FFRF Legal Victories

FFRF stops bible ads on school marquee

A high school in North Carolina no longer displays church advertisements on its marquee because of FFRF. Several proselytizing ads, including “1 Peter 5:7” (“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you”), were featured on the marquee at South Caldwell High School in Lenoir, N.C. These ads were purchased by “Day 3 Church.”

Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter to the district on Jan 8, explaining why displaying religious messages are an egregious violation on public school property: 

“Messages on the South Caldwell High School sign are prominently featured and are intended to directly reach students. These messages have the imprimatur of the school and are subject to the Establishment Clause. Advertising on the sign may be properly limited to serve the school’s objectives.”

FFRF requested that if the school would not remove the church ads, FFRF would also purchase ad space itself. 

The school district’s attorney promptly responded that the school had removed all ads, which a photo sent by a local complainant verified. The district has changed its policy to ban all nonschool ads on the marquee, the attorney told FFRF.


Lamb of God off Minn. school menu

A public high school in Fertile, Minn., will no longer place a nativity scene in the cafeteria, as it did last December. According to local news sources, the display was temporarily removed, then put back up after a vote of the school board late last year.

Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter to the Board of Education in December, explaining that the school may not lawfully maintain, erect, or host a nativity scene:

“The placement of a scene of the legendary birth of Jesus in a public school places the imprimatur of the school district behind Christian religious doctrine. Endorsements of Christianity in public schools are disturbing for those parents and students who are not Christians.” 

On Feb. 28, the district’s attorney replied in writing that the board “rescinded its previous directive, which would allow ‘religious symbols as part of holiday decor as long as it is accompanies by other holiday decor.’ ”

The letter added, “The school district is fully aware of the current status of the applicable federal and state statues as well as court decisions regarding the issues at hand and intends to proceed in a fashion consistent with the law.”


School pulls Christian film after letter

A school in New York will no longer show the Christian film “How to Save a Life” in a sophomore health class. FFRF received a complaint from a parent of a high school student in the Jamesville-DeWitte Central School District, DeWitt, N.Y. 

Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter to the district to point out the constitutional problems with showing Christians films to a captive audience of students:

“The film tells the story of a high school basketball star named Jake who loses a former friend to suicide, and Jake’s path to saving another friend from committing suicide by joining a church group and thus reforming his ways. The film also involves acts of premarital sex, drug and alcohol use, cutting, discussion of abortion and so on. Other films these companies have been involved with have had overt Christian messages, primarily involving accepting Jesus Christ and the Christian religion.”

On March 14, the district responded that although the film had indeed been shown during the school day, it was an “isolated incident” that does not represent and is not consistent with school policy. 

The district added, “After speaking with the teacher in question, be assured that this film will not be used as a resource in the future.”


FFRF helps nonbeliever become citizen

The Freedom From Religion Foundation helped nonbeliever Adriana Ramirez, a native Colombian living in California, become a U.S. citizen after her naturalization application was initially rejected by the San Diego office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Ramirez had refused to swear an oath “to bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law,” asking for an exemption because, she wrote, “The strength of my moral and ethical convictions in this matter is greater than any religious training or indoctrination that I may have had in my upbringing.”

She also objected to the phrase “so help me God,” saying, “I do not hold such religious beliefs.”

The agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, responded by writing that “the oath of alliegence [sic] must be based on religious training and belief. . . . [Y]our unwillingness is not based on religious training and belief.”

On Feb. 21, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote USCIS a forceful complaint letter, noting Supreme Court precedent. “It is shocking that USCIS officers would not be aware that a nonreligious yet deeply held belief would be sufficient to attain this exemption. This is a longstanding part of our law, and every USCIS officer should receive training on this exemption.”

On March 20, FFRF was informed that Ramirez received a letter stating her application had been accepted and giving information on attending a naturalization ceremony.

In 2013, FFRF helped Margaret Doughty become a U.S. citizen, surmounting a nearly identical situation at the Houston USCIS office. The office relented and let her take the oath without the “bear arms” requirement.

The repeated violations led FFRF to write a comprehensive letter to USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas. Seidel asked Mayorkas to issue a clarifying policy memorandum to prevent future nonreligious citizens from going through similar ordeals. He also took issue with prayers at citizenship ceremonies and ceremonies occurring in Catholic institutions. 

“We thought this discriminatory policy was dropped, and here another applicant encounters the same barrier. The U.S. government must resolve this problem permanently,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.


FFRF letter assures Gideon-free school 

An FFRF letter of complaint ensured that bibles will no longer be distributed by Gideons International in a Tennessee high school. 

A concerned parent informed FFRF that the Gideons were allowed to distribute bibles at Madisonville Intermediate School. A parent reported that at different times during the day, teachers took their classes to the guidance counselor’s office where Gideons preached to students and handed them each a Christian bible. 

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter in December to the district, explaining the constitutional violation: “The district may not allow any religious groups to enter school property to distribute religious literature. Even if the students are not forced to accept these bibles, the school sends a clear message to the children in its charge who are nonadherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.’ ”

On Feb. 21, the Monroe School District responded that it would not allow further bible distribution and would “work diligently to ensure student rights under all laws are upheld.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation