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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

Elementary school faculty in the Whitfield County School District, Georgia, will no longer teach their young students religion thanks to a letter sent by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

FFRF received a report from a parent whose Antioch Elementary School kindergartener was informed that Christmas was “Jesus’s Birthday” and that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” A project in the child’s class involved making a nativity scene from construction paper while a teacher read students the story of the biblical nativity. When the parent contacted the school to complain, the solution offered was to remove the student “whenever anything religious was brought up,” and to ask the parent what she would to do with the child “when they do activities for Easter.”

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to Superintendent Judy Gilreath on December 23, 2014. “Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion. When District staff assign children the task of making a project depicting a religious story, read students the nativity story, and tell students that Christmas is ‘Jesus’s birthday’ and that Jesus is ‘the reason for the season,’ the District has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message, specifically a Christian message,” wrote Seidel.

Gilreath responded on January 5, explaining that she met with the Antioch principal and “made her aware of the complaint and the legal restrictions concerning teaching of religion in a public school.” She instructed the principal to speak with the teacher who did the nativity project to “make sure she understand she is not to celebrate religious holidays with her students.”

Zeeland Public Schools, Mich., will not allow Gideons to distribute bibles on school ground in the future thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

On Oct. 17, Gideons International representatives distributed bibles to students, a parent informed FFRF. A teacher reportedly told students she would like each one to take a bible home.

“There is no excuse or justification for this practice. It is unnecessary, offensive, and illegal,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover. Grover continued, citing a Supreme Court case: “Even if the students are not forced to accept these bibles, the school sends a clear message to the children in its charge who are nonadherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community and accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.’ ”

Assistant Superintendent Jon Voss responded Dec. 22, saying they agreed Gideons should not have been allowed on school property to distribute bibles. Voss said the district would make it clear to all building administrators that “third parties without a connection to the school – like Gideons – are not allowed on school property to distribute information to our students.” Voss also said the district would contact the Gideons directly and let them know they would not be permitted on school property in the future.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has ended a partnership with the Boy Scouts of America, which discriminates against atheists and agnostics, as well as LGBT adults.

The DNR previously had an annual charter agreement with the Baltimore Boy Scouts in which the DNR agreed to conduct a scouting program in accordance with the Boy Scouts’ policies. “The DNR cannot continue to sponsor this discriminatory program,” wrote Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott in a letter to the DNR on Sept. 24, 2014.

The DNR responded on Dec. 22, informing FFRF that the charter agreement had expired and would not be renewed.

Thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, teachers and church groups will not be permitted to lead religious events at Athens Elementary School in Athens, Ala.

In 2013, a local church group was permitted to lead a “See You At The Pole” gathering, a Christian prayer event, at the school. The school’s athletic coach reportedly led students in prayer at the event.

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent Superintendent Trey Holladay a letter on Oct. 9, 2013, noting that public school employees “must refrain from actively participating in religious activities while acting within their governmental role to avoid any perception of government endorsement of religion.”

“It is especially inappropriate for churches to be granted access to elementary school students, who are made a captive audience at an age when they are particularly impressionable and intellectually incapable of making their own decisions regarding religious observance.”

An attorney for the district responded in December, informing FFRF that no See You At The Pole events had occurred since FFRF’s letter.

After the Freedom From Religion Foundation lodged a complaint, staff at the Haskins Learning Center in Pratt Unified School District will not lead students in prayer.

FFRF received a report that before a school-wide Thanksgiving lunch, the school’s principal asked everyone to bow their heads and a teacher delivered a prayer.

“The District should make certain that teachers in its schools are not unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters by encouraging them to engage in prayer or by praying with students at school activities,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel.

An attorney for the school district sent FFRF a letter on Dec. 18, saying he “[did] not disagree” with FFRF’s account of what happened at the lunch, continuing, “It is now acknowledged that prayer offered by staff members of a public school entity may not be appreciated by all students and parents, and it is not anticipated that this will occur in the future.”

The Arizona Department of Economic Security has discontinued use of a religious training video thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

A mandatory meeting for some DES employees included a video featuring a comedian who talked about dying briefly and meeting God, who told her people who work at DES are “angels with big white wings.” The video included a prayer.

Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote the department a letter on Nov. 17, 2014, asking the DES to refrain from using the video in future trainings. “As a government entity, DES has a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion,” reminded Grover. “Federal courts have held that mandatory meetings for government employees cannot be used to promote religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.”

DES Training and Development Administrator Adele Cook wrote to FFRF on Dec. 3 to say that the units that were still using the video as part of their training programs would immediately discontinue doing so, and “all agency training units will be directed not to use the video in the future.”

Gulf Coast Charter Academy South in Naples, Fla., cut a religious song from its curriculum pursuant to a complaint made by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The song was reportedly about a child getting lost in the woods and being saved by an angel after kneeling and praying. The chorus was something to the effect of, “I believe in angels sent down from heaven.”

“It is wholly inappropriate for a public school teacher to teach songs of worship in a public school setting,” wrote Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in a letter sent Nov. 24, 2014. “The music described above has a devotional message and thus would be appropriate in a church setting, but not in a public school. There are a multitude of secular songs that would be appropriate in this setting.”

In a response dated Dec. 1, an attorney for the school informed Seidel that the song was removed from all classes, and that the school was “reviewing the balance of the curriculum to ensure further compliance.

The new administration of Worth County Schools in Sylvester, Ga., will there’s no repeat of a religious assembly condoned by the previous administrators.

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote Superintendent Barbara Thomas on Jan 30, 2013, after receiving a complaint that an assembly included the principal prompting a student to lead a prayer followed by a speech by a pastor who talked to students about “finding Jesus Christ.”

After unproductive correspondence with Dr. Thomas, who stated that “it was the consensus of the Board [of Education] that no one’s rights would be infringed” by the imposition of religion at the assembly, a new superintendent responded to FFRF’s complaint on Nov. 20. She stated that she could not confirm that the assembly had occurred, but that she was “most concerned about this incident,” and that she discussed it with the district’s principals and gave them guidelines about religion in public schools.

R.J. Fisher Middle School’s graduation ceremony will no longer be held at Calvary Church after the Freedom From Religion Foundation lodged a complaint.

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote the Los Gatos Union School District superintendent on June 16, 2014, informing her that holding public school graduations in houses of worship “is unconstitutional because it forces graduating students and their family and friends wishing to participate in, view, or celebrate the graduation to enter a church to do so, even if the selected church espouses a religious ideology or belief to which they may not adhere.”

Superintendent Diana Abbati responded Nov. 20, 2014, writing that the district would be moving its 2015 graduation ceremonies to “a venue not affiliated with a religious entity.”

Thanks to efforts by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, teachers in Chandler Public Schools will not create religious projects with their students in the future.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to the district in 2013 after learning of an auction where two items for sale were religious art projects created by classes of students: a poster with a bible quote, “Blessed are the pure in heart,” and a poster that read, “Wash your hands & say your prayers cause Jesus and germs are everywhere.”

“Chandler Public Schools has a legal duty to ensure that its teachers and administrators are not unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters,” wrote Seidel.

After several follow up letters, Seidel received an email on Nov. 20, 2014, from a new superintendent who assured FFRF he did not anticipate the recurrence of the constitutional violation.

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