The Freedom From Religion Foundation has convinced a Texas school district to take a harder stance against showing harmful Christian propaganda and anti-evolution movies to students.
In Central Heights High School in Nacogdoches, Texas, two teachers showed their students extremely questionable films. In a ninth grade health class, an instructor screened "God's Not Dead," a movie blatantly Christian and proselytizing in nature. And in a ninth grade science class, another teacher, remarking to his students that he didn't believe in evolution, played "Expelled: Intelligence Not Allowed," an intelligent design propaganda work that the New York Times described as "a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry."
FFRF contacted the Central Heights Independent School District in May to alert school officials that the teachers were out of line.
"Intelligent design is a religious belief, not a legitimate scientific theory," Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Central Heights Independent School District Superintendent Bryan Lee. "The district has a duty to ensure that 'subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion' or use their positions of authority to promote a particular religious viewpoint."
The School District initially replied that the teachers were within their rights to show these movies, especially since they had given their students the right to opt out.
In its rebuttal letter last month, FFRF stressed that neither of the movies could be justified on any educational grounds and that allowing the students to opt out did not mitigate the situation. It urged Lee to enforce the "hard stance against any 'proselytizing' by teachers in the classroom."
FFRF's perseverance paid off. Just this week, it received a letter from the Central Heights Independent School District's law firm stating that district staff members will be trained on First Amendment issues to educate them better on the separation of state and church.
FFRF appreciates the assurance.
"We are glad that the district is going to enforce its policies and stop miseducating its captive audience," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "However, the onus shouldn't be on us to remind school districts about their constitutional obligations."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is dedicated to the separation of state and church, with 24,000 nonreligious members all over the country, including almost 1,000 in Texas.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has warned a Kentucky judge about his refusal to marry a nonreligious couple.
Mandy Heath and her fiancé, Jon, were planning on getting married in Trigg County on July 22 at the courthouse of County Judge Executive Hollis Alexander. Heath arranged with the county clerk to get the marriage license and have Alexander perform the legal formalities in his courtroom. The couple planned a family ceremony for the next day.
Heath requested that the courthouse marriage be secular. After she made those plans with the clerk, Alexander called Heath to inform her that he wouldn't be able to perform the ceremony at the courthouse. When asked why, Alexander apparently responded: "I include God in my ceremonies, and I won't do one without him." He then told the couple, who are not from Kentucky, that they could go locate another officiant.
FFRF emphasizes to Alexander that under the U.S. Constitution, he, as a government official, has an obligation to remain neutral on religious matters.
"The Supreme Court has established that the 'First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,'" Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel writes to Alexander. "Moreover, it has stated, 'the preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and a choice committed to the private sphere.'"
By refusing to provide secular ceremonies, Trigg County sends a message of religious endorsement. However, according to the Constitution, it is illegal to condition a government benefit on a religious test. By conditioning the receipt of a marriage license from Trigg County on an agreement to have a religious ceremony, the county is violating the rights of nonreligious couples to equal access to government benefits.
Under Kentucky law, marriage may be solemnized by religious figures and government employees and officials, FFRF reminds Alexander. There is no requirement that such ceremonies be religious, since any such requirement would be unconstitutional. As a government employee, Alexander has a constitutional obligation to remain neutral on religious matters while acting in his official capacity and has no right to impose his personal religious beliefs on people seeking to be married.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit dedicated to the separation of state and church, with more than 24,000 members all over the country, including almost 200 and a chapter in Kentucky.