FFRF halts mandated
FFRF recently stopped the practice of forcing convicted offenders to attend Miracle Lake Christian Training Center in Etowah, Tenn., and similar Tennessee institutions as a condition of probation. Forced attendance for probation did not offer nonreligious, non-spiritual treatment options.
FFRF received a complaint from an offender in Tennessee and sent letters to the state Board of Probation and Parole on Feb. 22 and the Department of Corrections on May 9 and July 12.
Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott explained that the core components of the Christian program are religious: repentance, faith, mind renewal, life in the church and “life beyond.”
Elliott wrote that the state must offer nonreligious options, and explained why religious programs can be detrimental: “Our organization receives a substantial number of complaints about religious drug treatment programs. Our complaints often express concern that they are being subjected to religion and pressure to conform to the religious practices of such support groups rather than receiving neutral, scientific assistance. Many describe experiencing ostracism after abstaining from participation in such overtly religious acts.”
DOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield responded Aug. 22, stating, “I can assure you that the state of Tennessee and its agencies of government are committed to the lawful separation of church and state and of the constitutionally guaranteed freedom to practice religion as each citizen sees fit. That right includes the freedom to refrain from the practice of any religion or to be forced to attend any religious programming against their will.”
Schofield added that the agency acknowledges its responsibility to offer nonreligious treatment alternatives.
Snarky superintendent nevertheless complies
FFRF action has removed a Ten Commandments poster from the Blytheville High School library in Blytheville, Ark. FFRF received a complaint from a resident reporting that the Ten Commandments poster was featured prominently near the checkout station.
Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter May 28 to Superintendent Richard Atwill explaining that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly “made clear that such displays in public schools are unconstitutional.”
Although Superintendent Atwill responded, “You will have to investigate this matter yourself or have your mole investigate,” it’s been confirmed that the commandments poster was removed.
Prayer stopped in Tenn. school
FFRF stopped a prayer group co-sponsored by a Baptist church that included school officials and students walking and praying in the hallways of Hardy Elementary School in Chattanooga, Tenn. This is the latest in a long string of violations FFRF has complained about in the Hamilton County School District.
Love Fellowship Baptist Church hosted an after-school prayer group which would walk through the halls once a month. Teachers and school administrators reportedly participated and led students, who were recruited via take-home fliers, in the religious ritual.
A Times-Free Press article quoted Principal Anetta Ferguson and Assistant Principal Rick Hall about their involvement in the prayer group. Principal Ferguson stated, “I want the children to have a great day every day regardless of what goes on outside.”
Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter on Aug. 29 to the school district’s lawyer: “Although the walks are evidently organized by a private church, prominent participation of the administration in these events and the administration’s promotion of these events in a newspaper article and through fliers indicates school co-sponsorship and endorsement of this event. As you know, it is unlawful for school-sponsored events to include prayer.”
On Sept. 23, the district responded that the prayer group wouldn’t happen again. Training on how to avoid unconstitutional actions was also promised.
FFRF letter removes cross seal
An FFRF complaint stopped the public display of an official city seal depicting a cross in Wauwatosa, Wis. After FFRF was contacted by a local complainant, Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter June 18 to Mayor Kathleen Ehley.
The city of Wauwatosa formerly had a cross on its seal, which was modified in 1992. The current seal states “In God We Trust,” but older versions of the seal with the cross are no longer legally allowed to be displayed. The complaint informed Ehley that the old seal was still on display at the Department of Public Works building.
Elliott wrote, “The Latin cross on the seal is surely a sectarian display. As such, we hold that it endorsees Christianity in violation of the First Amendment. There is no constitutionally defensible reason to display the cross-bearing version of the Wauwatosa seal.”
On Aug. 30, Ehley’s assistant responded that the seal had been removed.