FFRF was informed that a classroom in Southside Elementary School in Pulaski, Tenn., displayed numerous prominent images of Jesus and crosses. FFRF sent a letter on Dec. 17 to Giles County Superintendent Timothy Webb explaining that teachers may not promote religion in the secular classroom.
“Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel informed the district.The schoolteacher has “unconstitutionally entangled the school itself with a religious message, specifically a Christian message. To avoid continuing to violate the Establishment Clause, we ask the teacher to remove the crosses and images of Jesus from her classroom. ”
The school district replied on Dec. 19, 2013 to FFRF’s request to take the religious images down by issuing a memo to the principals and supervisors of Giles County School District.
“(Staff Attorney Seidel) who sent the letter on behalf of FFRF, after citing several Supreme Court decisions, stated that the law required that public schools not promote or prefer religions. The situation mentioned in the complaint has been addressed. Please remind your staff of the federal requirements in matters such as this.”
The district assured FFRF the religious symbols would no longer be displayed in the elementary school classroom.
FFRF was informed that an elementary school secretary in Sanford, Fla., will no longer be collecting or coordinating Good News Club permission slips after a complaint was sent on Jan. 24.
Child Evangelism Fellowship of Central Florida had distributed registration forms to Geneva Elementary School students, promoting the Good News Club. The registration form directed students to return forms to the school’s secretary.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent the letter outlining why a public school may not endorse or provide preferential treatment to Christian groups:
“Despite the appropriate disclaimer, students might presume that Good News Club is sponsored by the school because of the apparent role of school personnel in facilitating the club’s activities by collecting registration forms. While the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Central Florida is entitled to host meetings, there are limitations on adult involvement.”
The Seminole County School Board’s attorney responded on Jan. 28 reporting that the District agreed the Good News Club held the responsibility for collecting the forms, not a public school employee. The school has ceased coordinating the permission slips.
A teacher in Rusk, Texas, will no longer be displaying religious iconography after FFRF was contacted by a concerned parent of a Rusk High School student. The poster read, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God the salvation of everyone who believes. Romans 1:16.” The bottom of the poster added, “This poster is illegal in 51 countries.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell illustrated in a Dec. 13 letter why it’s illegal.
“While it is certainly not illegal to own or privately display such a poster in the United States, it is illegal for the poster to be displayed by a public school teacher, acting in her official capacity, on District property.”
It is not a violation of the teacher’s free speech or free exercise rights to require her to remove the religious poster, Cavell added, because she is exposing students to this religious iconography solely because of her position as a public school teacher.
On Jan. 9, the district replied with a letter saying that the poster has been removed.
“Additionally, the high school principal reminded the staff of the separation of state and church with regard to their choose of posters and/or displays in their classrooms.” RISD Superintendent Scott David informed FFRF. “All campus principals and departments directors will be reminded of our constitutional duties as public school employees with regard to the separation of state and church.”
Lewis Center for Educational Research Academy for Academic Excellence (AAE) in Apple Valley Calif., will no longer hold its graduation ceremony in a church. According to the complainant, AAE has held past graduation ceremonies in churches where crosses, bible verses and other religious symbols had been on display.
Addictionally, AAE held a baccalaureate at a second church, advertising it on AAE’s calendar and listing the school’s vice principal as “coordinator.” Many school officials, including the principal, attended.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a detailed letter to Superintendent Thomas Hoegerman explaining why religious spaces are unavoidably religious and legally problematic:
“Temples, mosques, and churches are holy to the adherents of the religious orders that built them. Their exclusive purpose is worship and to spread the message of that religion. The government has no business and no power to ask citizens of many faiths or no faith to enter the place of worship of one particular faith. Religious faith and worship is an intensely personal choice. The government cannot make attendance at a secular schools’s secular graduation ceremony contingent on entering the holy ground of a particular religion.”
Regarding the baccalaureate, Seidel wrote: “School staff participated in the religious ritual with their students, required the student band to attend, and gave out secular awards for public school performance to students. Students receiving awards were forced to submit to a religious ceremony they may not agree with, or forgo their award. This type of coercion is unseemly and unconstitutional.”
After an exchange of letters, the Chief Academic Officer of AAE assured FFRF in late November, “Earlier this month, the AAE held a grand opening ceremony of our new gymnasium. It is anticipated that both ceremonies will be held in the new gymnasium in the future, thus removing any potential First Amendment issues. The previously named ‘baccalaureate’ has been renamed to reflect its intent, which is issuance of senior awards and scholarships.”
A student at Southwest Middle School in Orange County Fla., will no longer be coerced into reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
After refusing to stand for the pledge, the student was taken aside by a teacher and told by the school’s attendance dean to stand and recite the pledge of allegiance or face reprimand.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel’s Nov. 20 letter read, “Faced with the choice of either reciting the pledge or being punished by the school, this student has relented, but now only recites the pledge out of fear of being punished. 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 for choosing not to stand during the recitation of the pledge.”
The Orange County Public School District sent a letter to FFRF on Feb. 18, “After a thorough investigation into the matter, the District has provided Southwest Middle School administration the applicable School Board policy pertaining to the pledge as well as a memorandum previously prepared by District General Counsel in efforts to ensure Southwest Middle School is complying with state law and School Board policy.”
The student sent an email response on Jan. 25, “I am so thankful for your help. Thanks to you, I’m now able to sit during the pledge without punishment!”
FFRF has a lawsuit against the Orange County School District regarding literature discrimination.
FFRF was informed that a classroom in Bernard Campbell Middle School in Lee’s Summit Mo., displayed a religious poster prominently on the wall facing the students. The poster read, “Blessed are the people who know the joyful Sound! They walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance. Psalm 89:15.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter to Superintendent Dr. David McGehee on Feb. 20, explaining why advancing, preferring, and promoting religion in the classroom is divisive and unconstitutional.
“When a schoolteacher places religious posters in the classroom, she unconstitutionally entangles the school with a religious message. It is also a usurpation of parental authority — parents have the right to direct the religious, or non-religious, upbringing of their children.”
The Lee’s Summit K-7 School District district contacted FFRF on Feb. 21 reporting that the poster had been permanently removed from the classroom.