FFRF saved band camp from Jesus (July 18, 2014)

Lakeshore Public Schools in Stevensville, Mich. has assured that its summer marching band camp will no longer engage students in staff-led prayer, display religious iconography, or distribute religious messages of any kind. The camp, a requirement to participate in the Lakeshore High School marching band, took place in past summers at Camp Friedenswald, a site that is at other times a Mennonite Anabaptist camp supported by the Central District Conference of Mennonite Church USA. Distressingly, the camp, run by the Camp Friedenswald religious staff, included prayers before every meal, and some of the students slept in the chapel.

A concerned district family informed FFRF of the constitutional violations, reporting that at least one student “didn’t feel comfortable calling attention to herself by not participating, so she just went along with it.” The complainant added, “I was extremely bothered by this, as I am an atheist and want my daughter to be able to come to her own conclusions about faith, as I was allowed to do by my own parents.”

On March 31, FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert objected to the religious environment of the camp in a letter to Supt. Philip Freeman of Lakeshore Public Schools. She noted that “students who wish to benefit from participating in marching band should not be forced to enter a religious site in order to do so, especially when the selected site espouses a religious ideology or belief to which they do not adhere.”

Furthermore, “Students should not be excluded from full participation on the basis of religion or compelled to observe or take part in religious exercises as part of a public school program.”

After receiving a follow-up letter, counsel for the District replied on July 18, stating it will first “investigate alternative facilities that meet the District’s needs to host its marching band camp. Second, religious symbols adorning Camp Friedenswald will be covered or removed. In the event that a religious symbol cannot be removed or covered, the District will refrain from utilizing the area in which the symbol is located. Third, the District will direct its staff members and volunteers to closely monitor the interactions between [camp] staff members and students, to ensure that no religious messages are given to students. Fourth, the District will direct its staff members not to participate in student-initiated prayer.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation