FFRF halts inappropriate Thanksgiving program; religious icons, bibles removed from elementary school (April 15, 2014)

Oakwood Elementary School in Peoria, Ariz., will no longer allow religious icons, bibles and proselytizing “gifts.” This is not the first violation from Peoria School District that FFRF has acted on.

FFRF was informed that a kindergarten teacher has been abusing her position to pressure families to attend a specific church in their community. This teacher had decorated her classroom with religious iconography, bibles verses, crosses, and Christ Church of the Valley propaganda such as “I love Jesus” clothing and mugs. This teacher had also distributed inappropriate religious gifts to her students such as bookmarks featuring the holy sites of Christianity.

A parent of a student in the school informed FFRF about multiple violations including: the District holding a Thanksgiving program last year which included a call and response portion where teachers sang questions and students responded with repeated phrases. Each kindergarden class was in a different role: pilgrims, Native Americans, turkeys and preachers. After the teacher’s prompting, the turkeys would gobble, the Native Americans would say “big and brave” and the preachers would say “Praise the Lord.”

The “preachers” wore school owned costumes featuring multiple large Latin crosses emblazoned on their shoulders, chests, and/or hats. According to the complaint, this program has been performed for at least 15 years.

On Dec. 5, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to the school’s administrator, addressing these violations:

“Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion. When a school puts up a Christian cross or teaches children to “praise the Lord” it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message. Such a practice alienates those non-Christian students, teachers, and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school. It is also a usurpation of parental authority- parents, such as our complainant, have the right to direct the religious, or non-religious upbringing of their children, not public schools.”

On April 15, the district replied verifying that the Christian symbols and bibles were indeed present in the classroom and that the students participated in the Thanksgiving program as described.

The district assured Seidel that the religious icons and bibles were removed and that religious conversations and activities have been eliminated, adding, “The Thanksgiving performance is being revisited for content but rest assured that the crosses will be removed and the choral response will be reworded.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation