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October 9-11, 2015

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

Gallia County Local Schools (Ohio) will no longer endorse religion on the cover of its yearbooks, after a protest by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The PTO of Addaville Elementary School printed and distributed yearbooks for students with a large cross bearing the word “BELIEVE” on the cover. FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the school district on Sept. 26, 2014, informing the district, “The inclusion of the Latin cross, which is the preeminent symbol of Christianity, on a public elementary school yearbook, is illegal.”

An attorney for the school district forwarded Markert two letters sent by the superintendent to parents of Addaville students, in which the district explained that they were “strictly prohibited by law from endorsing any religion and from displaying any religious message or symbol,” and that the yearbooks were therefore inappropriate. The superintendent also wrote the PTO, saying, “in the future, the PO must refrain from displaying any religious message or symbol in publications that are or appear to be sponsored by or associated with the Gallia County Local School District.”

The University of Missouri agreed that a church bulletin discount offered as part of a volleyball ticket promotion was inappropriate, after receiving an Oct. 16 letter of complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

A university employee informed FFRF that the University of Missouri volleyball team offered free admission to its Sept. 28 game to anyone with a church bulletin. as part of “Faith and Family Day.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote to the university’s athletics department to inform it that the discount violated the federal Civil Rights Act, as well as a similar Missouri statute, which provides that everyone has the right to full and equal enjoyment of places of “public accommodation,” including sports arenas. “The University of Missouri’s restrictive promotional practice favors religious customers, and denies nonbelievers and other customers who do not attend church the right to ‘full and equal’ enjoyment of the arena,” wrote Cavell.

Cavell also pointed out that since the university is a public institution, the discount and the “Faith and Family Day” raises Establishment Clause concerns as well.

Director of Athletics Michael F. Alden responded promptly the next day, informing FFRF that the discount was “not consistent with our department’s practices and that we stopped the promotion from being carried out as described in the materials.”

Football coaches at Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes, Del., will no longer lead their players in prayer or participate in students’ prayers, after receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote to the Cape Henlopen School District on Oct. 8, after receiving a report that the high school football coaches participated in their students’ prayers, as well as a photograph of the head coach participating in his team’s prayer circle. “While students may wish to engage in prayer on their own, school staff, including coaches cannot participate in or encourage such religious activities,” Cavell informed the district.

In an Oct. 17 response, Superintendent Robert S. Fulton told FFRF he had discussed the matter with the administration and football coach, and “employees, including coaches, will be reminded of laws involving the Separation of Church and State.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter of complaint Oct. 7 to the Manchester Police Department (Iowa), prompting the department to remove a religious poster prominently displayed in its lobby. The poster began, “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him and I am helped. Psalm 28:7,” and continued with a list of the Beatitudes.

Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote, “The Manchester Police Department should not be using the power and authority of the government to impose any religious belief onto the community members who work at or visit our office.” He noted that the suggestion that “The LORD is my strength” is “a proselytizing statement of religious belief with no secular purpose.”

FFRF’s local complainant called Elliott on Oct. 21 to report that the poster had been removed.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has ensured that adults will no longer participate in student religious activities at Bath High School in Lima, Ohio.

FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Bath Local Schools on Oct. 16 after a local complainant forwarded a media profile of the high school’s “team chaplain,” who, along with coaches, participated in prayer with students. “It is illegal for a public school to organize, sponsor, or lead religious prayers at public high school athletics,” wrote Markert. “It is also inappropriate for a public school to offer religious leaders unique access to befriend and proselytize students.”

Superintendent Dale Lewellen responded Oct. 23: “I recognized that the constitutional line may have been crossed and have taken appropriate steps to ensure it will not recur. Religious proselytization and/or participation by staff in their school capacities are not consistent with my aim to comply with applicable constitutional and statutory requirements.”

Greater Albany Public Schools in Oregon will no longer give preferential treatment to the Good News Club over other after-school groups, thanks to a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The district partners with community organizations for early release day programs, including a community program, Boys and Girls Club, and Good News Club, a Christian organization. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel formally complained on Sept. 11, pointing out that the website linked directly to Good News Club’s registration forms, but did not link to other alternative organizations. Only Good News Club’s forms were sent home with students the first week of school and made available at schools. Good News Club forms were turned in to the school office.

“By extensively coordinating the Good News Club’s signup, the District is providing a benefit to the Good News Club that it does not afford other secular programs, indicating District endorsement of the Good News Club’s Christian message,” wrote Seidel.

The complaint was forwarded to FFRF from its Portland chapter. Cheryl Kolbe, chapter president, informed FFRF on Oct. 29 that the website had been modified so that parents and guardians were instructed to contact Good News Club directly as they directed for other groups, making the District’s policy even-handed.

Administrators at Azle (Texas) Independent School District cancelled a ministry-affiliated assembly scheduled for Oct. 29, after being contacted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The assembly was to be put on by a group, Seven at Schools, which is affiliated with the religious ministry Youth Alive North Texas, a “strategic outreach organization that maintains the vision of reaching every student in every school across the region and beyond with the life-changing message of Jesus Christ,” according to its website.

Despite the group’s claim that the assembly would have no religious content, a Seven at Schools representative told FFRF’s complainant that the personal stories in the presentation “would include religious themes, including discussion of God.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent the district a letter on Oct. 28 asking the district to ensure the presentation would be secular. “Though teaching students about things like character building, substance abuse, peer-pressure, and bullying is a commendable goal, allowing a youth ministry access to your student body gives the appearance that the District endorses those speakers’ religious messages,” wrote Grover.

Acting on the advice of counsel, the district took even stronger action to ensure its students would not be proselytized and canceled the assembly entirely, according to local news reports. The Seven at Schools representatives gave a religious talk to Azle community members at a local church that night.

Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School in Honolulu will no longer allow a partner organization to pray with students after the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent them a letter.

The school holds “Family Reading for Success” events regularly. An attendee informed FFRF that a recent meeting opened with a sectarian prayer initiated by a nonprofit organization, Kula No Na Poe Hawaii, which partners with the school for the events.

“It is unlawful for any school-sponsored event, such as a meeting dedicated to student literacy, to include prayer,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Seidel in a letter to the Hawaii State Department of Education on Oct. 31.

The school’s principal responded the same day, informing FFRF that he had followed up with the community partner organization and reminded them that all school-sponsored events must remain prayer-free.

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

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