It Pays to Complain: September 2010

School stops special treatment

“Young Life’s mission remains the same — to introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and to help them grow in their faith.” Just the kind of group you’d want roaming the halls of a public high school.

It happened in Owatonna, Minn., where the proselytizing was the subject of a complaint by a parent to FFRF, which in turned complained to the School District in March ahead of an annual Young Life fundraiser in the high school gym. The ministry, started in Texas in 1941, hosted events free of charge and auctioned off to the highest bidder during its fundraiser a special parking space at the school. It was allowed to distribute religious literature at the school. (The group broadened its reach in the 1980s to middle-schoolers with WyldLife.)

Rebecca Markert, FFRF staff attorney, told the district that the ministry’s “predatory conduct is inappropriate and should raise many red flags.” Attorneys for the school responded after an August follow-up letter from FFRF to say the district will adopt a “formalized” visitor policy, drop the parking spot and start charging Young Life for facility use, while ensuring there’s no literature distribution.

Missoula, Mont.

Due to persistence by the Foundation, Missoula County, Mont., stopped offering free admission to the Western Montana Fair for those attending a pre-fair church service, which was sponsored by the 50-member Missoula Christian Network. The network had planned, as it had in 2009, to hold a church service before the fair gates opened.

FFRF first wrote the Missoula Board of County Commissioners in April 2010 protesting the violation of the federal Civil Rights Act and state law.  The county didn’t respond until it got a follow-up letter in July: “Missoula County acknowledges that religious organizations should not be given any special benefit over other members of the public. . . . Missoula County will proceed by treating religious groups in the same manner as other non-religious groups (i.e., same-space rental rates, and no preferential privileges).”

The scheduled church service was moved to a private baseball park and deleted from this year’s fair schedule.

Media widely covered the complaint.

McKinney, Texas

FFRF successfully resolved a complaint about a high school teacher in McKinney, Texas, who ended e-mails with bible verses like this: “We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. Romans 6:6.”

On July 21, the School District assured FFRF that the teacher had been warned verbally and in writing and would not be returning this fall. The district also adopted a policy limiting e-mail signature lines to name, title and contact information.

Queens, New York

Member Tsee Lee of New York got tired of seeing a Catholic church flier on a utility pole at Bleecker Street and Forest Avenue in Queens. A call to the city confirmed it was illegal.
Within a day of Lee’s complaint, the Department of Sanitation said on the city’s NYC 311 online site it had “removed illegal postings at this location. Pending an investigation to locate the responsible party, Notices of Violation will be issued as appropriate.”

Allen Parish, La.

Principals of two public schools in Allen Parish, La., had their schools — Kinder Elementary and Kinder Middle School ­— included as sponsors of an ad promoting local National Day of Prayer events. The schools paid the paper to have school names and images in the prayer ad, along with bible verses from Jeremiah 33:3 and Philippians 4:6.

After an Foundation letter objecting to a blatant constitutional violation, the superintendent responded Aug. 13 to say the principals had agreed to contribute to the cost of the ad and “they agreed in hindsight, the ads should not have been placed, as it could be construed as advocating religious beliefs. They also agreed that no such advertisement will be sponsored in the future.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation