The superintendent of the Wayne County (W.Va.) School District will ensure that religious messages are not put on school marquees after the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter notifying her of one such marquee and informing her of the constitutional problems it posed.
Buffalo Elementary School had displayed the message “WISE MEN STILL SEEK HIM” around Christmas time. Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to the district superintendent on December 31, 2013, stating that “to avoid continuing to violate the Establishment Clause, Wayne County Schools must immediately remove the religious message from the Buffalo Elementary marquee.”
“Considering the very young age of the students, concern over coercive religious displays should be especially high in elementary schools like Buffalo,” Elliott said.
Superintendent Lynn Hurt responded on Jan. 3, informing FFRF that she had notified the principal to remove the sign, and that the school district attorney “will prepare a notice for all of our principals and share it with them at their monthly meeting about this situation.”
The Douglas County (Ga.) Sheriff K-9 Unit’s Facebook page no longer posts religious messages after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained.
The page administrator regularly posted bible quotes on Sundays, as well as several other Christian-themed posts. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the sheriff on Nov. 27, 2013, informing him that the posts were an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity. “It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that the government cannot in any way promote, advance, or otherwise endorse religion,” Seidel wrote.
Since FFRF sent its letter, there have been no further religious posts on the K-9 Unit’s Facebook page.
After receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, South Bloomfield Elementary School (Ashville, Ohio) will no longer be permitted to pass out religious flyers to its young students.
A concerned parent contacted FFRF when her child brought home an advertisement for “A Night in Bethlehem,” an event organized by a church and featuring a live nativity scene, Christmas music, and religiously-themed activities. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel contacted the school on Dec.12, 2013, reminding the school of its constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion, and pointing out that religious flyers “waste the time and resources of paid school personnel” and that distributing them forces “teachers of diverse views and beliefs to distribute religious promotional materials.”
Superintendent Jeff Sheets wrote in a Dec. 23 response that the district had a policy not to send any third-party communications home with students, and that he had informed the South Bloomfield principal, who was new, of this policy. He also stated that he would reiterate the policy to all residents in the district and review the school board policy.
Students in an Oquirrh Hills Middle School (West Jordan, Utah) classroom will no longer be reprimanded for refusing to recite the pledge of allegiance, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s involvement.
An Oquirrh Hills student contacted FFRF saying that on multiple occasions, a teacher had singled out a student for refusing to recite the pledge. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the school district superintendent on Nov. 13, 2013, stating that “Students should not be singled out, rebuked, told they must stand, or otherwise penalized for following their freedom of conscience. It is illegal to reprimand a student in any way for non-disruptively exercising his or her constitutional right to object to reciting the pledge of allegiance.”
The school district responded on Nov. 20, writing that they followed up on the matter and that it “have and will continue to teach and remind our students, faculty, and staff to foster and maintain an atmosphere of respect and tolerance in our classrooms and communities.”
The superintendent of Green Local Schools in Ohio took down a nativity scene after receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Superintendent Judith Robinson had displayed a nativity scene in the window of her office. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to her on Dec. 18, informing her that “it is unlawful for a public school to maintain, erect, or host a nativity scene, thus endorsing Christianity.” Robinson emailed promptly that same day stating that she had removed the nativity scene.
A coach at West Linn High School in Tualatin, Ore., will no longer participate in team prayer. FFRF received a complaint last fall that Assistant Coach Art Williams would regularly join a circle of football players to bow his head in prayer.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel send a letter Sept. 24 to Dr. William Rhodes, superintendent, requesting that all coach-led prayer cease immediately: “West Linn High School and its coaches should be aware of the tremendous influence coaches have on their athletes. Parents trust their children to the coaches’ charge and coaches - through their own example - must be sure that athletes are not only treated fairly but also imbued with a sense of community and camaraderie.”
On Oct. 15, an attorney representing the West Linn-Wilsonville School District responded that Coach Williams was directed not to join students in prayer.
Teachers at the Buchtel Community Learning Center will no longer be allowed to wear religious-themed T-shirts in Akron, Ohio. These T-shirts promote the school’s athletic program with messages such as “Jesus Is My Hero,” “Pick Up the Cross and Follow Me: Jesus” and “God’s Got Our Back.” FFRF contacted Akron Public School Superintendent David James on June 5, explaining why public school employees may not wear religious T-shirts with proselytizing messages alongside official school athletics logos.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote, “In addition to the constitutional concerns these T-shirts raise, the wearing of such religious garb violates the District’s own policies and guidelines. These policies restrict staff from using ‘his/her position or public property. . . for participant political or religious purposes.’ Wearing T-shirts calling upon others to follow Christ is not an example public school teachers are constitutionally allowed to set. Furthermore, the policy states staff would ‘dress in a manner constituent with their professional responsibilities.’”
The school district responded it takes such allegations seriously and requested names of specific teachers involved.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a follow-up letter in October, with names of staff who had worn the shirts, including the principal and assistant principal. Seidel also noted that the shirts were being sold in the official school store.
“Given the principal and assistant principal’s involvement, we have grave concerns that simply providing further information to teachers and staff about the appropriate constitutional boundaries will not fix this problem,” wrote Seidel. “The designs themselves align official athletics teams (not private student clubs) with Christianity in violation of the law.”
Seidel urged the district to confiscate the remaining stock of shirts, as well as remind staff not to wear the shirts to school.
The school district agreed to these terms on Oct. 23: “The entire school staff was notified that the donated shirts are not to be worn during school because they are a violation of the Board’s policy regarding the wearing of religious symbols. The rest of the donated T-shirts have been confiscated and will be given back to the donor.”
Thanks to FFRF, a proselytizing group will no longer have access to families at Frick Middle School in Oakland, Calif. A religious organization called Points of Light hosted a barbecue at a “Back to School Night” simultaneously alongside school activities. FFRF’s complainant reported that both events were treated and advertised through official school channels as a single event with no mention of the ministry’s involvement. At one point, a PoL representative addressed the crowd and made religious statements, such as “praise God” and “lift up Jesus.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Gary Yee on Nov. 7 reminding the district that allowing religious groups to proselytize during school-sponsored events is unconstitutional.
“It is regrettable that religious groups seek to use the school as a recruiting ground for their particular religion. Their presence at this school event creates the appearance of District endorsement of their programs. Given the purpose of the school welcome event, the prominence of the PoL ministry, and PoL’s use of the school to spread its message, a reasonable parent would conclude that PoL has the backing of the school,” wrote Seidel.
In its Dec. 19 response, the district attorney strongly criticized the arrangement. The District informed Points of Light that it would no longer be allowed on campus without committing to comply with board policy; religious indoctrination is clearly forbidden in public schools. PoL was sent an acknowledgment that if allowed on campus, it would refrain from proselytizing or promoting Christian viewpoints on District campuses.
School attorney Laura O’Neill told Points of Light, “The statements made by you staff member violated Board policy because they promoted Christian viewpoints. It is the District’s expectation that your staff will comply with Board Policy and refrain from making any statements that proselytize or favor one religious viewpoint over another. Specifically, your staff may not in any way promote Christian viewpoints or proselytize on any District campus.”