The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has been corresponding with Wynnewood Public Schools, Okla., over inappropriate actions by a teacher promoting religion in the classroom, is releasing its correspondence with Superintendent Raymond Cole, in which he preached at FFRF and indicated he rejects evolution.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a Feb. 28 letter to Cole on behalf of parent complainants about a 6th grade teacher displaying posters with bible quotes and promoting Christianity to students at Wynne Middle School. The social studies teacher attacked evolution and misinformed students that the U.S. Constitution, an entirely secular and godless document, derives directly from the bible. A parent had complained to the principal, who is married to the offending teacher. The principal removed the posters but insisted it was the teacher's "First Amendment right" to talk about her personal religious views with her students.
Seidel's letter cited numerous Supreme Court cases showing that public schools cannot advance or promote religion. He cited case law that puts an affirmative duty on schools to make certain that "subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion." He added that "the First Amendment is not a license for uncontrolled expression at variance with established curricular content" and that courts have upheld the termination of teachers who violate the Establishment Clause.
This week, Seidel received an official email from Cole. Cole more or less conceded that the teacher should not have placed posters with bible verses in her classroom and has instructed her to "stay strictly with the information presented in the book." But he volunteered that student-led prayer is constitutional. Although he has a degree in science, he argued against evolution. Cole not only asked Seidel whether he is a believer, but sermonized: "What happens when you die, if you"re [sic] wrong? If I'm wrong, when I die I just die, but if you're wrong, when you die. . . ." He also said "the further we separate God from our schools the nearer we bring violence and evil."
Read Cole's full email here (pdf).
Seidel responded that "evolution is as much a fact as gravity," and called it "disturbing" that a superintendent does not "believe in" evolution. Seidel replied in part:
"Please understand that my personal beliefs have no bearing on the illegality of the Carters' actions. But since you asked, I believe in the First Amendment. I believe in protecting minorities from the tyranny of the majority. I believe that religion is the single most divisive force on this planet and that it has no place in our public schools. I believe that ideas should be subjected to reason, debate, and inquiry, not blindly accepted." Seidel also added, "I believe in love, in family, and in making the most of this life because it's the only one we have. In short, I am an atheist."
After calling Cole's assertion that secularism causes school shootings "appalling," Seidel noted:
"Murder rates are actually lower in more secular nations and higher in more religious nations where belief in God is deep and widespread. And within America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates tend to be among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon.'"
He also cited Supreme Court precedent against student-led prayer in public schools.
Read Seidel's entire March 6 reply here.
Incidentally, the school district's mascot is the "Savages."
Please contact your U.S. Senator today and tell him or her to vote against the Senate version of House Resolution 592.
The federal government is perilously close to using your tax dollars to directly fund the building, maintenance and repair of "houses of worship," including churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. H.R. 592, the so-called Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013, passed the U.S. House in early February by a lopsided 354 to 72 vote — after strong lobbying by Roman Catholic and even Jewish groups.
Congress has appropriated $60 billion to finance recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy. The House has voted to use your tax dollars to fund the repair or rebuilding of churches without regard to their exclusive use as houses of worship. That would mean less money for individuals who lost their homes. Funds would go to untaxed entities that never report or divulge any of their financial assets to the public or the federal government. Congress would be sending your tax dollars down a religious black hole, when people are in dire need.
Hurricane Sandy (ironically a so-called "Act of God" which did not spare houses of worship) must not be used to justify creating horrific legal precedent. Sandy's devastation is not a reason to suspend the Constitution. We cannot allow Congress to ignore the protections of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has specifically stated that our government may not erect religious buildings, Tilton v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 672, 683 (1971), and "[i]f the State may not erect buildings in which religious activities are to take place, it may not maintain such buildings or renovate them when they fall into disrepair." Comm. For Pub. Ed. & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U.S. 756, 777 (1973).
If enacted, this Congressional bill would allow funds to go to the Roman Catholic Church — which owns almost $3.5 billion worth of property in New York City, according to one estimate. About 200 parishes were affected by the storm, and Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan has been pushing particularly hard to get the bill passed. This bill sets the precedent to allow funds to go to all religious groups, including, as has been observed, to the most hateful bigots, such as the Westboro Baptist Church.
As the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy notes:
"FEMA's policy not only ensures that FEMA grants are used to rebuild facilities that provide the most critical services to the entire community, but also reflects an important constitutional principle. Religious liberty is one of our nation's most fundamental values and it starts from the precept that religion and religious institutions thrive when both religion and government are safeguarded from the undue influences of the other."
You and we must stop this bill before it becomes a law, before the funds are dispersed. Make sure your senators hear from you on this issue.
CONTACT YOUR SENATORS
Phone and email your two U.S. senators today!
Find contact information for your two senators here (listed by state):
Your voice is magnified by speaking out early. Be sure to identify yourself as a constituent, and leave your name and address. If you have time, both phoning and emailing is most effective, including your Senator's home and DC offices. Phone calls are immediate and take up staff time; the more (civil) calls they receive, the better.
Phone 202-224-3121 and ask an operator at the Capitol switchboard to connect you to your senator.
See above, use your own words, or feel free to cut and paste any of this brief statement into an email:
I strongly oppose H.R. 592 and urge you to defeat it in the Senate. This bill would send tax dollars down a religious black hole, and create precedent endangering tax dollars and the Establishment Clause.
James Madison, the primary architect of our godless Constitution, famously opposed even "threepence" of taxpayer money going for religious purposes. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, pointed out that no citizen should "be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever." These are core principles safeguarding religious liberty and personal conscience, upon which our secular nation was founded.
FEMA does not "discriminate" against churches or other nonprofits when it properly declares them ineligible to receive direct grants for disaster relief. Nonprofits, churches and businesses are eligible to apply for major low-interest, government-secured loans for losses not fully covered by insurance. Where public money goes, public accountability must follow. Yet tax-exempt churches, no matter how wealthy, are uniquely exempted from federal requirements to report on their finances to the government and U.S. taxpayers. Churches exist for the purpose of worship. Any incidental disaster relief they engage in is voluntary, and not equivalent to providing "essential services of a governmental nature to the general public," as FEMA regulations require.
H.R. 592 would grant tax dollars to tax-exempt churches with no strings attached, "without regard to the religious character of the facility or the primary religious use of the facility." Tax dollars should not go to repair or build space for worship, much less repair stained-glass windows, arks of the convenant, prayer books and decorative religious icons! Defeat this proposal!
WRITE LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Further influence public opinion by writing letters to the editor to our local news dailies, using social media and leaving messages at reader comment sections at online news websites. Borrow any language you like from this action alert!
READ AND FOLLOW THE BILL
Text of bill (pdf)
(Note: you can sign up to track this bill, and receive notice of pending action. We urge you to follow developments and respond often and quickly if the bill proceeds in the Senate.)
See listing of statements against H.R. 592
LISA STRAND is director of operations of FFRF. She has more than 25 years of experience in nonprofit (primarily association) management, including 15 years as executive director of the Wisconsin Library Association. She is married with a daughter, as well as two cats, a guinea pig and an untended garden that will someday be beautiful.