FFRF legal victories

Good News Club gets bad news from FFRF

Good News Club meetings will no longer take place during the school day in the Lincoln County School District in Newport, Ore., after FFRF got involved in December 2015.

The Good News Club, an evangelical Christian children’s ministry, was previously allowed to meet at several elementary schools during lunch. FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler informed the superintendent, “It is illegal for the district to allow the Good News Club to meet at schools during the school day.”

Ziegler pointed to the McCollum Supreme Court case holding that bible classes in public school were unconstitutional, in which the court said, “Here not only are the state’s tax-supported public school buildings used for the dissemination of religious doctrines. The state also affords sectarian groups an invaluable aid in that it helps to provide pupils for their religious classes though use of the state’s compulsory public school machinery. This is not separation of Church and State.”

On Dec. 15, Superintendent Steve Boynton told Ziegler the School Board had revised its rules on community use of school district facilities, and would restrict access to schools by non-school groups during school hours. FFRF’s parent complainant confirmed that Boynton presented the changes at the January School Board meeting.

FFRF halts prayers by coach in Minnesota

The Albany High School football team in Minnesota will no longer be subjected to prayers led by their coaches, following a complaint lodged by FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.
Elliott wrote to Albany Area Schools on Dec. 21, 2015. Citing a litany of cases, Elliott noted that the Supreme Court had repeatedly “struck down school-sponsored prayer because it constitutes a government advancement and endorsement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

Superintendent Greg Johnson responded promptly to notify FFRF he was looking into the matter. On Jan. 11, Johnson thanked Elliot for the letter and assured FFRF that the school district had investigated and “taken appropriate steps to ensure that any coach involvement with prayer activities will not occur.”

Thou shalt not post the Ten Commandments

Officials in Itawamba County, Miss., removed a courthouse display of the Ten Commandments in response to a recent letter from FFRF.

“The Ten Commandments display violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution,” FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott stated in the Jan. 27 letter. “The religious message of the Ten Commandments is obvious. By placing this display directly inside the county’s governmental offices, the county is unmistakably sending the message that it gives the display its stamp of approval.”

Elliott added that the government’s biblical display was striking a blow against religious liberty, forcing taxpayers of all faiths—and of no faith—to support a particular expression of worship.

On Feb. 1, county supervisors agreed to modify the presentation, according to news reports.

FFRF appreciates the supervisors’ decision to get rid of the Ten Commandments, but voiced concerns about the substitution.

“We’re pleased that the county’s unconstitutional Ten Commandments display will be removed from the courthouse,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “But it’s regrettable that the county supervisors sought out another religious statement to replace the Ten Commandments. Elected officials should not use their government position and government buildings as a place for promoting their religious views.”

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FFRF has gotten the Ten Commandments and other religious displays removed from the walls of Mansfield High School in Mansfield, Ark.

In addition to the decalogue, pictures with bible quotes lined classrooms and hallways. “Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott on Jan. 13.
The Mansfield School District’s attorney wrote back the next day, saying simply, “The objects you identified have been removed.”

Meals on Wheels tells proselytizer to stop

FFRF was able to stop an employee of Meals on Wheels from proselytizing, which then prompted a permanent policy of non-proselytization for California’s Contra Costa County division of the group.

FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to the organization’s CEO on Jan. 19 to report a Meals on Wheels employee who “aggressively promotes religion while in [a] recipient’s home, despite being repeatedly asked to stop because the recipient is not religious.”

Jayne pointed out that Meals on Wheels receives federal funding, which means it is subject to regulations prohibiting “inherently religious activities, such as . . . proselytization.” Jayne also pointed out that program recipients “are in a vulnerable position and should not be forced to endure religious proselytizing in order to receive benefits.”

Meals on Wheels CEO Elaine Clark called FFRF on Jan. 26 and said she was supportive of FFRF’s concerns and that proselytizing is very much against the group’s policy. Clark placed a disciplinary note in the employee’s file, and pledged to fire her if she continued to proselytize. In addition, after noticing that the handbook given to drivers doesn’t specifically address proselytizing, Clark said she would update it right away.

Bible readings, posters removed from school

After FFRF stepped in, Alabama’s Blount County Schools has stopped having students read a bible verse over the PA each morning.

“A daily bible reading, even by a student, violates the Constitution,” said FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in his Jan. 7 letter to the school district’s attorney.

In addition, religious messages were regularly posted on the school walls. In response, some freethinking students put up posters saying “God’s not real,” which were torn down and replaced with further religious posters. “Given the law, and the acrimony caused by this poster battle, the prudent course is to remove all religious and irreligious posters from the school,” wrote Seidel.

FFRF’s complainant reported on Jan. 13 that the bible readings had stopped and all religious posters were removed. In addition, after students proposed a secular club, the school took the drastic move of banning all non-curricular clubs. In response, students started a science club.

FFRF teaches school a history lesson

Sunset Elementary School in Anadarko, Okla., has taken down a framed picture titled “The First Prayer in Congress” from the school office after receiving a letter from FFRF. The portrait showed members of the Continental Congress with heads bowed in prayer during a September 1774 session.

“This picture depicts an obscure historical event, which makes it seem likely that it was chosen for display because of its religious significance and not its historical significance,” wrote Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel. “This is especially true if one understands the actual history: that the preacher, Jacob Duché, was a traitor to the revolution who fled to England after slandering the Congress he led in prayer.”

Seidel pointed out that the prayer was opposed by the first two chief justices of the Supreme Court because, as John Adams said, “We were so divided in religious sentiments.” By Adams’ admission, the prayer was approved for its political value, Seidel wrote. In addition, Duché was opposed to American independence, vilifying the Continental Congress and calling soldiers cowards. “Is this really a man to be venerated in a public school or ought he to rank with the other traitor of that era, Benedict Arnold?” Seidel asked.
An Anadarko School District representative informed FFRF on Jan. 12 that the district decided to remove the print.

FFRF stops distribution of bibles by Gideons

After FFRF complained, Wichita Public Schools is taking steps to ensure no further inappropriate bible distributions will happen on its grounds.

On Nov. 1, 2015, several members of the Gideons, a Christian men’s group, handed out bibles to East High School students as they got off their buses. “The district may not allow Gideons, or any other religious groups, to enter school property to distribute religious literature,” wrote Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in a Dec. 3 letter. “In allowing Gideons to distribute bibles to students, the district is impermissibly endorsing religion by placing its ‘stamp of approval’ on the religious messages contained in the bible.”

Seidel acknowledged that the district may have had no prior knowledge of the distribution because Gideons “operate by deliberately avoiding superintendents and school boards. They advise their members to seek permission at the lowest level of authority.” In a response on Jan. 22, the district’s attorney said that this was the case, and acknowledged that “neutrality commands that the Gideons not be permitted to distribute bibles on school property.”

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FFRF has ensured that Gideons will not be allowed to distribute bibles to West Side Elementary School students in Woodbury, Tenn.

In response to a parent’s complaint that a teacher invited the Gideons to distribute bibles and speak to students about the book, FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the Cannon County School District on June 8, 2015. “When a school distributes religious literature to its students, or permits evangelists to distribute religious literature to its students, it entangles itself with that religious message,” said Markert.

FFRF followed up with the district in September, but did not receive a response until Jan. 27, when the director of schools e-mailed a reply saying, “The Gideon bible distribution complaint has been addressed. I am sure there will be no further concerns with this issue.”

Sheriff’s Office drops ‘death book’ sponsorship

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office in Alabama will no longer be part of the sponsors page of a Christian memorial book titled “Lift Up Thine Eyes,” thanks to FFRF.

The book, which a funeral home provides for the grieving, features colored illustrations of iconic bible stories. “We write to ensure that the Sheriff’s Office ceases its sponsorship of this Christian book, which creates the appearance that the office endorses Christianity over all minority faiths and over nonreligion,” said FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover in a letter to the Opelika, Ala., law enforcement agency.

Sheriff Jay Jones phoned FFRF on Jan. 26, informing Grover that the wording in the book had been changed to reflect that the sponsorship was made by him personally, and not by the department.

FFRF ensures Michigan festival’s secularity

In response to an FFRF complaint, North Township, Mich., will be careful to avoid all religion in future events it sponsors with religious entities.

On Sept. 11, 2015, the Northfield Township Police Department sent an e-mail to local residents promoting a Kids’ Day event. A local church that co-sponsored the event wrote the content of the e-mail, which included religious sentiments like “Christ wishes to save all of us.”

“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne in the letter. “The government violates this principle of neutrality.”

The township manager responded on Jan. 27, saying that he typically tells the church that co-sponsored events must be free from religion, and would speak with the police chief to make sure it would not happen again.

Freedom From Religion Foundation