to “what many of us consider taxpayer subsidy of congregations.”
A church that had been using school facilities retained the American Center for Law & Justice, a religious right legal group founded by Pat Robertson, to object to the proposed changes. Despite this opposition, the school board amended its policies at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting, adding “Gatherings for the purpose of holding religious worship services” to its list of prohibited uses of school facilities.
Coaches at Spencerville High School will no longer pray with their students after the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter of complaint to the school district.
Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote a letter on Nov. 6, 2012, to Superintendent Joel Hatfield, informing him that “a public school coach’s participation in a team’s prayer circle is illegal and inappropriate.”
Hatfield responded on Dec. 17, 2012, writing: “As superintendent, I have informed our coaches that they are to no longer lead their athletes in prayer.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation was able to intervene before students at the Medford (Wis.) Area Middle School were sent to ring bells to raise money for the Salvation Army, a Christian organization.
The Salvation Army lists its mission as “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.” The group also has eleven Christian articles of faith, and is blatantly discriminatory towards gay people.
After a concerned parent contacted FFRF, Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent District Administrator Pat Sullivan a letter on Dec. 13, 2012, pointing out that “while it is laudable for a public school to encourage young students to become active and involved in their community,” the Salvation Army is “an overtly Christian organization.” Elliott detailed the pervasively sectarian nature of the Salvation Army, and asked Sullivan to inform school staff “that they may not continue with their plans to solicit funds for the Salvation Army during the school day.”
Sullivan responded on Dec. 17, 2012, stating that the school was no longer planning to send students to ring bells.
North Georgia College & State University will no longer be including prayers at University-sponsored events after receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
A concerned student informed FFRF that at an event that was mandatory for some students, faculty members led everyone in several Christian prayers. FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote a letter on Oct. 12, 2012, to the University president asking her to discontinue the practice of praying at University events. “Including prayer at events at which attendance is mandatory is coercive, embarrassing, and beyond the scope of our public university system,” Markert wrote.
An attorney for the school responded on Dec. 13, writing that the president would “remind [all faculty and staff] that prayers shall not be included in University sponsored events.”
Representatives of the Gideons International will no longer be allowed to distribute bibles in Grant County (Ky.) Schools after a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
A concerned parent contacted FFRF after her child was taken out of class to receive a bible. Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert contacted Superintendent Ron Livingood, writing that “Grant Count Schools may not allow Gideons, or any other religious group, to enter school property to distribute religious literature.” Markert also pointed out that by allowing Gideons to distribute bibles to young students, the district was “impermissibly endorsing religion by placing its ‘stamp of approval’ on the religious messages contained in the bible.”
Livingood responded on Nov. 30, 2012, indicating that he had met with district principals and instructed them not to permit Gideons in the schools or on school property.