FFRF halts proselytizing group’s access to families at public school (December 19, 2013)

Thanks to FFRF, a proselytizing group will no longer have access to families at Frick Middle School in Oakland, Calif. A religious organization called Points of Light hosted a barbecue at a “Back to School Night” simultaneously alongside school activities. FFRF’s complainant reported that both events were treated and advertised through official school channels as a single event with no mention of the ministry’s involvement. At one point, a PoL representative addressed the crowd and made religious statements, such as “praise God” and “lift up Jesus.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Gary Yee on Nov. 7 reminding the district that allowing religious groups to proselytize during school-sponsored events is unconstitutional.

“It is regrettable that religious groups seek to use the school as a recruiting ground for their particular religion. Their presence at this school event creates the appearance of District endorsement of their programs. Given the purpose of the school welcome event, the prominence of the PoL ministry, and PoL’s use of the school to spread its message, a reasonable parent would conclude that PoL has the backing of the school,” wrote Seidel.

In its Dec. 19 response, the district attorney strongly criticized the arrangement. The District informed Points of Light that it would no longer be allowed on campus without committing to comply with board policy; religious indoctrination is clearly forbidden in public schools. PoL was sent an acknowledgment that if allowed on campus, it would refrain from proselytizing or promoting Christian viewpoints on District campuses.

School attorney Laura O’Neill told Points of Light, “The statements made by you staff member violated Board policy because they promoted Christian viewpoints. It is the District’s expectation that your staff will comply with Board Policy and refrain from making any statements that proselytize or favor one religious viewpoint over another. Specifically, your staff may not in any way promote Christian viewpoints or proselytize on any District campus.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation