Freethought Today · Vol. 26 No. 1 January/February 2009

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

It Pays To Complain

One of the first state/church complaints handled by Rebecca Kratz, the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s first staff attorney, was a letter of complaint over an egregious and flagrant state/church violation in a Florida school. Kratz notified the Lake County Schools in Florida over a recurring sports violation at East Ridge High School in Tavares, Fla.

Her 6-page complaint addressed four major violations involving high school football coach Bud O’Hara and his varsity team: pre-practice/game and post-game prayers; the coach’s participation in these prayers; the coach’s proselytizing conduct; and Christian symbols and messages on the public school website.

O’Hara promoted, participated and encouraged his players to pray and would even invite the opposing team to join them mid-field after the game for a group prayer. A Latin cross was prominently displayed on the football team’s website as well as an advertisement for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes summer football camp, in which the team participated every summer.

O’Hara actively promoted his faith to his players and encouraged them “to accept Jesus Christ as their savior.” He said that part of his job as football coach for the public high school is “to help these young men get ready for life after high school. If I didn’t at least offer them a chance to learn more about our Savior, I wouldn’t be doing my job.”

He told the Daily Commercial more than a year ago: “Through football, I can introduce 70 to 100 kids each year to Him. They’re not playing for me, they’re playing for our Higher Power.”

The school district had been ignoring his very public proselytizing for almost ten years. After several follow-up phone calls by Kratz, the school district’s new superintendent responded by putting a stop to the violations. Read the District’s satisfactory response.

This letter above was the result of a 3-month negotiation by FFRF staff attorney Rebecca Kratz over a violation at this California elementary school. Good News Club, an international missionary group that wants to “provide an opportunity for children in public schools to hear the Gospel and learn Truth from God’s Word,” rents classrooms once a week right after the schoolday ends–an arrangement permitted under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. In this instance, this district permitted the Good News Club to start before the school day had ended for kindergartners, whose classes end half an hour later than other students.

Rebecca discovered that the substitute kindergarten teacher was running the Good News Club. Children “as young as five, who witness her uninterrupted transition from public school teacher to Good News Club instructor cannot possibly be able to discern that the school district does not endorse the religious program,” wrote Rebecca.

Two class mothers volunteering in the kindergarten were likewise co-running the evangelism class. Children were being led from the kindergarten to the Good News Club by teachers and class mothers. It took many phone calls and several follow-up letters by Rebecca to get action from the district.

On Election Day, the Foundation received a phone call from a young man waiting in a long line to vote outside Shawnee Tabernacle Church in Tobyhanna, Penn. He reported voters were being handed bags of religious materials by church members. The promotional bags were being assembled on site in front of voters. Foundation staff immediately phoned in the violation of Pennsylvania law, which prohibits anyone other than voters or election officials, etc., from being within 10 feet of a polling place.

Foundation attorney Rebecca Kratz followed up with a strong letter to the Monroe County registrar, suggesting that the church no longer be used as a polling site. The reply appears to be a victory!

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