James Tillman, a science teacher at Douglas County High School, Douglasville, Ga., won’t be preaching anymore to his students during class time.
Around the end of April, Tillman had a discussion about God with a student during class time, FFRF was told. When an atheist student spoke up, Tillman quizzed the student on his atheism, eventually promising to give him a book that might change his mind. About two weeks later, Tillman gave the student two copies of his own book titled Are You Sure There Is No God? He had signed them “Be blessed.” The book is subtitled on Amazon.com as “A book of miracles including my warning from Jesus himself.”
Tillman also allegedly showed his class a YouTube video of him preaching at his church, Christian Life Center.
Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler sent a letter May 26 asking the district to investigate Tillman’s behavior. “Public school employees are government actors and subject to the strictures of the Establishment Clause’s separation of church and state,” wrote Ziegler. “Teachers have access to a captive audience of students due to their position as public educators.”
FFRF also called for an investigation into Tillman’s role as the head of the school’s Christian club. “Given Tillman’s exceedingly inappropriate conduct in the incidents described above, we doubt his role with the First Priority Club is nonparticipatory as required by the Equal Access Act,” wrote Ziegler.
The superintendent replied June 2 that the principal reviewed the First Amendment with Tillman and was confident that “similar incidents” would not happen in the future.
Akron, Ohio, Public Schools teacher Brad Lingenhoel will no longer lead a religious club at Buchtel Community Learning Center. FFRF received a report that a group called Buchtel Devo Group put on a program called “Wednesday Morning Devotions” in the library before school. Lingenhoel allegedly started the group and stated at one meeting that he wanted higher student turnout, taking it upon himself to individually invite students who had arrived early to school.
FFRF’s complainant reported that Lingenhoel said he wanted to invite a variety of people to lead the meetings because “the students would get tired of just teachers running the group.”
Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote the district Dec. 4: “As you are aware, school employees may not run or even participate in religious clubs in public schools, nor can they promote religious clubs or invite students to attend. Any teachers involved . . . may only be present at student religious meetings in a supervisory capacity.”
In a lengthy response April 2, the district’s general counsel noted several school policies that agreed with FFRF’s position and said Lingenhoel had stopped participating in Wednesday Morning Devotions.
The Corsicana Independent School District in Texas will no longer let Gideons International distribute bibles. Students from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes were allowed to skip class in order to assist with the distribution, and students who did not accept the bible were reportedly told that “they would go to hell.”
Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote the district’s superintendent explaining FFRF’s objections to the unconstitutional practice.
The superintendent responded June 2 that the district “intends to ensure compliance with the law” by banning future bible distributions.
The baseball coach of the Reagan Rattlers baseball team at Ronald Reagan High School, San Antonio, Texas, will no longer lead the team in the Lord’s Prayer at games. Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter to the district June 1 about an incident FFRF was alerted to.
“The Fifth Circuit, the controlling Court of Appeals in Texas, has specifically held that coach involvement in prayer at practices and games is unconstitutional,” Grover wrote.
The district’s attorney, Ricardo Lopez, wrote back promptly to say that the district would ensure that coaches and staff members would no longer lead prayer “at any time prior to, during, or after baseball games.”
Prescott, Ariz., Public Schools has ended its practice of including invocations and benedictions at Prescott High School graduation ceremonies. Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote the district May 27 after FFRF received word that the public high school had prayer as part of official graduation ceremony program.
“A prayer taking place at a ‘regularly scheduled school-sponsored function conducted on school property’ would lead an objective observer to perceive it as state endorsement of religion,” Elliott wrote.
The district responded June 3 that “the District does not intend to include prayer as part of any school-sponsored events in the future, and appropriate administrators will be so advised.”
Dixie County Schools ordered removal of classroom posters that proclaimed “Dixie County High School — God Can Do Innumerably More Than We Can Ask or Imagine,” after getting an FFRF complaint about the display at the school in Cross City, Fla.
On Nov. 12, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the district about rampant religious promotion at the school, including adult-led organized prayer, teaching creationism, bible verses on display and religious bullying. The district corrected those violations swiftly but failed to remove several of the religious posters.
After Seidel wrote again on April 10, the district agreed to remove the last of the religious posters.
Nevada’s Clark County School District will update its teacher handbook and reinstruct teachers not to promote their own sectarian beliefs to students. On May 21, a teacher at Victoria Fertitta Middle School in Las Vegas played the Christian movie “Amazing 3D Adventures: The P.U.S.H.” for students during instructional time. The message of the movie is to “Pray Until Something Happens” and features a religious rodent protagonist attacking a reasonable reptile.
The movie “teaches students that planning, foresight, and determination are less important to success than the belief and obedience to a god,” wrote Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel on June 5.
On June 15, the district assured FFRF that the school would take steps to remind teachers they are not permitted to proselytize students.
Two California school districts have promised to take steps to ensure teachers will not use district resources to promote religious events after getting letters from FFRF.
A teacher at Modesto City Schools’ Downey High School used his district email address to coordinate and advertise the Modesto Area Educators’ 7th Annual Prayer Breakfast, a privately sponsored religious event that took place at the school. A teacher at Sylvan Union School District’s Somerset Middle School also promoted the event with a district email address.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the districts June 12, explaining that “statements of school employees made using official resources are attributable to the school. This endorsement of a Christian event offends the nearly 30% of American adults and the 37% of California adults that are non-Christian.”
Modesto City Schools responded June 16, promising to enforce its “acceptable use” policy and to review the policy to ensure employees comply with the Constitution. On June 23, the Sylvan Union School District assured FFRF that it would remind its staff on proper use of district technology.
Pender County Schools in North Carolina will put a stop to the classroom display of bible quotes. A Topsail Middle School teacher in Hampstead wrote bible quotes on a dry-erase board in his classroom, in full view of his students, and changed the quotes on a weekly basis. A concerned parent contacted FFRF.
“Religious postings are strictly prohibited in public schools,” wrote Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott in a May 28 complaint. “Matters of faith, or absence of faith, are best left outside of the classroom.”
FFRF received a response June 18, stating that the district provided staff with guidelines for selecting appropriate quotes and will further provide staff with “training on compliance with First Amendment principles of religion in public schools.”
Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns, Fla., will stop illegal athletic prayer and will no longer show a religious video to students. A student reported to FFRF that the school’s football coach was participating in student-led prayers and that the school had shown students a video on safe driving that was “absolutely infested with Christian messages, bible verses and talk of prayer.” The video featured a local student who had been injured in a driving accident and credited prayer as the secret to his recovery.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel complained to the St. Johns County School District on April 30. The district promptly commenced an investigation and informed FFRF on June 26 that both issues would be corrected. The school’s football coach now understands that he cannot pray with players at school functions, and the school assured FFRF that it will not show any videos promoting religion.