FFRF sues Memphis school system to end discrimination against The Satanic Temple

After School Satan Club logo

On March 19, 2024 the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of The Satanic Temple in defense of its After School Satan Club (ASSC) in Memphis-Shelby County Schools. This lawsuit aims to put the ASSC on the same footing as the Good News Club, a school club featuring Christian programming with the goal to evangelize students.

The lawsuit asserts that the Shelby County Board of Education deliberately obstructed the meetings of The Satanic Temple’s after-school club at Chimneyrock Elementary School beginning in November 2023. The district charged The Satanic Temple discriminatory rental and security fees, refused to adequately communicate, and treated the members of the club with hostility. 

In December 2023 the district hosted a press conference to express its unhappiness with the creation of the ASSC at Chimneyrock Elementary. In January, the district assessed a “special security fee” of $2,045.60 against The Satanic Temple for “additional security.” The district also charged the group another fee of $250 for “field lights.” The Good News Club has not been assessed any “special security fee” or a fee for “field lights.” 

The Satanic Temple seeks the approval of its reservation requests by Memphis-Shelby County Schools on the same terms as other groups. It also seeks to reserve school facilities without the district attempting to charge discriminatory rental fees. Accordingly, the lawsuit requests a declaratory judgment that the Shelby County Board of Education’s actions violate the Free Speech Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, a permanent injunction, and nominal damages.

The Satanic Temple is represented by FFRF attorneys Sammi Lawrence, Patrick Elliott, and Sam Grover with assistance from local counsel Scott Kramer and attorney Matt Kezhaya. The case is in the Tennessee Western District court with case number 2:24-cv-02178 and Judge Mark S. Norris presiding.

FFRF Monitors Church Grant Lawsuit

Morris county lawsuit victory image

FFRF and New Jersey taxpayer David Steketee filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit Mendham Methodist Church v. Morris County, NJ on August 10, 2023. The Foundation previously litigated and won a lawsuit in 2018 when the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled  that public money could not be used to repair a church.

On February 7, 2024, the district court ruled that FFRF and Steketee could not intervene directly in this new round of litigation because the court granted the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General’s separate motion to intervene and therefore FFRF and Steketee’s interests were now adequately represented by the AG’s office. FFRF is now weighing its options for preserving its involvement in the case, given that the churches’ ultimate goal is to undo its prior litigation victory.

At issue again is the funding of churches through Historic Preservation grants. The plaintiffs in this new case argue that previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions invalidated the decision that barred churches from participating in these funding programs and that the state’s Religious Aid Clause violates the U.S. Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause.

FFRF and Steketee are represented by local counsel Paul S. Grosswald. FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover is also continuing to work on the case on behalf of FFRF. This case is in the New Jersey District Court with the case number 2:23-cv-02347.

FFRF Assists in Coalition Lawsuit Over Oklahoma Religious Public Charter School

Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and a coalition of groups and plaintiffs filed a lawsuit on July 31st, 2023 challenging the nation’s first religious public charter school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School. The coalition represents nine Oklahoma residents and a nonprofit organization that is committed to protecting Oklahoma’s public school system. 

The lawsuit asserts that the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board violated the Oklahoma Constitution, the Oklahoma Charter Schools Act and the board’s own regulations when it approved St. Isidore’s application for charter-school sponsorship. It is asking the court to block (1) St. Isidore from operating as a charter school, (2) the charter school board from entering into or implementing any contracts with St. Isidore, and (3) the state from funding St. Isidore.

Plaintiffs are represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Education Law Center, with Odom & Sparks PLLC and J. Douglas Mann serving as local counsel in Oklahoma. This case is in the District Court of Oklahoma County.

Coalition sues outgoing Trump admin for scrapping anti-discrimination protections

 

The Freedom from Religion Foundation along with a coalition of service and advocacy organizations have filed a lawsuit against eight federal agencies for undoing rules that protect those receiving social services from being discriminated against.

Previously, federal rules had required faith-based organizations that provided critical, tax-payer funded services to inform recipients of their legal right to not be discriminated against, not to have to attend religious programming, and to be given the option for a referral to an alternate provider. The rules helped protect the most vulnerable from being forced to attend a Bible study or join in a prayer in order to access basic rights such food or shelter. Now, those who are seeking these services may needlessly opt into religious activities or forgo assistance altogether in order to avoid participation.

This lawsuit seeks to have this new rules declared a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act and reverse the rollback of these important protections.

The case (1:21-cv-00475) is in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. This case is currently stayed while the new Biden administration proposes changes to the rules.

FFRF and coalition sue to remove Arkansas Ten Commandments monument

Arkansas 10 CommandmentsThe Freedom From Religion Foundation and a coalition of plaintiffs filed a lawsuit on May 23, 2018, against Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin seeking the removal of a massive Ten Commandments structure from the grounds of the Arkansas Capitol.

FFRF and its co-plaintiffs assert that this installation is in clear violation of constitutional precepts. The plaintiffs include FFRF, the American Humanist Association, the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers, as well as seven individual plaintiffs who are religious and nonreligious citizens of Arkansas.

“The state of Arkansas has erected an enormous religious monolith on government property in blatant disregard for the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the suit states. “The new monolith — a 6-and-one-third-foot tall Ten Commandments statue — stands prominently on the state Capitol grounds.”

The suit details how the Arkansas Legislature initiated this unconstitutional move.
“In 2016, the Arkansas General Assembly enacted Act 1231, the Ten Commandments Monument Display Act,” it states. “The purpose of the act was to permit the placing of a monument to the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Arkansas state Capitol. The exact text of such a monument was prescribed by the General Assembly.”

The plaintiffs seek a declaration that the monument is unconstitutional, an injunction directing the defendant to remove the monument, and costs and attorneys’ fees. The lawsuit was consolidated with a case brought by the ACLU of Arkansas. The conjoined cases (No. 4:18-cv-00342) are before Judge Kristine G. Baker of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Attorney Gerry Schulze is representing the plaintiffs along with FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott, and AHA attorneys Monica Miller and David Niose.

Freedom From Religion Foundation