New Legal Successes
A regional freethinkers group has received an apology for discriminatory denial of services during a recent protest at a religious theme park after FFRF sent a letter of complaint.
On June 30, Five Star Septic and Portable Toilet Rentals agreed to send portable toilets to a July 7 demonstration against the Ark Encounter park put on by the Tri-State Freethinkers. But when the company's office called Tri-State Freethinkers to get directions to the site, it asked whether the portable toilets were for the protest. Upon learning that they were, the office denied service, indicating that this was partially because it did not want its name associated with the atheists' protest.
It is unlawful for legitimate businesses to discriminate on the basis of religion, FFRF contended in a formal letter of complaint.
With such short notice, Tri-State Freethinkers had to hastily organize a shuttle caravan to a nearby gas station for the nearly 200 attendees needing to use toilets.
Arwood Waste & Demolition, with which Five Star Septic has been a subcontractor, said sorry to Tri-State Freethinkers and made a pledge that the inappropriate behavior will not recur.
The Cherokee County School District in Centre, Ala., has addressed several church/state violations occurring on the fishing team, after receiving a complaint from FFRF.
A concerned parent informed FFRF that the team's coach had shirts printed depicting an ichthys (Jesus fish) with a Christian cross inside. The school raised funds by selling the shirts, and students had to wear the shirts at competitions. The coach also encouraged students to pray and attend religious events.
The superintendent of the district called FFRF on June 26. He stated that the fishing coach "understands" her constitutional obligations and that the fishing team was approving new, religiously neutral competition shirts and that the problematic shirts would no longer be sold to the public.
The post office in Morristown, Tenn., removed its Sign of the Times magazine rack after FFRF complained to the postmaster.
The rack was placed just outside the building on the post office’s property.
According to its website, the magazine “encourages readers to lead joyful Christian lives as they await the soon return of Jesus.”
Seven weeks later, the postmaster replied that “an investigation was made” and that “proper steps were taken to remove the rack and signage from postal property.
FFRF has complained to other Tennessee post offices about Sign of the Times magazine racks, most recently in Harrison.
The Porum Police Department in Oklahoma has agreed not to redisplay a nativity scene in front of the department's building.
The scene, erected on public property, was displayed in November 2015 and faced Main Street.
"Displaying an inherently Christian message unmistakably sends the message that Porum Police Department endorses the religious beliefs embodied in the display," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in a letter to the police chief.
After nearly six months, FFRF received a reply denying that the holiday display was solely a nativity scene but agreed not to display it in the future.
Following an FFRF complaint, the Thunderbird Executive Inn in Arizona has removed the Gideon bibles that resided in all of its rooms.
The hotel is part of the Thunderbird School of Global Management, recently made a unit of Arizona State University. A concerned citizen contacted FFRF.
“Permitting members of outside religious groups the privilege of placing their religious literature in public university guest rooms also constitutes state endorsement and advancement of religion,” explaineFFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler. “Individuals, not the state, must determine what religious texts are worth reading.”
The hotel’s director informed FFRF on July 19 that religious materials would be removed from guest rooms.
The United States Postal Service has responded to an FFRF complaint by promising to prevent Jehovah's Witness literature distribution at the Bay City Post Office in Texas.
A local complainant requested that FFRF take action to end the proselytizing practice. The Witnesses set up chairs, an umbrella and a stand with pamphlets next to the post office entrance.
FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler objected to the situation as a violation of both postal regulations and the United States Constitution. She pointed out that regulations prohibit "tables, chairs, freestanding signs or posters, structures, or furniture of any type... on postal walkways, . . . driveways, parking lots, or other exterior spaces."
FFRF was notified on July 12 that postmaster of the Bay City Post Office has reviewed regulations and that the regulations "will be adhered to in the future."
Williamstown High School will not be returning to the newly opened Ark Encounter in Kentucky.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel complained to the district on July 7 after the school's marching band performed at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Ark Encounter on July 5.
"There are . . . serious constitutional issues with public schools helping a private religious ministry to launch a park meant to convert people and collect a fair bit of money in the process," wrote Seidel. "It is unacceptable to expose a captive audience of impressionable students to the overtly religious atmosphere of Ham's Christian theme parks."
The attorney for Williamstown School District spoke with FFRF on July 18, stating that the there are no current plans for the band or any school group to visit the park in the future and that he would notify FFRF if any came up.
FFRF has persuaded a Tennessee county to stop giving away land to churches.
The Shelby County Board of Commissioners had repeatedly transferred land to churches for nominal sums under a Tennessee provision that permitted this for nonprofits. For example, the county conveyed eight parcels of land to Memphis' Kingdom Fellowship Baptist Church in 2012 and a further four parcels to the same church in 2015.
FFRF informed the county that it was violating both the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions by its actions, no less than if it directly transferred taxpayer money to churches.
FFRF advised Shelby County that county property should never be transferred to religious institutions for less than fair market value, since this sort of action forces taxpayers of all faiths and of no religion to subsidize a particular expression of worship.
Shelby County heeded FFRF's advice. In a recent response, Kennedy acknowledged that FFRF's letter had made it reassess its actions and that as a result, Shelby County was suspending the land transfers for the time being.
Yucca Valley Elementary School in the Morongo Unified School District in California does not plan to continue its after-school prayer club.
FFRF received a complaint from a local parent that a fourth-grade teacher was leading a Good News Club in her classroom directly after school, having her daughters encourage other students to pray, and using a whiteboard in the staff lounge to advertise her search for finding a new club leader. Additionally, FFRF received reports of teachers participating in the National Day of Prayer at the "old flagpole" on campus. Good News Club is a Christian program for 5-12 year olds with various bible-related activities.
FFRF received a reply from the district's attorneys on July 14. They informed FFRF that the teacher in question was no longer an employee of the district and that administrators across the district had been informed of "the limitations imposed on district employees by the Constitution."
FFRF has convinced a Texas school district to take a harder stance against showing Christian propaganda and anti-evolution movies to students.
In Central Heights High School in Nacogdoches, Texas, two teachers showed their students questionable films. In a ninth-grade health class, an instructor screened "God's Not Dead," a movie blatantly Christian and proselytizing in nature. And in a ninth-grade science class, another teacher, remarking to his students that he didn't believe in evolution, played "Expelled: Intelligence Not Allowed," an intelligent design propaganda work that the New York Times described as "a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry."
FFRF contacted the Central Heights Independent School District in May to alert school officials that the teachers were out of line. FFRF received a letter stating that district staff members will be trained on First Amendment issues to educate them better on the separation of state and church.
FFRF has persuaded an Ohio county commissioner to remove religion from her official email signature.
Crawford County Commissioner Jenny Vermillion used two inappropriate signature lines in her county email address. The first of these was a reference to an Old Testament verse, Jeremiah 1:5, along with the politically charged commentary "Choose LIFE!!" (The actual verse reads: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.") The second was a President Eisenhower quote that promotes religion and disparages atheists.
FFRF requested that Vermillion delete all these references from her email signature.
And she indeed did. In a terse but to-the-point letter a few days ago, Vermillion replied: "Dear Sir or Madame, It has been removed."
A physical education teacher in the Tattnall School District in Georgia will not show "Woodlawn" or other Christian films to his class again after hearing from FFRF.
The film was shown at Reedsville Middle School over two class periods. The movie, produced by a Christian film production company, follows a struggling football team that unites over faith to make a run at the playoffs. It features quotes such as "This is what happens when God shows up," and "I'm asking you to choose Jesus. Can you do that? Will you do that? Right now."
In a letter of complaint, FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote, "When the district allows teachers to show Christian propaganda to middle school students, the district becomes complicit in an egregious constitutional violation and breach of trust."
The superintendent responded on July 5, saying that she had met with the relevant teachers and administrators and that the district would review its procedure for approving classroom-appropriate media.
The North Mac Community Unit School District in Illinois has promised not to promote or fund a religious baccalaureate service for graduating high school seniors. A letter written by FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover prompted the move.
FFRF first contacted the district back in 2014 to complain about the district's promotion of a religious baccalaureate service. At the time, the district replied that the service was organized by the North Mac Ministerial Association and assured FFRF that "no high school staff or administrators attended or participated in the event."
In June 2016, FFRF again contacted the district after a complainant notified FFRF that the district was promoting yet another baccalaureate service on both its website and Facebook page. The service included school-approved speech that quoted from the bible multiple times.
After the service had already occurred, the superintendent informed FFRF that the promotions were taken down.
A Kansas police department has removed religious decals after FFRF complained about them.
The police department in Harper, Kan., had placed a decal on the back of patrol cars stating: "Romans 13:4." The New Testament verse in question reads as follows: "For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" (King James Version).
Displaying a decal referencing this ominous Christian threat violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, FFRF had maintained. The Harper Police Department's choice of verse to display was particularly disturbing. There was something alarming about an official allusion to a verse that talks about "revengers," "bearing swords" and "executing wrath," when the job of the Harper Police Department is to protect and serve, not to mete out biblical punishments or divine anger.
"Placing decals referencing biblical quotes on the back of a law enforcement vehicle fails to respect either constitutional mandate of neutrality," FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Harper Police Chief Doug Murphy.
With FFRF's letter generating a flurry of media coverage, the city of Harper swiftly backed down.
A California city council nixed a multimillion-dollar grant to a private religious school after FFRF objected.
The Santa Ana City Council was considering a $2.5 million grant to Mater Dei High School, a Catholic institution, for construction of a new building and parking garage. FFRF called attention to the fact that the funding would have been a violation of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the California Constitution.
"The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from supporting religious activities with public funds," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido and City Council members. "The city of Santa Ana violates this principle when it funds the expansion of a private parochial school."
Jayne additionally detailed how the California Constitution prohibits such funding and urged the Santa Ana City Council not to disburse any money to the Mater Dei High School.
After receiving FFRF's missive, the Santa Ana City Council had second thoughts.
"Please be aware that the City Council agenda item referenced in the letter from Mr. Ryan Jayne has been removed," Daniel Soto from the city manager's office responded in an email. "City staff has not suggested that the item be placed back on any future City Council meeting agenda for consideration."
Thanks to an FFRF complaint, travelers on Interstate 69 near Bath Township, Mich., will not have to view a memorial with a Latin cross along the road.
The change proceeds from a letter from FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler in which she wrote, “It is unconstitutional to allow a religious symbol like a Christian cross to be displayed on a public roadside. The cross . . . unabashedly creates the perception of government endorsement of Christianity.”
The Michigan DOT replied on June 17, notifying FFRF that the cross would be removed in a timely manner.
A large religious message in an Oklahoma public school was taken down after an FFRF complaint.
One of the walls in the teachers’ lounge in East Side Elementary School in Chandler, Okla., had a 5-foot-by-5-foot stenciled message that read: “Miracles alter flow unseen through our lives, so let us remember to thank God for our daily blessings.”
FFRF reminded school officials that this was a violation of the First Amendment.
“As you know, public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Wayland Kimble, superintendent of Chandler Public School District.
FFRF asked that the message be removed and the School District reacted swiftly and affirmatively.
“Thank you for informing me of this,” Kimble replied in an email within a day of receiving Seidel’s letter. “We have taken it [the message] down.”
An FFRF complaint about a creationist movie has made sure that it will not be shown again in a Colorado public school.
Carl Christianssen, a science teacher at Dakota Ridge High School, showed a video in class called “Unlocking the Mysteries of Life” that has been endorsed by the Campus Crusade for Christ. The video unequivocally endorses the false opinion that the natural universe “can only be explained by intelligent design.”
Teaching creationism or any of its offshoots, such as intelligent design, in a public school is unlawful, because creationism is not based in fact, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel reminded the Jeffco Public Schools system.
Jeffco Public Schools proved to be responsive to FFRF’s concerns. School officials confirmed FFRF’s account and stated that they’re making certain the video is removed from the classroom.
“The district staff members develop approved list of videos for curriculum content,” McMinimee replied to Seidel. “The video was not on our approved list, and, therefore, we have taken remedial actions designed to ensure that this video is not shown again.”
A Texas school district has made important policy changes in response to FFRF's concerns with the McKinney Independent School District on several issues.
District employees were displaying crosses in a number of rooms at local high schools. A religious poster at a middle school read: "As Believers You Are Saved Forever by Grace through Faith" and continued with other religious description including "Baptized into Christ Jesus" and "Soldiers of Christ."
Additionally, a faculty member at McKinney Boyd High School solicited participation of students to read prayers, recite scripture and sing hymns at an upcoming baccalaureate service. And each year, the graduation ceremony the high school has taken place at in the church sanctuary at the Prestonwood Baptist Church decorated with traditional Baptist Christian symbols.
The School District promised to explore alternatives to the church for McKinney High School's graduation ceremony, and it assured FFRF it would keep the church's religious iconography covered as long as the building was used. The district will no longer organize, sponsor or promote baccalaureate services.
A California school district has taken a number of steps to conform with the U.S. Constitution following an FFRF complaint.
The Turlock Unified School District had a partnership with the Turlock Chaplaincy, a group of ordained ministers. Some of these ministers and other volunteers were labeled “school chaplains” and permitted to work with elementary school kids on school property during the school day.
FFRF raised objections to the partnership.
“It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the School District to offer religious leaders unique access to befriend students during the school day on school property,” FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Turlock Unified School District Superintendent Dana Salles Trevethan.
An attorney for the school district promptly phoned Ziegler after receiving the letter. He informed FFRF that the training for the program was completely secular, but acknowledged that the name of the program needed to be changed and that the volunteering opportunity needed to be available to everyone, not just religious people.
Trevethan replied in writing to inform FFRF that the School District is making several alterations to the program to make sure that it does not violate the First Amendment. This includes changing the branding (including on volunteers’ shirts) to “Character Coach” from “School Chaplain.” The district will also issue a new Religion in the Schools policy to emphasize neutrality in religion and will provide details of all these changes to the staff and community. Trevethan also assured FFRF that no religious affiliation would be required to participate.
FFRF and its Kentucky chapter have blocked a Christian organization’s infiltration into athletic programs throughout a Kentucky school district.
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes had embedded itself into athletic programs all over the Jefferson County Public Schools system (located in Louisville), including in elementary schools. The group sent adult representatives to lead “voluntary” chapel or religious services during athletic practices at district schools, in some cases with the role of an officially designated “team chaplain.”
In a letter to Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Hargens, FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert requested that the school district investigate the matter immediately and put a stop to such behavior.
In response, Hargens outlined in a letter to the head of the local chapter (Edwin Hensley) a number of steps it has put into place to curtail Fellowship activities in local schools.
Chisholm Public Schools in Kansas will no longer permit teacher-led prayer and has terminated an elementary school bible class thanks to objections from FFRF.
A student notified FFRF that a history teacher at the high school led all the students in praying for a different teacher who had fallen ill.
FFRF also noticed a fourth-grade teacher listing a bible class on his schedule. Seidel asserted, “These bible classes are unconstitutional. Public schools may not provide religious instruction…. The district may not take away from instructional time to indoctrinate students in Christian dogma.”
On June 7, FFRF received a response admitting that the prayer “was not handled appropriately.” The district said it has discontinued the class “to prevent any further confusion.”
The Sylvan-Lucas Unified School District will no longer allow prayer at school-sponsored events following a complaint from FFRF.
A student at Sylvan-Lucas High School contacted FFRF after the class president read a pre-written prayer at prom and a teacher gave an invocation at the school’s award night. The prayer at prom ended with “through Jesus, our lord, we pray. Amen,” and the invocation referenced “our lord Jesus.”
“The district has a duty to remain neutral toward religion,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel. “By including prayers at school-sponsored events, the district abridges that duty and alienates the 35% of millennials–born after 1981, i.e., your students–that are nonreligious.”
The superintendent replied to FFRF on June 6 saying the principal, teacher and sponsors would no longer allow prayer at school events.
The city of Muncie, Ind., is not listed as a sponsor of ChristFest 2016 after FFRF complained about sponsorship of the 2015 event.
ChristFest is an all-day event meant "to give praise, worship, and honor to the Lord Jesus Christ." It features "praise & worship teams, drama teams, and Christian comedians."
The event, which occurred on Aug. 15, 2015, at the Canan Commons, had the city of Muncie seal and the city's name listed as gold level event sponsors. Gold level sponsors must give a donation of at least $1,500.
"Even if the city of Muncie did not donate funds to ChristFest, it is improper to allow the city seal to appear on the ChristFest website," FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the city.
The city replied that it had not given any money to the event and were already attempting to have the seal removed. The city's name and seal are no longer on the 2016 event website.
A religious public school marquee was quickly taken down after an FFRF complaint.
Morristown Jr./Sr. High School in Morristown, Ind., posted “MAY GOD BLESS YOU” as part of its 2016 congratulatory message for its graduating students. Public schools may not endorse a religious message, FFRF reminded the Shelby Eastern Schools Corporation.
FFRF asked that the message be removed from the school marquee. The school district responded immediately to FFRF’s request.
“Thank you for bringing this to my attention,” Evans emailed the day after receiving FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne’s letter. “The marquee will be changed promptly.”
After FFRF contacted Cincinnati Public Schools, Covedale Elementary School will no longer hold its annual awards ceremony at a local church.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert contacted the school district on May 12 to complain about the civil-rights violation. “The selection of Western Hills Church of Christ as the site for the commencement ceremony demonstrates the school’s preference for religion over nonreligion, and more specifically, Christianity over all other faiths,” Markert wrote.
On May 24, FFRF received word that the Covedale principal was advised to identify a different venue for the awards ceremony in future years.
After hearing from FFRF, schools in the Gunter Independent School District in Texas won't be participating in future National Day of Prayer ceremonies
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to the district after receiving a report that Gunter High School students participated in a National Day of Prayer event that included prayer and scriptural readings, performing a hymn. The National Day of Prayer is a Christian event originally organized by Billy Graham to "mobiliz[e] the Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership."
In a May 23 response, the superintendent assured FFRF that Gunter ISD would no longer take student groups to perform at the ceremonies.
A Texas school district has assured FFRF that it will stop publicizing private religion-infused baccalaureate ceremonies.
FFRF had contacted the Friendswood Independent School District with its concern that a baccalaureate service in Friendswood High School on May 22 has been advertised on the district's website and in a handout sent home with seniors.
The school district admitted that it had made a mistake in publicizing the event and said it has taken swift measures to rectify the blunder.
"In order to remedy any confusion, Friendswood High School Principal Mark Griffon has sent a memorandum to all senior students indicating that the prior notice was sent in error and that the event is not school-sponsored," the school district's attorney replied.
"Friendswood High School has also removed all references to the event from its calendar."
Athletic directors across the entire Minneapolis Public School District have been reminded not to lead, initiate, require or facilitate prayer with students at any school athletic events.
FFRF lodged its complaint with the district in response to reports that the North Community High School football coach regularly gathered the team for prayer and participated in the prayer.
After more than five months, FFRF finally received a reply. The district sent a memo to all building athletic directors reminding them of their constitutional obligations promised to address the issue at a district-wide preseason coaches meeting.
Spearman High School in Spearman, Texas, is no longer including prayer over the loudspeaker at athletic events. The move follows a Dec. 1 letter sent by FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover.
"The Supreme Court has specifically struck down invocations given over the loudspeaker at public school athletic events," said Grover, referring to the 2000 Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe case.
A lawyer for the school district replied to FFRF on May 19, saying the district "will instruct those individuals providing announcements during football games, and other school sporting events, to refrain from reciting any prayer, Christian or otherwise," and promised corrective action if the instructions were disregarded.
The Denny's restaurant in Hawthorne, Calif., no longer privileges churchgoers with a church bulletin discount after FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell contacted the restaurant on Dec. 18 to complain about the civil rights violation.
Cavell informed the restaurant that the discount, 20% off for bringing in a church bulletin, violated federal and state laws providing that places of public accommodation cannot discriminate on the basis of religion.
A restaurant worker phoned Cavell on May 17 to report that the restaurant would no longer offer the discount.
A fire department in the state of Washington has agreed to stop posting religious messages on its outdoor marquee, following an FFRF complaint.
Grays Harbor Fire District #1 in Oakville had put up a sign last holiday season reading: “Unto us a savior is born, Merry Christmas.” It was temporarily taken down after a citizen complained, but was then put back up. FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler pointed out its inappropriateness and unconstitutionality in a letter to Oakville Fire Chief Kevin Witt in December. The department recently responded that it has complied with FFRF’s request.
“I am pleased to inform you that at the commission’s meeting in January 2016, it is noted in the minutes that there will not be any more religious messages on the Fire Department reader board,” replied Deanna Lindholm, secretary of the Oakville Fire Department. “It reads in the minutes that the Fire Department will uphold the laws of the state of Washington and the Constitution of the United States of America.”
A long-standing tradition of reciting or singing the Lord's Prayer at Ohio's East Liverpool High School's graduation ceremony has been corrected.
A complainant informed FFRF that the prayer has been recited at graduation for the past 70 years. In 2015, the school choir sang the prayer as part of the event's program.
"It is wholly inappropriate to put on performances of songs of worship in a public school setting," said FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a letter to the district. "The song has a devotional, biblical message, and thus would be appropriate in a church setting, but not in a public school. There are a multitude of secular songs that would be far more appropriate."
The Board of Education president shared his view with a news reporter in May. "When I was first on this board I expressed a concern about us singing. The comment made was that 'we know we are breaking the law, we will do it until we get caught.' Well, ladies and gentlemen, we got caught."
On May 16, the superintendent told FFRF that the prayer would not be included in this year's ceremony. Although the valedictorian then led the prayer of his own accord, the prayer was not school-sanctioned or on the ceremony program.
A West Virginia school district changed its policies after FFRF objected to a Christian revival meeting held at one of its schools.
Evangelist Matt Hartley sermonized to students at Mingo Central High School in Williamson, W.Va., preaching to them about Jesus, mulling about whether being gay was a choice, and asserting that "God never made a mistake" in choosing a person's gender.
FFRF contacted the school district after receiving a complaint and the district quickly informed FFRF that it was revamping its policies governing such events.
"Steps have already been taken by the superintendent to ensure that such events will not occur in the future and that all staff are educated regarding the legal obligations of school systems when such issues arise," Denise Spatafore, legal counsel for Mingo County Schools, wrote back to FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.
An employee at the Eau Claire district attorney's office in Wisconsin has removed an inappropriate religious message from the signature line of her official email address, thanks to FFRF. The signature read, in part, "Joyful, Prayerful, and Thankful – Thessalonians 5:16-17."
"It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the district attorney's office or its agents to promote a religious message because doing so conveys government preference for religion over nonreligion," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote in a May 10 letter.
The next day, the office's manager replied that the matter had been resolved.
A Nevada school district has agreed to halt several constitutional violations at a local high school after being alerted by FFRF.
Mojave High School Principal Antonio Rael and Grace Point Church Pastor Ty Neal were seen chatting in a video about the church’s “partnership” with the principal. Rael said he felt there was a “kingdom-moving opportunity inside the walls of Mojave.” Rael also spoke about bringing the Young Life organization (a Christian youth outfit) into the school to mentor the students, a move he claimed was “totally legit legally.”
“Principal Rael’s comments in this video raise many constitutional concerns,” FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote late last year to Carlos McDade, legal counsel for the Clark County School District (with a follow-up letter in April).
FFRF had requested that the School District (headquartered in Las Vegas) make certain that Rael abides by the restrictions that the U.S. Constitution places on him as the administrator of a public school. In addition, it asked that Mojave High School no longer permit Young Life or other such groups to preach to students, and ensure that Rael was not involved with student religious groups.
In a recent response, Clark County School District indicated that it had heard FFRF loud and clear.
“At the principal’s request, Grace Memorial Church has removed the video from vimeo.com,” McDade replied. “The Young Life organization no longer accesses the school during instructional time/schooldays but instead rents out space as an outside group. The district has also recently amended its regulation regarding student-led clubs and organizations.”
Following an FFRF complaint, the Modesto City Schools in California will exercise more care in choosing music for students to perform.
One section of a Winter Concert held at La Loma Junior High School was overwhelmingly religious. Most of the songs were devotional Christian songs.
In a May 9 response to FFRF, a school official said that the La Loma chorus director had “agreed to be more careful in the songs he chooses for future concerts. He will ensure there is more variety in the music performed at each concert.”
The Genoa Area Local Schools in Genoa, Ohio, have removed a sign reading "Follow Christ" from Genoa High School, after receiving a letter from FFRF.
"It is unconstitutional for Genoa Area Local Schools to encourage its students to 'Follow Christ,' in effect encouraging non-Christian students to convert," said FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne on April 25.
The superintendent replied on May 5 saying the sign had been removed.
After FFRF lodged a complaint, the Palm Beach County School District in Florida is no longer partnering with a religious sports day camp, SportsTyme.
The group claims that it creates a sports environment that "leaves God in," including bible lessons. Previously, the district permitted SportsTyme to advertise on school grounds and reportedly helped sign up students for the religious camps.
On May 4, the district notified FFRF that SportsTyme updated its website to delete PBCSD schools from their list of "partners" and added a disclaimer noting that it was not affiliated with or endorsed by the school district.
A Tennessee school district is taking steps to ensure that state/church violations do not recur after hearing from FFRF about the violations.
A second-grade teacher at Highland Rim Elementary in Fayetteville, Tenn., helped students construct crosses as a class craft project. She also marked student assignments with a stamp that stated, "God Made You Special."
"Public schools have a duty to ensure that 'subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion' or use their positions of authority to promote a particular religious viewpoint, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Bill Heath, director of Lincoln County Schools.
Lincoln County Schools replied with a letter detailing a five-point action plan that the district is implementing.
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.
A Kentucky town will stop displaying an overtly religious nativity scene in response to an FFRF objection.
FFRF had notified the city of Walton a number of times that a Christmas nativity panorama on the City Hall lawn was in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
After the December letter and a follow-up in April, FFRF has finally gotten an assurance that the town would take heed of the Constitution.
"I have discussed the legal issues raised in your correspondence dated Dec. 23, 2015, with Mayor Mark Carnahan and advised him accordingly," Walton City Attorney Timothy Noyes wrote back to FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne. "Based on that advice, the mayor indicated that future Christmas displays on city property, if any, will give due deference to existing law concerning separation of church and state."
FFRF has resolved yet another issue in Florida's Orange County Public Schools. The district, the 11th-largest in the country, is FFRF's most-contacted school district.
This time, the district is ensuring that JROTC ceremonies at East River High School will not include prayer. The 2016 JROTC Awards and Change of Command Ceremony included an invocation listed on the agenda. Attendees were asked to bow their heads, although ROTC students were told in advance that a prayer would be given and if they did not believe in "God or Jesus" that they "just need to stand there and be silent."
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to the district's two attorneys, pointing out that even in the context of a state military college with older students, a federal court "held that school officials may not compel students to participate in a religious activity."
OCPS General Counsel and frequent FFRF correspondent Diego "Woody" Rodriguez responded on April 26, confirming that the prayer occurred and that there would be none at future programs.
A West Aurora High School teacher has taken down religious ads she posted around her classroom after FFRF sent a letter of complaint.
One poster advertised "See You At The Pole," a Christian prayer event, that included bible quotes. Another poster advertised the school's student prayer club.
On April 25, the district superintendent informed FFRF that the postings had been removed after hearing from FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne.
The Silver Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees no longer prays at its meetings, thanks to action taken by FFRF.
On April 25, attorneys for the school district “decided to voluntarily discontinue its prior practice” of including invocations, after hearing from FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler.
An Oklahoma school district has assured FFRF that its students will not be attending a moralistic sermon.
The "Spring Tea" is a highly religious annual event in Muskogee. In March, hundreds of middle school girls were preached to on such issues as abstinence, teen pregnancy, sexting and sexually transmitted diseases. Among those attending were students from two public magnet schools in the Muskogee school district.
Last year, FFRF had sent a notice to the district asking them not to have any involvement with the occasion or face legal action. Officials had assured FFRF that the district would abstain, but the organization recently learned that this wasn't the case.
The school district responded that this was all due to a misunderstanding. Drummond explained that the main middle school had explicitly been instructed not to take part, but that the school district had neglected to notify the two public magnet schools. This oversight has now been rectified.
The Christian movie "Facing the Giants" will no longer be shown in South Dearborn Community Schools, thanks to a complaint lodged by FFRF.
The film follows a struggling high school football coach who inspires his team to believe in the Christian God and to use faith to win football games. South Dearborn Middle School reportedly had students watch it as a reward for finishing a test. When FFRF's complainants contacted the school, they were repeatedly told next time students would be allowed to opt out of watching such movies.
"The district may not require students to opt out of a movie screening, intended as a class reward, in order to avoid a school-sponsored religious message," wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne.
The school principal replied promptly, assuring FFRF that the film will not be shown again, and the school would "make sure that any film shown remains neutral toward religion."
FFRF has had an ex-con proselytizer barred from a Florida school district.
Hillsborough County Public Schools had allowed a Fellowship of Christian Athletes representative, David Gaskill, who has a criminal record, to interact and proselytize with its students without restriction. Gaskill had been involved with the district’s sports programs since at least 2014 and appeared to be the schools’ sports chaplain.
FFRF had asked that Gaskill be immediately disallowed from Hillsborough schools. There are serious privacy issues when schools let outside adults pose for “selfies” and pictures with students, including with their arms draped around shirtless students, FFRF contended. The schools also permitted Gaskill to meet with students in “intimate locker room” settings with no other adults present.
Students at David Crockett High School in Jonesborough, Tenn., will no longer be compelled to perform "contemporary Christian concerts" as a part of their public school music instruction after hearing from FFRF.
FFRF received a report that music teacher Kelly Sams conducted blatantly Christian concerts, frequently performed in a church. The concerts consisted mainly of contemporary Christian music.
"These songs have devotional messages that would be appropriate in a church setting, but not in a public school," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a letter to the Washington County Schools.
The county attorney replied to FFRF on April 20, reporting that the superintendent and school principal had met with Sams, advising her that "holding a 'contemporary Christian concert' which contained solely religious songs was not consistent with" school policy.
The Indian River County School District in Florida has instituted changes after FFRF contacted the district with reports of several constitutional violations.
The Vero Beach High School football and baseball teams reportedly employed a chaplain, pastor Joe Moore, who was also the director of the Indian River County Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Football players and cheerleaders participated in prayer breakfasts at First Baptist Church alongside their coaches. The breakfasts frequently involved ministers preaching to students.
In an April 19 response to FFRF, the district's lawyer stated that "the superintendent discovered a few employees who did not understand their duties and obligations regarding student prayer at school, and has corrected those misunderstandings. The superintendent has also reminded all principals at all schools regarding public employee duties and obligations involving student prayer at school."
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."
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."
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.
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 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.
Thanks to persistent action by FFRF, the Kings Canyon Unified School District Governing Board in Reedley, Calif., will no longer pray at its meetings.
FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler first objected to the practice in November 2015.
Superintendent Juan Garza replied on Feb. 24, informing FFRF that the board had passed a new invocation policy. The policy attempted to set up a system like that approved by the Supreme Court for local government bodies in its Greece v. Galloway case, and contained inclusive language, but still allowed for prayer at school board meetings.
"School-sanctioned prayer, even in the new, slightly more removed context, is unconstitutional," wrote Ziegler in a second letter on April 7. "Federal courts ruling on the matter have agreed that school boards fall within the school context, not in the realm of other government meetings."
On May 3, Garza informed FFRF that "the district has decided to discontinue its practice of invocation."
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.
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 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.
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.
After an FFRF complaint, the Payson (Ariz.) Unified School District has directed teachers not to promote their personal religious beliefs to their students.
FFRF was notified of the situation by the parents of a local kindergarten student. The student had shared that his music teacher was telling the story of baby Jesus being born and that his homeroom teacher showed a movie about "baby God saving people" and that "he died doing it."
Multiple other issues were also addressed. The school promoted its winter concert with a flier that repeatedly referenced Christmas as "Christ"mas. Additionally, at the end of the concert, all of the teachers sang the hymn "Silent Night" on stage together.
On March 17, the district responded to FFRF that the principal had spoken to the music teacher and that they would amend future district-wide staff training to prevent teachers from promoting religious beliefs to their students.
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.
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.
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.
Faith Memorial Church in Lancaster, Ohio, participated in bible study groups in a number of local public schools. The church listed such groups in eight public schools in its vicinity, including four high schools. Most of the clubs met during the schools' lunch breaks and were run by adults, according to the church's webpage (since taken down).
The courts have clearly decided over the years that public schools cannot advance, prefer or promote religion.
FFRF recently received a response from legal counsel for the four districts where the public schools are located. In its reply, the firm told FFRF that in the future any bible study clubs would conform to the law. "Principals are making sure that students leading bible study clubs are conducting those groups within the parameters of the Equal Access Act," the March 2 letter stated.
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."
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.
At the Cleveland County School District in Rison, Ark., the district superintendent confirmed to FFRF that the Gideons would no longer distribute bibles to students in classrooms at Rison Elementary School, and that the Gideon representatives would no longer be allowed to speak with students about their mission.
"Courts have uniformly held that the distribution of bibles to students at school is prohibited because it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott. "When a school distributes religious literature to its students, or permits evangelists to do so, it entangles itself with a religious message."
The Plano Independent School District Board of Trustees has dropped Christian invocations from its meetings in favor of "nonsectarian inspirational messages" after hearing from FFRF.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover first wrote on Dec. 7, 2015, informing the board, "It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings."
When an attorney for the school district replied that the district did not intend to change its practices, Grover sent a rebuttal letter on Jan. 22. He pointed out that several courts have held that prayers at school board meetings differ from the legislative prayers that the U.S. Supreme Court has approved of, and that even in the legislative context, legislators themselves are not permitted to lead the prayers as the trustees were doing here.
In a Feb. 26 response, the Plano Board of Trustees attorney maintained his disagreement, but wrote, "Notwithstanding our disagreement, going forward the Plano ISD School Board intends on opening its meetings with nonsectarian inspirational messages delivered by board members."
Shelby County, Ohio, is no longer displaying an Appeal to Heaven flag in a county building after hearing from FFRF.
Members of the Appeal to Heaven movement "honor the Lord by networking elected officials who are believers in Jesus Christ, who regularly attend and display a commitment to an evangelical, Gospel-centered church and who will commit to live and govern based on biblical . . . principles."
"This mission is clearly sectarian, and displaying the flag is a tacit endorsement of evangelical Christianity," wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne in a letter to the county.
On Feb. 25, the Shelby County Commissioners notified FFRF that the flag had been removed.
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.
The Sylvan-Unified School District 299 in Sylvan Grove, Kan., will no longer permit the teaching of creationism.
A student contacted FFRF to relate that a science teacher at Sylvan-Lucas Junior/Senior High School had long been teaching creationism and presenting her biology students with "evidence" against evolution. The teacher's lesson plans listed "Arguements [sic] against Evolution notes" for two class periods, and she showed a video called "Unlocking the Mystery of Life," which claims that the universe "can only be explained by intelligent design."
"Teaching creationism or any of its offshoots, such as intelligent design, in a public school is unlawful, because creationism is not based in fact. Courts have routinely found that such teachings are religious, despite many new and imaginative labels given to the alternatives," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in a Feb. 9 letter to the district superintendent.
On Feb. 22, FFRF received a response from the district. Superintendent Jude Stecklein said the district investigated the situation and informed the teacher that she can no longer teach creationism.
The Columbia Borough School District in Columbia, Pa., will not hold events in church any longer.
Last year, Columbia High School required graduating students to attend a graduation practice in a Christian church to receive caps and gowns, as well as information about the ceremony. FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler objected to the constitutional violation in a July 22, 2015, letter.
After FFRF followed up with the district twice, an acting superintendent for the district informed FFRF that the previous superintendent had recently resigned, and he had only just seen FFRF's letters. He apologized for the district's lack of response, confirmed that the situation had happened as FFRF described, and stated that he immediately directed the high school principal to cease the practice of distributing important graduation information in a church.
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."
Kettle Falls Middle School in Washington has taken down a picture reading "In God We Trust" over the backdrop of an American flag, after FFRF complained.
FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to the Kettle Falls School District on Nov. 23, 2015. "This posting falsely equates patriotism with piety," she contended. "Young, impressionable students are apt to believe that the school endorses the religious message of the poster."
On Feb. 18, the district superintendent informed FFRF that the picture had been removed.
In California, Lake Elsinore Unified School District's "Student of the Month" luncheons with the local Chamber of Commerce will no longer be religious events, and a praying coach has been taken to task.
The monthly lunches that honored students for their academic achievements took place on school property and were attended by school staff and government officials. They also typically included a Christian prayer, and, one year, Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ was given to the honorees.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the school district on July 23, 2015, asking the district to "discontinue prayer and the distribution of religious literature at future school-sponsored activities."
The district replied on Aug. 20, claiming that the Student of the Month events were not sponsored by the district. Seidel rebutted the letter on Sept. 15, pointing out that district employees were "volunteer administrators" and the district was thanked in the programs as a sponsor.
On Feb. 12, the district informed FFRF that changes had been made to the Student of the Month ceremonies. The district is no longer a sponsor, it vowed not to mandate or encourage student participation in prayers, and the chamber agreed to implement a "secular inspirational message" in lieu of prayer.
The district also noted that it had directed the Elsinore High School football coach to refrain from requiring prayer and participating in student prayers.
The La Mesa-Spring Valley School District will no longer include prayers at graduation ceremonies.
FFRF objected to the practice in a Jan. 14 letter. "The Supreme Court has continually struck down prayers at school-sponsored events, including public school graduations," Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the district.
On Feb. 10, the district said that "steps have been taken to ensure that prayers or prayer-like speeches are not held at school-sponsored activities in the future."
FFRF has again ensured that staff at Akron Public Schools in Ohio will not be permitted to wear "Jesus Is My Hero" T-shirts in school. FFRF first dealt with the shirts in 2013, which promoted the Buchtel Community Learning Center's athletic program.
The district notified all staff in October of 2013 that wearing the donated shirts was a violation of policy. "Unfortunately," said Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a letter to the district's attorney, "I'm writing again because our complainant informs us that these T-shirts have made appearances once again, worn by coaches at football practices."
On Feb. 9, the district's attorney told Markert that the district's athletic director and the school principal were notified, and told staff "that, while acting in their official capacity as school officials, they are prohibited from engaging in actions that could be seen as an endorsement of religion, in violation of board policy."
The Morgan County Schools in Alabama have reminded a coach and a band director to keep state and church separate after FFRF stepped in with a written complaint.
A Danville High School student informed FFRF that, after the end of football games, the team's coaches gathered the players together at the center of the field and led both teams in a Christian prayer. In addition, the drum major, on the instruction of the band director, led prayers at the halftime of each game and at practices.
"It is, of course, unconstitutional for public school athletic coaches or band directors to lead students in prayer, participate in student-led prayer, or instruct students to lead prayers," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover in a letter to the district.
An attorney for the school district informed Grover by email on Feb. 8 that the coaches and band director had "been told of their obligations to remain neutral, including that they should not organize or direct students in prayer."
After receiving a complaint from FFRF, the River View Local School District in Warsaw, Ohio, also will no longer permit the Gideons to distribute bibles.
Students were reportedly separated into groups who wanted and did not want to receive bibles. The children who elected not to take one were instructed to wait in a separate line until the Gideons were finished distributing bibles to other students.
"Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion and to protect the rights of conscience of young and impressionable students," wrote Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a letter originally sent June 5, 2015.
The district finally informed FFRF on Feb. 8 that it would not permit the distribution of bibles on school property.
The public library system in Madison, Wis. decided in February not to close its central downtown branch for a March private event for the Dalai Lama. FFRF, whose office is located across the street from the library, was one of the community voices objecting to the planned event.
"We write to express concerns that granting this proposal would raise the appearance of government-religion entanglement, and also would be a disservice to the local community," said FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne in a letter to the library's board of directors.
The board unanimously voted the proposal down on Feb. 4.
FFRF had warned the Duval County School Board in Florida in January that the Seacoast Charter Academy seemed like a thinly disguised religious establishment.
The institution, which was run as part of a private Christian school for almost 20 years, became a kindergarten to fifth-grade charter entity in 2011 for financial reasons.
Also, Seacoast hosted a Veterans Day program inside the academy's auditorium, which features a large Latin cross at center stage and lots of religious iconography. It is also used for Seacoast's chapel services, so it serves the same role as a church.
"We're pleased the school district investigated and issued the default," said FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel. "Both the district and FFRF will continue to monitor these schools."
The Holy Land Experience, located in Orlando, painted a mural on a retaining wall that turns the corner from Interstate 4 in the direction of the religious amusement park. This interchange and retaining wall are government property that the Florida Department of Transportation maintains, and Holy Land sought no permits or permission to put up the mural.
The mural featured religious imagery, showing two angels unrolling a scroll that signifies humankind. The message conveyed was that God created us all — an inescapably religious notion, says FFRF.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Florida public officials last November when FFRF was alerted to the mural by its local chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community.
FFRF has learned that the Holy Land Experience has finally painted over the mural in a neutral tan color.
The superintendent of Dalton Local Schools in Ohio will no longer post religious messages on his official school Twitter feed, after FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote the school district's attorney a letter on Jan. 25, 2016. The tweets called for prayer, encouraged belief in God, and promoted Christian church events. "Anyone viewing this school-sponsored Twitter feed would understand that the superintendent is endorsing his personal religion over all others," said Jayne.
Attorney Susan C. Hastings responded on Feb. 2 informing FFRF that the superintendent would establish a separate Twitter account for personal communications.
The Johnson City Police Department in Tennessee is taking steps to ensure it is abiding by the Constitution regarding its "Adopt-a-Cop" program.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter on Dec. 8 objecting to the program, in which community members "adopt" a police officer, and includes praying for the officer every day.
In a Feb. 2 response, an attorney for the department acknowledged that the department could have done more "to dispel the public's perception that the department itself was operating and 'pushing' this program," and assured FFRF that the department recognized its obligation to separate church and state.
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."
A Michigan public school softball coach will no longer lead team members in prayer.
In May 2015, FFRF sent a letter to North Branch Area Schools Superintendent Thomas English alerting him that high school softball coach Willie Deshetsky was leading his team members in prayer. FFRF sent English photos of Deshetsky's team prayerfully holding hands with him.
"It is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their team in prayer," FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote.
FFRF finally received a response in February informing the organization that the coach had been asked to desist.
"Coach Willie Deshetsky was officially informed he cannot organize, advocate or lead the softball team in prayer," North Branch Athletic Director James Fish said in his reply.
And at West Orange-Stark Elementary School in Orange, Texas, FFRF got involved when it had heard from parents that bibles were being handed out to students.
"There is no excuse or justification for this practice. It is unnecessary, offensive and illegal," FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote in a Jan. 6 letter to West Orange-Cove School District Superintendent Rickie Harris.
In a response dated Feb. 1, lawyers for the school district said that they had counseled the school about the rules governing such issues. "We anticipate no further issues in the future," the legal firm stated.
Seniors at the Easton Area Lifestyle Campus in Easton, Pa., will no longer be subjected to prayers by center staff. Previously, staff recited prayers, asked people to join in an "amen" chorus accompanied by piano, and sung Christian hymns.
"Federal regulations prohibit senior centers receiving federal funding to engage in religious activities at government-sponsored functions such as senior lunches," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel on Jan. 12 in a letter to the center.
On Jan. 29, FFRF received a response from the Northampton County Department of Human Services, noting that it had distributed a policy memo to the county's senior centers. The memo said that "all senior centers operated by the county of Northampton, or funded even partially by funds from the [Area Agency on Aging] are, effective immediately, precluded from offering prayers."
FFRF recently got a Kentucky school district to stop a public high school football coach from leading his team in prayer.
Last September, FFRF had sent a letter to the Bowling Green City Schools asking that Coach Kevin Wallace cease from having his team worship before games. The complaint included a photo of Wallace with his students in a prayer circle, as well as his quote in the local paper acknowledging that he was engaged in the practice.
In a follow-up letter last month, FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert expressed concern that the school district had failed to take any action.
Finally, FFRF received a response in March from Bowling Green Independent Schools Superintendent Gary Fields acknowledging the receipt of the two letters. "I have addressed the concerns contained in your letters and consider the matter to be resolved," Fields replied.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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."
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 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."
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.
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."
After FFRF objected to a Vermont board's proposal to give a grant to a church, the church has rescinded its request. The Waitsfield Select Board had voted to place an item on the Town Meeting ballot in March 2016 to give $1,500 to the Waitsfield United Church of Christ.
"The government may not fund projects for religious worship," wrote Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne on Dec. 8. Jayne also pointed out that the Vermont Constitution prohibits funding of places of worship.
A Valley Reporter article published Dec. 24 said that to avoid controversy, the church representatives withdrew their request at the board's Dec. 21 meeting — though not before castigating FFRF's complainant for inviting "this crackpot Midwestern group into the discussion."