FFRF legal victories

FFRF ensures students’ rights in Alabama

FFRF has ensured that members of the Interfaith Club at Bob Jones High School will be permitted to hold meetings on any topic of their choosing, after Madison City Schools Assistant Superintendent Robby Parker prohibited discussion of Satanism, the planned topic at one of the club’s meetings.

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover contacted the district’s attorney on Feb. 17, noting that it’s unlawful for a school to deny students the right to meet based on the “religious, political philosophical or other content of the speech at such meetings.”

The district’s attorney responded March 2, saying that administrators and other employees “will take all necessary steps to ensure that schools in the city of Madison comply with the statute.”

Bible verse removed from email signature

An inspector from North Carolina’s License & Theft Bureau will no longer use a biblical verse as her email signature after FFRF contacted the department.

Her email signature included, “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. Romans 13:4.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott called the department’s attention to the signature in a letter dated Sept. 18, 2015. The department’s human resources director responded March 8, informing FFRF that the employee removed the quote from her email signature.

District drops religious assemblies

Shelby County School District in Alabama is taking steps to ensure no further inappropriate religious assemblies occur in its schools.

Presenters from Word of Life Redemption were permitted to hold assemblies at Montevallo High School and Montevallo Middle School on Feb. 12. The group lists its mission as “to influence students in schools and youth groups throughout the nation and to ‘make a difference’ in today’s youth culture through music, drama, and worship that glorifies God and brings people to the cross.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote the district on March 2, and on March 8, Superintendent Randy Fuller responded, noting that the district considered the incident a serious matter and was already addressing it with administrators.

Public transit ceases ad sponsorship

The Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority in Ohio has agreed to FFRF’s request that it cease weekly sponsorship of a religious advertisement in a local paper.

The ad, printed each Saturday in the Record-Courier with text promoting Christianity and a “Scripture Reading” selected by the American Bible Society, listed PARTA as a sponsor. “It is unconstitutional for PARTA to pay for a religious advertisement, or to endorse religion,” FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote in a letter to the organization.

On March 15, PARTA notified FFRF that it had directed the newspaper to ensure that PARTA ads no longer appeared in religion-themed sections.

Automated phone system misuse rectified

The Jacksonville City Schools in Alabama has assured FFRF that the district’s automated phone system will not again be used to inform parents of religious events.

Last summer, community members reportedly received calls and text messages from the school system to inform them of and invite them to prayer walks being held at the district.
“Future use of this phone system will be appropriate and within the guidelines of the law,” Superintendent Mark Peterson wrote in response.

Library stays open on Easter Sunday

FFRF persuaded the central library in Madison, Wis., to serve patrons on Easter Sunday.
FFRF had contacted Madison library staff last year to emphasize that Easter Sunday was neither a federal nor a Wisconsin holiday, and that the library was open otherwise on Sundays.

“It is unconstitutional and inappropriate for city libraries to close on this Christian holy day,” FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Library Director Greg Mickells last May.

The library was open on Easter, where it did heavy business, and will remain open in future years.

Gideons must follow same rules as others

Gideons will now be forced to abide by the same literature distribution rules as all other groups in Georgia’s Whitfield County Schools following an FFRF complaint.

A district parent said representatives of the men’s ministry handed out bibles to Westside Elementary School students on Nov. 10, 2015.

FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote a letter to the district on March 28, informing the district of the unconstitutionality of the Gideons handing out bibles.

In an April 1 email, Superintendent Judy Gilreath informed FFRF that principals are told each year that they cannot allow Gideons on campus to distribute bibles, but may place a table in their schools where, without discrimination, people and organizations can place literature, unattended, for students to pick up.

FFRF tackles football coach’s religiosity

The coach of the Cannon County High School football team in Woodbury, Tenn., will no longer be permitted to conduct religious activities with his students.

The coach previously had taken his team to attend area churches for “team building,” and also brought in a speaker to give the team a devotional with “faith-based life lessons” the day before every game.

FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter of complaint to the Cannon County School District on Nov. 24, 2015. The district “cannot allow a nonschool adult access to the children in its charge, and it certainly cannot grant that access to a religious speaker seeking to organize prayer for the students,” Markert wrote.

On Feb. 25, Director of Schools Barbara N. Parker responded saying the issues have been resolved.

Staff won’t lead, promote religious club

Tri County Area School District in Sand Lake, Mich., is making changes to a religious club that was previously run unconstitutionally.

Tri County High School’s First Priority club, a Christian club, was often attended by a music teacher and a local pastor, in violation of the Equal Access Act. The music teacher also promoted the club in her classroom, even reportedly distributing fliers to students at lunch and telling them to take a flier because they “need Jesus.”

An attorney for the school district wrote back on April 11, telling FFRF that it would ensure staff members would only participate as monitors in student-led religious clubs, and outside persons would not attend the clubs.

Principal schooled on religious activities

A Wisconsin elementary school principal has been instructed to stop imposing his religious beliefs on staff, students and parents.

The principal of Elm Lawn Elementary School in Middleton, Wis., reportedly prayed in front of teachers, students and parents while addressing disciplinary issues, and gave a devotional book to at least one parent during a student consultation.

FFRF lodged a complaint with the Middleton-Cross Plains School District on Jan. 11.
“It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for district administrators to distribute religious literature or to handle disciplinary issues by praying in front of students,” Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne told the superintendent.

On April 14, the superintendent told FFRF that “the principal in question was informed of [the district’s] expectations.”

Arkansas groups won’t get grants

FFRF recently complained to the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District about the nearly $600,000 in grants it gave in 2013-14 to Ecclesia College in Springdale, Ark., an overtly religious institution.

Of the seven majors the college offers, five are theologically based; of its 14 emphases, nine are Christian. Students are promised they will be taught everything from a “biblical perspective” in a “biblical-based classroom.”

FFRF sought assurance that the district would not allocate money in the future to Ecclesia College or other religious outfits. Joe Willis, executive director of the agency, promised in his reply to “make certain” that all future grants “will not be used to advance a religious purpose or cause.”

Teacher stops peddling creationism

FFRF has stopped a Garrettsville, Ohio, public school teacher from promoting creationism in his classroom.

In January, Garfield High School biology teacher Gregory Walker taught a lesson on creationism/intelligent design as a precursor to a unit on evolution. Walker had four crosses on display during the lesson.

“As a matter of fact, there has never been evidence of macroevolution,” he said in a statement. “You can look at any fossil you want. There is no correlation, no go-between, from any organism to another. Ask any scientist.”

“Teaching creationism or any of its offshoots, such as intelligent design, in a public school, is unlawful, because creationism is not based on fact,” FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote in a letter last month to Ted Lysiak, superintendent of the James A. Garfield School District.
“It’s agreed that Walker will no longer teach intelligent design and the science involved in it,” Lysiak writes.

Graduation in church halted

A Nevada public school is no longer holding its graduation ceremonies inside a church, following an FFRF complaint.

For at least the past three years, Coral Academy of Science’s eighth-grade promotion and senior graduation ceremonies had been performed in The Church at South Las Vegas, and it was scheduled to be the host again this year.

Coral Academy “will endeavor not to hold graduation ceremonies at that facility in the future, and has recently changed the site of its 2016 ceremonies from there to a secular venue on the UNLV campus,” said Mark Gardberg, legal counsel for the school.

Graduation practice in church ends

FFRF made a Pennsylvania public school discontinue graduation practice inside a church.
Columbia High School last year required its students to receive their graduation caps and gowns and ceremony information within a church.

School districts that have used churches for school functions have had the practice struck down by courts.

“A school’s use of a church for school functions is problematic because it sends a message of approval of the church to impressionable students,” FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote in a letter last July to Carol Powell, then-superintendent of the Columbia Borough School District.

On receiving no reply, Ziegler followed up with two more letters in November and last month. Finally, FFRF got a response a few weeks ago from Acting Superintendent Ken Klawitter, who took over in December. Klawitter told the organization that he first became aware of the issue through its February letter and acted swiftly.

“I immediately directed the high school principal to cease the practice,” he wrote. “In the future, caps and gowns, as well as important graduation information, will be distributed in a secular setting.”

No more preaching at mandatory events

A Texas public school district will stop preachers sermonizing during compulsory employee events, following a complaint by FFRF.

The Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District held a mandatory district-wide convocation at First Baptist Church of Euless on Aug. 14. During the event, Scott Sheppard, executive director of 6 Stones Ministries, led the assembled employees in a prayer. Sheppard reportedly admitted that he wasn’t supposed to pray in his speech, but said that because “y’all are in my house,” he was going to pray anyway.

The district’s attorney, Deron Robinson, replied last month to assure FFRF that “the district administration has taken appropriate measures” to make certain future speakers are reminded of the district’s policy and practice to not promote a specific religion.”

FFRF takes on principal’s proselytizing

After hearing from FFRF, the Conroe Independent School District in Conroe, Texas, has instructed the principal of Vogel Intermediate School to stop proselytizing to her employees.

An employee reported that the principal regularly sent emails with religious content, and even placed notes in each employee’s personal mailbox with the message, “Jesus died for you.”

On March 29, the district responded, denying all allegations, but stating that the principal had been provided with a guide to religion in the public schools to use during teacher in-service training at the beginning of the next school year, and would reinforce with the staff their obligation to remain neutral toward religion.

FFRF has teacher cease sermonizing

FFRF has made an Ohio public school teacher stop sermonizing to her students.

Green Middle School teacher Kelli Hunka was assigning religious projects to her students every month. In January, for instance, she had students “write and illustrate a prayer for the new year,” while recently she asked students to “illustrate Isaiah 11:6.”

“These assignments are not part of a study of comparative religion or the history of religion, but rather provide lessons in Christianity,” FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote in early March.

Hunka “has been instructed not to use any materials containing the religious references mentioned in your letter,” Mary Jo Shannon Slick, legal counsel for the schools, recently replied, adding that Hunka had assured Green Local Schools Supervisor Jeff Miller she would abide by the directive.

Freedom From Religion Foundation