A Chilton County, Ala., sheriff will no longer send his constituents an overtly sectarian Christmas card, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt first wrote to the sheriff on Jan. 20. Schmitt pointed out that his sectarian card was "grossly inappropriate." The card, which depicted the sheriff and his family standing in front of a Christmas tree, and was signed by him and his "family." The card also contained a religious poem that concluded with "The Christmas gift given to us is Jesus Christ's gift of love."
"We strongly urge you to consider your status as one of the highest elected officials in Chilton County and the importance of the constitutional principle of separation of church and state before you send out holiday cards promoting your personal religious beliefs and viewpoints," added Schmitt.
The sheriff spoke with Schmitt on March 19 and assured her that the card will be modified in time for the upcoming holiday season. He had "no intentions of offending anyone."
A Freedom From Religion Foundation complaint has successfully removed a religious display from a Hononegah Community High School (Ill.) hallway.
The phrase "In God We Trust" had been prominently featured on a school letter board for over 10 years. It wasn't until Superintendent Randy Gross received a March 13 letter from FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor that things changed. Gaylor referenced the history of the motto as a "Johnny-come-lately first adopted during the Cold War as a reaction to the purported 'Godlessness' of Communism. American's original motto was purely secular, i.e., 'E Pluribus Unum' ('from many come one'). . ." She pointed out that the poster is offensive to students and parents who don't believe in a god or have beliefs contrary to a monotheistic faith.
"There is no place in a public school for religious messages. The poster at Hononegah Community High School is particularly concerning as it creates an association between faith in god and patriotism," wrote Gaylor.
A representative of the high school responded to Gaylor's letter of complaint on March 16, informing FFRF that "maintenance removed the display."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has put an end to illegal prayer in a Manchester, Tenn., kindergarten classroom.
A Hillsboro Elementary School teacher led her kindergarten students in daily prayers. Students were expected to join their teacher, proclaiming "God is good, God is great. . ." In at least one instance this teacher informed students that rainbows "are a sign from God that he wouldn't flood the world again." FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent an advisory letter to Superintendent Kenny Casteel on Feb. 28: "Instructing kindergarteners to pray violates the U.S. Constitution. Coffee County Schools must take immediate action to stop its teachers from imposing their religious beliefs and practices on their students." Her letter cited constitutional chapter and verse, invoking decades of firm Supreme Court rulings barring such devotional and coercive practices in public schools.
Markert received a positive response from the director of schools on March 12: "The teacher has been reminded of her obligations under the law, and has assured us that no such problems will re-occur. This topic will be brought to the attention of all teachers within the system."
The Washoe County Library System in Reno, Nev., will be open during Easter next year.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, along with a local complainant, took issue with the library's holiday closure policy. Prior to FFRF's involvement all Washoe County Libraries were closed each Easter Sunday, even libraries that had typical Sunday hours. FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Library Director Arnie Maurins on Feb. 16: "Easter is neither a federal holiday nor a Nevada state holiday. It is unconstitutional and inappropriate for a public library system to close on Easter."
FFRF learned that library employees are forced to make up the hours they missed for the mandatory shut-down on Easter by working at another branch or to use their annual leave time. "Government employees should not be inconvenienced or punished so that Christian employees can celebrate a holy day," asserted Markert.
Maurins replied on March 12, assuring FFRF that the policy will change in the future and staff would be directed to "take the necessary steps to enable libraries with Sunday hours to be open on Easter. . ."
Lewis County Schools in Weston, W.Va., cancelled a Christian concert after receiving a letter of complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Both the middle and high school in Lewis County were scheduled to interrupt instructional time to host the Jason Lovins Band, a Christian rock group with a clear mission to "take the focus off themselves and point it to the One they sing about." Lovins has been known to give his own testimony during performances and frequently insists "life begins at conception." Lovins "testifies" that he was conceived as the result of rape and warns students against abortion. The event was sponsored by a student Christian club, Youth Alive.
"We are concerned that this assembly will be utilized by the Youth Alive club and their guest to push their religious agenda and religious values on a captive audience of students," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt in a letter to Superintendent J. Mace.
Schmitt received a response from the school on March 9. A representative of the school district confirmed that the middle school assembly was cancelled. While the high school assembly took place, "no religion was brought into the assembly." The district assured Schmitt that it will "stay within the proper guidelines of separation of church and state."
An eighth grade teacher at Starmount Middle School in Booneville, N.C., will no longer proselytize to her students, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The teacher said in class that "God is the only creator of the universe" and "evolution is not allowed to be considered." She also used skeletons adorned with T-shirts as teaching aids, including shirts that said "Jesus is my Homeboy" and "Mary is my Homegirl." The Secular Student Alliance sent two emails to the teacher, pushing for the removal of the offensive shirts. A third email went out to the school principal, but garnered no response. FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert intervened on Feb. 28: "Public schools are prohibited from teaching creationism or 'intelligent design.' Courts have routinely found that such teachings are religious and unconstitutional."
Markert argued that the t-shirt display directly violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. She added that schools may not display Christian or other religious messages on school grounds. "It is unconstitutional for the school to promote a Christian message to students through t-shirts put on display by a school official."
In a March 8 letter of reply, Superintendent L. Stewart Hobbs confirmed that the t-shirts had been removed.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has confirmed that the Wichita Falls Independent School District (Texas) will no longer issue a sectarian prayer at mandatory staff events.
On top of condoning public prayer, the school district held its August convocation at the First Baptist Church. Local complainants informed FFRF that School Board President Reginald Blow delivered the sectarian prayer during the staff meeting and invoked the name of "Jesus." All faculty and staff were required to attend this event. FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt initially wrote to Superintendent George Kazanas on Aug. 18, 2011: "It is grossly inappropriate for an official government meeting to be held in a religious place of worship. This practice forces employees, who may be of varying religions or have none at all, to enter a house of worship."
Schmitt sent two more letters of complaint to Kazanas before receiving a reply.
In his March 7 response, Kazanas assured Schmitt that the school district intends to comply with the Constitution and that "future convocations will not include a prayer."
Tullahoma City Schools (Tullahoma, Tenn.) will now prohibit distribution of bibles in its classrooms, after receiving a letter of complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Fifth graders at East Lincoln Elementary School were told by their teachers to come up and take a bible in their classrooms. FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt warned Superintendent Dan Lawson in a May 21 letter that “it is unconstitutional for public school districts to allow the distribution of bibles during the school day. "Courts uniformly have held the distribution of bibles to students at public schools is prohibited.”
In a May 29 letter of response, Lawson wrote that he would advise principals to prohibit such distribution in the future, assuring FFRF that “we fully adhere to a belief that we are responsible to be neutral in matters of religion.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has persuaded the principal of West Forsyth High School (Cumming, Ga.) to stop leading students in prayer.
The principal delivered a sectarian prayer at a mandatory meeting for graduating seniors. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter on May 24 to Forsyth County Schools Superintendent L.C. Evans: “While acting in their official role as public school employees, and while they are present in the classroom or public school, teachers and administrators may not pray with students.”
In a May 31 letter of reply, Superintendent L.C. Evans wrote that the school had investigated the situation and that “in the future prayers will not be delivered in such a setting.”
Thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an Auburn High School (Auburn, Wash.) football coach will not lead the team in prayer before games, nor will any other school district employees.
The prayers took place in the locker room, with team members and coaches bowing their heads and taking a knee. Everyone in the locker room was obligated to participate. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the school district’s Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Timothy A. Cummings on May 23: “The prayers before Auburn High School’s football games constitute an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.”
Seidel also wrote that he was concerned that the prayers were not isolated to Auburn High School and requested that the school district investigate the practices at all of its public schools’ athletic games.
FFRF received a positive response from Assistant Superintendent Cummings on June 1. Cummings reported that “the school district’s athletic director has sent a memo to all building athletic directors to desist immediately with organized team prayers by coaches.” He also sent a copy of FFRF’s letter to all administrators and noted that “Principals will need to monitor closely so that staff refrains from leading prayers in school.” The district will also be hosting an in-service on the "Constitutionality of Prayer in Public Schools."