Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

Ignacio School District in Ignacio, Colo., will no longer feature prayers at certain ceremonies held throughout the academic year.

A complainant reported to FFRF that the District included prayers before graduation, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas ceremonies. It was also reported that two prayers are offered at each of these events, one to a Christian god and another to the Ute Native American god.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter on Oct. 18, explaining that it is illegal to have prayer at school-sponsored events:

“It is of no consequence if the school, as has been alleged, includes prayer of varying faiths. The school district has a legal duty to remain neutral toward religion. By scheduling any prayer at all the school necessarily excludes non-Christian, non-Ute and non-religious students.”

Seidel noted, “the courts have continually reaffirmed that the rights of minorities are protected by the Constitution.”

After receiving a follow-up letter, the district responded on June 23 that, “We have discontinued that practice.” 

This six-word response sets a record for the most concise victory letter an FFRF Staff Attorney has ever received. 

After a series of complaints by parents and students spanning over a decade, Bainbridge Island School District in Bainbridge Island, Wash., will no longer allow youth pastors access to impressionable students during school hours.

Several concerned parents and students reported to FFRF that three youth pastors from local churches were regularly granted access to Woodward Middle School students during lunchtime. The pastors were associated with Young Life, a Christian organization whose mission is “[i]ntroducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith.

The middle school previously received multiple complaints from both students and parents about the pastors at Youth Life.  In 2000, the school attempted to develop policies meant to curb aggressive proselytizing in schools, but youth pastors actively circumvented the measures.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a strongly worded letter to the district on Oct. 29, 2013, explaining why these multiple violations are so egregious, “It is both inappropriate and dangerous for schools to grant outsiders carte blanche access to minors — a captive audience — in a public school, let alone have that access to proselytize.”

Seidel explained: “BDIS has been complicit in granting religious recruiters continuous, unmonitored access to school students for quite some time. . . the length of time over which this violation has been allowed to continue is deplorable.”

BDIS Assistant Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen replied on June 23 that the District has taken several steps to resolve the matter, hiring an independent investigator whose findings were reported at a school board meeting. FFRF was informed that the three youth pastors were removed from their volunteer duties, and significant revisions on volunteer policy were made to the volunteer handbook. 

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