Religious ribbons downed in district, per FFRF letter

FFRF successfully stopped a school district from requesting its teachers wear a ribbon that contained an image of a Christian cross and the name of a ministry, supposedly in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Teachers in the Beloit Turner School District [Beloit, Wis.] received this request by email from Dr. William L. Beckley, director of Curriculum/Staff Development, on Jan. 14, 2011: “All Staff, In honor of the National holiday on Monday, we will be delivering the Dr. King ribbons this A.M. All staff are asked to wear the ribbons today and on Monday. . . . ” In addition to the cross, the ribbon said at the bottom, “Beloit Community Ministers Fellowship.” 

“While honoring Dr. King is laudable and a worthy cause . . . the Latin cross is universally understood to represent Christianity,” wrote Patrick Elliott, FFRF staff attorney, in his March 10 letter. “Non-Christians and nonbelievers do not wish to display this Christian symbol on their person.”

“Students may perceive the ribbons as an endorsement of Christianity and the Beloit Community Ministers Fellowship,” Elliott pointed out. “Government actors must be especially careful to remain neutral on matters of religion in the public school context.” The district superintendent, Dr. Dennis McCarthy, emailed Elliott on March 14, 2011: “At times the good intentions of individuals may cause unintended consequences for others. It will not be an issue in the future.” — Bonnie Gutsch

Freedom From Religion Foundation