Rock the cradle;
save the Constitution
FFRF convinced the town of Century, Fla., to halt a proposal to put a nativity scene on public property.
FFRF took issue in July with the Century’s planned erection and maintenance of a nativity scene at Town Hall. Council President Ann Brooks initially told reporters “we all want a manger scene,” and said that the council had been budgeting funds to purchase such a display.
In a July 20 letter to Brooks, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel pointed out that “not all Century residents want a manger scene.”
Century has fewer than 2,000 residents
“There are ample private and church grounds where religious displays may be freely placed. Once the council enters into the religion business, conferring endorsement and preference for one religion over others, it strikes a blow at religious liberty, forcing taxpayers of all faiths and of no religion to support a particular expression of worship,” added Seidel.
Although no town official has responded to FFRF, a Dec. 6 news story on NorthEscambia.com confirmed a victory: “The Town of Century has declared their nativity scene as surplus property and will sell it to the highest bidder, months after an attorney for a Wisconsin group that represents agnostics and atheists sent letters to the town claiming that a nativity display on public property is illegal.”
The nativity scene was later put on private church property “just yards from” Town Hall, the paper reported.
The high bid for the display was $5 from Faith Bible Baptist Church. Abundant Life Assembly of God bid $2, and Tabernacle Baptist Church bid $1.
On Dec. 12, the paper quoted an unidentified town official saying the sale of the nativity scene was not a response to FFRF’s complaint, “but was due solely to the aging condition of the manger scene.” [You’d have to believe in the Tooth Fairy to swallow that.]
FFRF limits church
sign to Sundays
Endeavour Elementary School in New Haven, Mich., took down a lawn sign promoting a church that rents the school’s cafeteria every Sunday.
After receiving a complaint from a local resident, Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote New Haven School District Superintendent Keith Wunderlich on Oct. 11 about the impropriety of keeping a permanent sign promoting a church on school property.
Wunderlich responded Oct. 12, acknowledging that keeping the sign up all week was a problem. He said the church complied with the district’s request to only keep the sign up on Sundays.
FFRF ends Kentucky prayers, church fliers
Elkhorn City Elementary School in Elkhorn City, Ky., will no longer allow organized prayer or display religious ads or fliers in the building.
The school principal and Pike County Schools Superintendent Roger Wagner took this action as a result of a July letter from FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert.
A concerned parent had told FFRF that his 5-year-old daughter’s teacher had been instructing her students to pray. His daughter told him she’d been praying every day before lunch for the past two years. The parent also told FFRF that the school had posted Christian and church event fliers.
Markert wrote that the school should educate the teacher “about why public school authorities may not abuse positions of trust to proselytize 4-year-olds or any students.”
Wagner and the principal each responded in Oct. 30 and Nov. 1 letters to affirm that organized prayer and religious fliers in the schools had ended.
Proselytizing teacher instructed to stop
A teacher at Carver Middle School in Monroe, Ga., “turned her public school classroom into a Sunday school,” preaching to students and talking about the importance of Christianity.
A local family was appalled by this blatant violation of the First Amendment and contacted FFRF.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote Superintendent Gary Hobbs on Oct. 24, asking him to investigate and take the appropriate disciplinary action. Not only did the teacher reportedly talk about “knowing god,” she did not offer a discussion of any other religion or religious preferences aside from Christianity.
Seidel pointed out that the teacher said that “each of her students ‘needs to be saved.’ ” He also called her daily sermons an assault on “vulnerable children.”
Hobbs replied Dec. 4, writing that the principal directed the teacher to “eliminate personal discussion of religion, her church and her beliefs with students.”
L.A. sheriff addresses FFRF concerns
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel contacted Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca on Nov. 5 about religion being pushed in Vital Intervention and Directional Alternatives, a four-month program to help at-risk youth.
A local complainant said program participants were taken to an event Oct. 12 at a martial arts studio and forced to listen to a preacher and asked to “accept Jesus.”
Baca responded with a Nov. 26 letter which said that in the past, participants exercised and learned about martial arts and responsibility at the studio. The VIDA program is updating its manual to include a section that reinforces the prohibition of prayer or proselytizing with the VIDA participants, Baca wrote.
He said he appreciated FFRF bringing the issue to his attention. VIDA personnel and volunteers received specific instruction on the issue at a meeting on Nov. 16.
“It is not appropriate for VIDA personnel to place the VIDA participants into a situation where any form of religion is endorsed,” Baca wrote.
FFRF letter stops religious newsletters
A principal will no longer be able to proselytize to the staff at Deaf Smith Elementary School in Rosenberg, Texas, in weekly newsletters.
FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt sent a letter Nov. 12 to Lamar Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Thomas Randle alerting the district to the principal’s First Amendment violation. Schmitt wrote that the newsletters, called Friday Focus, “regularly include bible verses, biblical references and sermon-like discussions that reference Jesus and present biblical stories as fact.” The staff member complained to FFRF that the newsletter had turned into a “Sunday sermon.”
Randle responded Nov. 15 to say the district investigated the issue and found the newsletters contravened district policy. The principal was instructed to stop putting religious references in staff communications. The district will review his newsletters before they are sent to staff, Randle said.
FFRF’s ‘Hawaiian eyes’ silence concert
The Moanalua High School Music Department (Honolulu, Hawaii) has canceled a concert in response to an complaint by FFRF and Hawaii activist Mitch Kahle.
For four years, the school had partnered with New Hope Church to put on a holiday concert. Students and families had to purchase tickets from the church. Several complainants reported that they had to attend a church service before they were allowed to buy the tickets.
In a Dec. 3 letter to state Department of Education Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel pointed out that “all payments are made to New Hope Church, not the school,” adding that past concerts included prayers and proselytizing by New Hope’s pastor.
Matayoshi contacted Seidel on Dec. 3 to tell him the concert had been canceled.
FFRF stops Oklahoma graduation prayer
Seniors at Tahlequah High School in Tahlequah, Okla., will be able to walk across the stage and receive their high school diploma without being subjected to a prayer first.
A senior at Tahlequah informed FFRF about the violation that occurred at graduation every year.
The prayer received support from much of the school’s staff, many of whom bowed their heads and prayed during the 2011 graduation ceremony. The prayer, which included references to “Our Lord,” was part of multiple practice graduation ceremonies.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote a Nov. 9 letter to Superintendent Lisa Presley outlining the violation. “By delivering such graduation prayers, the Tahlequah Public Schools abridges its duty to remain neutral.”
Presley responded Nov. 20: “Tah-lequah Public Schools will take the appropriate steps to ensure that religious rituals are not apart of future graduation ceremonies or any other school-sponsored events.”
School’s football prayer is no more
FFRF enforced the Constitution at East Poinsett County High School in Lepanto, Ark., by successfully ending pregame football prayer led by a pastor over the public address system.
Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to Superintendent Michael Pierce on Nov. 19: “Public high school events must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students.”
Pierce replied Nov. 27 that the prayer has stopped.
Gideons not welcome in Virginia school
Park View Middle School in Boydton, Va., will no longer allow Gideons Internation to have access to students. A local complainant reported men were distributing bibles and a teacher even told students “don’t forget to get your bibles” as they boarded the school bus.
“When a school distributes religious literature to its students, even passively, it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message, in this case a Christian message,” wrote Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott on Oct. 26 to Superintendent James Thornton.
Thornton answered Nov. 7 and said all school personnel had been informed of the district’s policy. In a memo to staff, Thornton advised: “If the purpose of the activity is not secular, if the effect of the activity is to advance or inhibit religion, or if the activity involves an excessive entanglement, then the activity is unconstitutional and will not be permitted.”
Religious emails to be reviewed
Wichita Public Schools in Wichita, Kan., is revising school policy after Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt’s Nov. 8 letter to Superintendent John Allison. Two staff members at Wichita West High School had bible quotations in their official district email signature.
Schmitt reminded Allison that was offensive and unconstitutional.
General Counsel Thomas Powell responded Dec. 7, writing that the email situation will be addressed along with separation of church/state in revisions of school policy.
Police Latin crosses out in Texas
The Cedar Park, Texas, Police Department will remove Latin cross depictions after getting FFRF’s letter. FFRF also took issue with the city’s “Police Chaplain,” especially since he drove a vehicle with an official department seal and the words “Chaplain, City of Cedar Park.”
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Mayor Matt Powell and the council in July asking for removal of the cross on all city items. He also pointed out the impropriety of even having a chaplain program. “[T]hey are unnecessary, because unlike prisons or the military, the government is not burdening anyone’s religious practice.”
In a Dec. 6 phone call with the city attorney, Seidel learned that police badges, cars and shirts will no longer feature a Latin cross by the end of January.