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October 9-11, 2015

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

The Avon (Ind.) Community School Corp. has taken corrective action regarding an inappropriate religious assembly that students were required to attend.

A Sept. 9 assembly titled "Stay In Your Lane" was mandatory for Avon High School sophomores. Two speakers from the group "Steered Straight" told their stories of recovering from drug addiction, stories that were laced with religion.

One speaker told students, "Someone wanted me on this Earth" while pointing to the ceiling and discussed angels watching over him. The other said, "I pray to God that you get this message." The wife of one of the speakers also reportedly told students that "God has a purpose for you."

Staff Attorney Sam Grover's Sept. 17 letter noted: "Steered Straight's Facebook page has several spiritual posts that should have alerted the district to the potential religious nature of [the] presentation. Regardless of the motives of the presenters or those who invited them, allowing an organization access to your student body to promote a religious message gives the appearance that the district endorses that message."

In a Sept. 24 reply, Superintendent Margaret Hoernemann said the district would discuss separation of state and church with administrators "as a timely reminder of our commitment to remaining neutral toward religion."

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a complaint letter last April to the University of Florida at Gainesville about a biblical quote inscribed at the newly erected Heavener School of Business. The quote chosen by donor James W. Heavener from Micah 6:8 says, "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?"

Now the public university has announced it will add three quotes from secular sources to be part of an "ethical portal" highlighting the importance of ethics in business. One quote chosen, from freethinking deist Thomas Paine, was suggested by Seidel: "My country is the world, and my religion is to do good." ("The Rights of Man" 1791)

The two other quotes were contributed by a faculty member who teaches ethics:

• "To restrain our selfish[ness], and to indulge our benevolent affections, constitutes the perfection of human nature." (Adam Smith, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" 1759)
• "Wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else." (Aristotle, "Nicomachean Ethics")

The portal includes a plaque that states, in part, "Scholars and students of ethics derive universal ethical principles from a wide range of sources, secular and religious, whether or not any particular scholar or student ascribes to religious beliefs."

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor commented, "In an ideal world, there would be no religion or irreligion inscribed on public university property, but we think this compromise is acceptable, given that the biblical engraving was a fait accompli. We extend our appreciation to the university for its thoughtful response. Many people do not realize that Adam Smith was a freethinker in his own right, saying in 'The Wealth of Nations' that 'Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition.' "

FFRF has ensured that Georgetown Independent School District in Texas will not send administrators to participate in the Georgetown National Day of Prayer in their official capacities.

After explaining that the National Day of Prayer is a sectarian Christian event founded by Billy Graham, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote, "Government officials can worship, pray and participate in religious events in their personal capacities. But they are not permitted to provide credibility or prestige to their religion by lending a government office and government title to religious events."

On Sept. 23, Superintendent Fred Brent assured Grover "that the District is committed to following the requirements of the First Amendment when it comes to the separation of Church and State," and said that the administrator did not know he would be expected to speak at the prayer event. "I can assure you that if the District is invited to attend this or similar events in the future, and we do send someone to attend, it will not be in a leadership or participatory role as a district official," Brent said.

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

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