State/church violations in schools

FFRF receives numerous complaints every month about violations of the First Amendment happening in public schools around the country. Here are several of the state/church issues FFRF is working on.


FFRF is questioning the appropriateness of creating prayer spaces for Muslims and Christians at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

The public university has recently established two prayer rooms for its Muslim students. This is in addition to a longstanding university chapel that features a Latin cross. The presence of such religious venues on a public campus raises a number of issues.
FFRF is asking for the University of Iowa to close down the Muslim prayer areas and to remove Christian symbols from the chapel.


FFRF recently learned that late last year, Impact World Tour organized two meetings at the Spring Hill Middle School in Spring Hill, Kan., that were heavily evangelical in nature. Tickets were handed out to the students, but the actual theme of the programs was concealed.

An Impact World Tour gathering at the school attended by a student (daughter of the complainant) was so religious that she remarked afterward: “It was a cult.” The presenters asked the audience to come to the front and “surrender their lives to Jesus.”

Records obtained by FFRF show that each school principal in the district requested that these assemblies be held.

FFRF is asking for assurances in writing from the Spring Hill School District that such unconstitutional violations will not recur.


Okolona Elementary School in Louisville has a Fellowship of Christian Athletes student club sponsored by teacher Ashley Pearson. Also, the school art teacher, Mary Smith, showed a video last November in class of “Amazing Grace” that featured the Christian hymn in multiple languages and several images of Latin crosses. Additionally, a door at Pleasure Ridge Park High School in the same town has multiple crosses, a portrait of Jesus and the words “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life” on the outside. Finally, a teacher at Fern Creek High School, also in Louisville, told students at a health class that an important aspect of health is “spiritual health,” defined as “the practice of a religion or guided by faith which gives you purpose.”

FFRF is asking the district to investigate and to ensure that the reported violations do not recur.


Several Missouri public school employees are unconstitutionally promoting evangelical youth ministries, charges FFRF.

It was reported to FFRF that South Valley Middle School and Liberty High School teachers in Liberty, Mo., are spreading the word about Young Life and Wyldlife on school property and during school time in their professional capacities. (Young Life has as its explicit mission “introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith,” with Wyldlife sharing in this purpose.) The teachers wear T-shirts during the school day with the names of these ministries emblazoned on them.

FFRF asks Liberty Public Schools to investigate the situation and to make certain that its employees are not unlawfully and inappropriately promoting religious organizations during school hours.


Norwalk City School Board of Education meetings have regularly opened with a prayer, in spite of repeated FFRF objections. The School Board has deliberated over the issue and will consider a written policy formalizing opening meetings with a prayer.
A federal district court in California recently ruled in FFRF’s favor in a lawsuit filed against the Chino Valley School Board for a similar violation, awarding the organization attorneys fees and costs totaling more than $200,000. In the case, the court scrutinized a written policy that was virtually the same as the Norwalk School Board’s proposed draft.
FFRF urges the Norwalk School Board to reject its policy proposal and drop the practice of scheduling prayer before its meetings.

South Carolina

FFRF is contending that the hiring of a South Carolina public school football coach may have been because of his religion, which is in violation of school nondiscrimination polices.

Text messages exchanged between Seneca High School Principal Cliff Roberts and recently hired coach Hal Capps indicate that their shared religiosity was a significant factor in Capps’ appointment.

While offering Capps the job, Roberts texted, “I am going to trust you and trust the Good Lord through this, and be obedient to what I feel he is leading us to do.” Capps responded, “Amen.”

Capps was known for leading post-game prayer circles at a North Carolina high school, which ended after FFRF complained in 2014.

FFRF is asking the School District, in Seneca, S.C., to conduct an immediate investigation into whether its hiring and nondiscrimination policies have been violated.

Freedom From Religion Foundation