The Freedom From Religion Foundation has helped Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Oklahoma City, Okla., rethink its use of religion in school assemblies and counseling sessions.
A local complainant witnessed several incidents of school-sponsored religion during an Oct. 4, 2012, assembly. A third party counselor was invited to speak to students in response to a recent bullying incident. The speaker described to the students "what heaven looks like" and "how we get to heaven." Even more egregiously, the speaker informed students that "the way they were acting was not going to get them into Heaven." School counselors were also being forced to distribute fliers to students. One flier listed worship times at a local church and a Gamblers Anonymous meeting schedule. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Superintendent Karl Springer on Nov. 5, urging him to "refrain from hosting overtly religious assemblies like this counseling program."
Seield asked that the school end all religious assemblies and counseling programs as part of the school's curriculum. The counseling, religious fliers and assemblies carry the stamp of official school endorsement. Such a young, captive audience of students may easily be swayed by a purported group of Christian "experts." Seidel reminded Springer that "Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion."
General counsel for the school district told Seidel in a Nov. 9 phone call that the superintendent agrees "that their current policy on religion in the public schools is 'clearly not enough for non-lawyers' and they are going 'to draft a new policy.'" She added that this will involve additional staff training.