FFRF received word Dec. 1 that a city-sponsored “Keep Christ in Christmas”-themed parade meant to “reflect our strong belief in prayers” would be retitled the “City of Piedmont Christmas Parade.” An attorney for the city of Piedmont, Ala., wrote a letter notifying Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel that the parade would be renamed pursuant to FFRF’s request. FFRF sent a letter Nov. 24, challenging the unconstitutional theme on behalf of a local complainant. The theme “alienates non-Christians and others in Piedmont who do not in fact have a ‘strong belief in prayers’ by turning them into political outsiders in their own community,” wrote Seidel, explaining that a “Keep Christ in Christmas” parade was not a permissible secular Christmas celebration.
FFRF also wrote to Piedmont City Schools after the official Piedmont High School Facebook page advertised the parade. The post has since been edited to reflect the revised theme.
FFRF originally contacted Middletown City Schools in Ohio last spring about high school football coach Chris Wells leading students in prayer and inviting them to his church. The district assured FFRF that administrators had met with Wells and told him that his actions crossed the constitutional line.
But in September, FFRF received a report from a new complainant that Wells was again leading prayers before and after every game. Wells allegedly told players after a Sept. 19 losing game that they needed to rededicate themselves to God and ordered them to take a knee and pray. When one player refused, the coach allegedly threw him off the team.
“Coach Wells is purposefully and willfully ignoring the law and the district’s explicit directive,” wrote Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a second letter of complaint.
An attorney for the district responded in November, saying administrators reiterated to Wells that he could not “involve religion in any way in either his coaching or in his involvement with students. The athletic director was directed to monitor the situation closely.
“Should you receive any more complaints, please let me know, so that the district can investigate and take further action,” the attorney’s response said.
Two public high schools in Kalispell, Mont., declined this year’s invitation to participate in a performance “celebrating the birth of our savior Jesus Christ” at a Mormon church after FFRF objected to the school’s participation last year.
“Because this event includes literally hundreds of depictions of the birth of Jesus Christ as described in the bible, school participation in this overtly religious ‘Community Christmas Celebration’ event crosses the line by creating a perception of school endorsement of the religious aspects of Christmas,” wrote Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel on Nov. 29, 2013.
The Flathead Area Secular Humanist Association in Whitefish told FFRF that the schools’ choir directors turned down an invitation to participate this year. Often, a school district or other governmental body will make the changes FFRF requests and then fail to report the action taken, as was the case here.
FFRF is grateful to the Flathead group for the update and encourages other local complainants to be sure to let FFRF know when its letters make a difference.
Students in the Washoe County School District in Nevada will no longer compel students to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. A district parent contacted FFRF, reporting that a student was ordered to stand for the pledge and was ordered to leave class, counted absent and not allowed back into class after refusing to stand.
“Courts have reiterated over and over again that students have a constitutional right not to be forced to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or to be compelled to stand for its recitation,” wrote Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in an Oct. 22 letter.
The district’s general counsel replied, saying that he distributed a districtwide memo “reminding our school principals that students must not be compelled to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance or be harassed for remaining seated.”
Round Rock Independent School District in Texas unblocked several secular websites after Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote the district Oct. 17 about its discriminatory policy. The district’s filtering software left sites affiliated with Catholicism, Islam and Scientology unblocked while filtering atheist sites as “alternative beliefs.”
“Schools may not ban information based on a ‘dislike of the ideas,’ ” wrote Grover. The superintendent responded Oct. 21 that the district was in the process of unblocking the sites mentioned. FFRF confirmed Nov. 14 they were unblocked.