A trio of civil liberties groups is asking the city of Kissimmee, Fla., to rescind its “Call to Fast and Prayer” event and proclamation by the close of business on Friday, Aug. 17.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, in partnership with the ACLU of Florida and the ACLU of Florida’s Central Chapter, formally renewed requests to stop the unconstitutional actions in a Aug. 16 letter to the mayor of Kissimmee.
The City of Kissimmee initiated a proclamation signed by Mayor Jose Alvarez, calling in part for “Forty days of prayer for peace, justice, love and solidarity between men and women of all faiths, and invite[s] all residents to join them in this celebration by praying,...”
The joint letter points out that “the First Amendment prohibits the government and its actors from interfering with the free exercise of religion, and bars the government and its actors from establishing religion.”
The three challenging organizations also submitted an open records request seeking all documents, records and communications regarding the proclamation, the city’s proclamation policies, the design, printing and costs of “40 days of fasting and prayer” signage in front of the city commission chambers, plus signage rules. Lastly, the groups seek all documents, records and communications to do with the rental and usage of Shingle Creek Regional Park-Ruba location, for the city’s Aug. 21 “prayer vigil.”
FFRF, ACLU-FL, and the ACLU-FL’s Central Chapter note that the mayor’s proclamation violates all three prongs of the Lemon test, the principal tool to evaluate the constitutionality of government action under the Establishment Clause. Failing one prong is enough to be considered unconstitutional.
FFRF previously sent a letter calling on the mayor to retract this proclamation and cancel the Aug. 21 call to prayer event. In their Aug. 10 letter, FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker reminded the mayor that “using your official capacity as mayor to unabashedly promote a religion ritual, like fasting or prayer, sends an official and impermissible message of religious endorsement and of exclusion to many of your constituents.”
FFRF represents more than 32,000 nonreligious Americans, including members in Kissimmee and more than 1,500 throughout Florida, plus a central Florida chapter.
In the wake of the shocking grand jury report released this week documenting systemic, repeated abuse of thousands of Pennsylvania children and its cover-up by the Catholic Church, demand that your state legislators take decisive action!
The report recommends correcting major flaws in Pennsylvania law allowing child abusers to avoid legal repercussions for their actions, including to increase the statute of limitations for sexual abuse victims to report crimes. (Most of the more than 1,000 victims whose abuse was disclosed by the grand jury have missed their chance to sue their abusers because of these statutes of limitation.)
While you have legislators' ears, please also ask them to repeal state statutes excluding child abusers from prosecution in cases of religiously-motivated medical neglect, a long-standing problem in your state.
Your lawmakers could quickly fix both problems. Ask them to support SB 261, a bill already in front of the House, to extend statute of limitations until the victim is 50. House bill HB 612 would specifically give victims of the recently-unveiled abuses a two-year window to file suit against abusers.
Legislators can and should also repeal § 6304 to ensure that parents are legally required to provide necessary medical care to children.
Now’s your chance to make a real change to help protect Pennsylvania children. When lawmakers reconvene in September, they need to know their constituents are demanding immediate reform to protect children and repair the state’s tarnished reputaion.
Find out who your representatives are by clicking this link.
Please feel free to cut and paste or cutomize the talking points we've provided below.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is directing the Milwaukee School Board’s attention to poor handling of complaints to the Milwaukee Public School District over a proselytizing substitute teacher.
This February, FFRF sent a letter to the former superintendent after a local complainant reported that a preacher, Jason Storms, was bragging on social media about “preaching boldly” to students while working as a substitute teacher at an MPS school. FFRF asked the district to investigate and provide assurances that Storms would not teach at any MPS school in the future.
Storms boasted that when substitute teaching at an MPS school, “I got to share my testimony and preach boldly to hundreds of students for hours, while the state paid me.”
Instead of addressing the complaint, District Director of Communications & Outreach Denise Callaway has repeatedly insisted that Storms has never worked at an MPS school, despite public records proving this to be false.
FFRF submitted an open records request, and after three months, on June 22, received records confirming that Storms had in fact worked as a substitute at Assata High School, an MPS partnership school, on at least two days in February. The records also reveal that Callaway was aware, at least by March 2, that Storms claimed he had taught at Assata. The open records also confirmed that at least four district parents or residents had contacted the district with concerns about Storms, including one a week prior to FFRF’s first letter. That individual was told by the district that Storms had never been a substitute teacher at an MPS school, with no indication MPS had followed up with community complaints to correct earlier statements.
It is well settled law that public schools may not advance or promote religion, and upon learning of this violation, MPS should have taken appropriate action to ensure it was rectified.
“Parents of Assata students would be reasonably alarmed to learn that the district is unaware of who is teaching their children and refuses to take any corrective action when confronted with a substitute who has bragged about breaking the law while in the classroom, instead denying any responsibility in an apparent attempt to save face,” writes FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne in his August 10 letter to the school board.
FFRF is asking the school board to investigate these circumstances and respond in writing with the steps taken to ensure that future complaints will be handled in a manner that better serves the interest of MPS students and the law.
FFRF is a Wisconsin-based national nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members across the country, including more than 1,300 in Wisconsin. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.