A Carter County middle school in Kentucky is no longer implementing a program that involved “prayer lockers,” in which students were informed of four lockers that a prayer team would check and would be “honored to take your concerns to Our Heavenly Father on your behalf!”
FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line sent a letter to the Superintendent Ronnie Dotson. In the letter, Line asked the district to remove all prayer lockers from district property, as “the district serves a diverse student body that consists of not only Christians, but also minority religious and nonreligious students.”
Ryan Tomolonis, director of personnel, responded and said that after talking with both Dotson and the East Carter Middle School principal Aaron Baldwin, that the program would no longer be implemented.
Amarillo Independent School District in Texas has stopped promoting bible studies and other religious activities on its Facebook page.
A concerned parent contacted FFRF to report that South Georgia Elementary School had been promoting different bible study groups on its Facebook page. FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line sent a letter to Superintendent Doug Loomis, informing him that posting bible clubs on the school’s page can amount to the promotion of religion.
FFRF received a response from attorney Andrea Slater Gulley, who informed Line that after reviewing standards for appropriate use of district-operated social media, it was decided that the accounts would only be used “for promoting campus announcements.”
A school-sanctioned invocation and prayer at Loftis Middle School in Hamilton, Tenn., are not going to happen again after FFRF sent a letter to Scott Bennett, counsel for the school.
Principal Mary Gaitlin had instructed students and parents to “bow their heads and pray,” and later a student recited a prayer that ended “in Jesus’ name.” FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald reminded Bennett in the letter that “The Supreme Court has settled this matter — graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students.”
Bennett responded, letting FFRF know that the school will hold training for all the faculty on the separation of state and church.
Unconstitutional prayer at a South Dakota graduation and school sponsorship of baccalaureate ceremony will not happen again, the superintendent of Menno Public School District insists.
A letter from FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald was sent to Superintendent Tom Rice after a district parent contacted FFRF. The letter stated that “the school’s role in hosting the baccalaureate on school property, scheduling it immediately before graduation, and live-streaming the two events together would cause any reasonable graduating senior or parent to conclude that the district endorses the religious messages espoused at these services.”
A response from Rice included how the school would conduct graduation ceremonies in the future to not violate the Constitution and plans to move the baccalaureate ceremony somewhere other than school property.
Invocations and benedictions are no longer included in Orville (Ohio) City School District’s graduation ceremonies.
A student’s parents notified FFRF that their daughter’s graduation ceremony contained multiple state/church violations, such as an invocation, a benediction, and a commencement address given by a local pastor, who said, among other things, “You are either heading toward God or away from God. Please remember today that prayer and faith will always point you in God’s direction. Do your best not to go in the wrong direction.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald wrote in a letter to Superintendent Jon Ritchie that “The court stated that in this context, ‘Regardless of the listener’s support for, or objection to, the message, an objective . . . student will unquestionably perceive the inevitable . . . stamped with her school’s seal of approval.’”
Ritchie responded by quoting the Board of Education’s policy manual and affirming that the ceremony will include neither benediction nor invocation. Student remarks will also be reviewed beforehand to ensure they follow the policy and the law.
In North Dakota, a Mott/Regent School District basketball coach will no longer participate in his team’s prayers after games.
A district resident informed FFRF that the Mott/Regent basketball team concluded every game with a prayer, and that the coach had been a participant.
FFRF’s Patrick O’Reilly Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald sent a letter to Superintendent Willie Thibault, informing him that a coach participating in prayer in their official capacity can equate to the school’s endorsement of religion.
Rachel A. Bruner, representing the Mott/ Regent School District, wrote to FFRF assuring that no coach would engage in prayer with students at a public event and that all coaches will be reminded of the implications of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
The school board in Duncanville, Texas, has stopped opening its board meetings with prayer after FFRF got involved.
A concerned Village Tech Schools parent contacted FFRF stating that the board had been opening each meeting with a prayer, which was included on the meeting agenda. FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote a letter to Chairman Daniel Price, requesting that, instead of a prayer, a moment of silence “would allow the board’s meetings to come to order without ostracizing portion of those in attendance.”
Joseph Hoffer, attorney for Village Tech Schools, responded to FFRF’s letter, stating that the school took immediate action in getting rid of the prayer and replacing it with “moment of inspiration.”
A cross display has been removed from a post office in Pine Brook, N.J. FFRF received a complaint from a member of the community that a Christian rosary was displayed on the wall of the post office.
FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote to the postmaster and reminded him that was a violation of the U.S. Constitution and post office regulations. She asked that the rosary be immediately removed from postal property.
The district manager for the Northern New Jersey District and an attorney for the Postal Service’s Northeast – New York Law Office both responded to the letter and advised that the rosary, apparently a lost item from a customer, had been removed.
The Lee County School District in Mississippi has taken action to ensure teachers won’t violate their students’ rights.
A district parent reported to FFRF that a kindergarten teacher at Saltillo Primary School in Tupelo was decorating her classroom with religious displays, including images of Bethlehem, a painting of Jesus in the manger with the three wise men and a wooden cross, and that she was frequently promoting her religious beliefs to students. The teacher had reportedly told students that she believed in Jesus and instructed them to complete religious assignments, like making a painting of Bethlehem that included “Jesus, mom, dad, and the three wise men.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald wrote to the superintendent of Lee County Schools, alerting him to the constitutional violations occurring in the district.
The superintendent informed FFRF that the school principal investigated the allegations and has communicated with school staff the importance of not using their position to promote their own personal religious or other beliefs. FFRF was also informed that the teacher in question had resigned, and the principal will continue to remind staff not to promote or endorse religion in the classroom.
A Colorado school district has ended a church’s access to a local school.
A concerned Eagle County Schools community member had informed FFRF that Redeemer Eagle Valley, a Christian church that rents facilities from Brush Creek Elementary School, was advertising and distributing bibles to elementary school students. The church had a display up during school-sponsored summer school that included a Latin cross and which promoted bibles to students along with a sign reading “FREE BIBLES !!!”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Eagle County Schools Superintendent Philip Qualman: “Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools.” Nor may bibles be distributed to public school students.
The school district responded to FFRF in a respectful manner.
“I’m grateful to know that organizations like FFRF exist, and can advocate on behalf of those who feel the separation of church and state is at risk,” the superintendent emailed back, after detailing the steps that Brush Creek Elementary has taken to make certain that the constitutional violations won’t recur.
An athletics coach for Arapaho-Butler Public Schools in Arapaho, Okla., was told to remove religious videos from social media that were filmed on school property without permission.
A local community member contacted FFRF to report that Matt Oakes, a softball coach and teacher at Arapaho-Butler High School, was using his position to preach to students. Oakes helped found a sports-based ministry called “Crossing Home” that he used, along with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, to promote his religious beliefs to students. Coach Oakes and other school staff have been seen proselytizing in videos posted on the Crossing Home’s Facebook and YouTube pages. These videos were filmed on the high school’s athletic field.
FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to Superintendent Jay Edlen, requesting that the district investigate this issue and take action to ensure school coaches and teachers are not using their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to students.
Superintendent Edelen responded, informing FFRF that the videos seen on the Crossing Home’s social media accounts were done without the school’s knowledge, and the district requested that the videos be taken down. “It is the policy of Arapaho-Butler Public Schools that no teacher or coach should use their position to promote or endorse their religious beliefs on students,” Edelen wrote.
A public school district in Florida has addressed concerns about a religious club operating in a local secondary school.
A member of the community reported to FFRF that Milwee Middle School Pre-Engineering Magnet in Sanford has a Fellowship of Christian Athletes club that is run by a local pastor.
FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to the attorney for Seminole County Public Schools reminding them that schools cannot allow outside adults to “regularly participate, organize or lead” religious student organizations, and any teacher involvement cannot exceed a supervisory capacity.
The attorney for Seminole County Public Schools responded and informed FFRF that they spoke with the school principal and addressed our concerns.
FFRF discovered that the school had also removed the FCA club’s listing on the school’s website.
The Franklin County (Wash.) Board of Commissioners in Pasco has stopped scheduling a time of prayer for its board meetings.
FFRF was informed that the Board of Commissioners recently began opening its meetings with prayer and were considering making this a permanent practice for the Board.
FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to the commissioners, urging them to reconsider the prayer practice, noting that “prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive.”
Franklin County Administrator Keith Johnson responded to FFRF’s letter and reported that, after discussion and obtaining legal advice, the commissioners discontinued the time of prayer. “We recognize the separation of church and state that must prevail in public meetings,” Johnson wrote.
The East Baton Rouge Parish School System in Louisiana has removed a religious display after being reminded of its constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion.
A concerned member of the community reached out to FFRF to report that Glen Oaks Park Magnet School displayed a religious plaque outside the principal’s office.
The plaque reads: “Pray More, Worry Less.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to the district’s superintendent and requested that the inappropriate and unconstitutional religious display be removed. “Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools,” Line wrote, emphasizing public schools’ constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion.
In a phone call with a representative of the school system, FFRF was informed that the religious plaque has been removed.
Roane County School District in Kingston, Tenn., has apologized and taken action to remedy a recurring state/church violation in the district.
A member of the community contacted FFRF to report that Rockwood High School once again was promoting a baccalaureate service on the school calendar. FFRF had previously written to the district about this issue in 2018 and 2019 and had been assured that the inclusion of the baccalaureate service on the school calendar was a mistake and would not happen again.
In his letter to the director of schools, FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald reminded the district of these past issues and recommended that school staff receive further training on the Establishment Clause.
Director of Schools LaDonna McFall followed up with the school principal, who apologized and removed the event. She will also be meeting with school staff to clarify what can and cannot be put on the school calendar. McFall also said that she will “re-train principals regarding what is appropriate and inappropriate in terms of separation of church and state before the 2021-2022 school year resumes.”
The city of Elkton, Ky., has removed a large cross display from its courthouse after FFRF intervened.
Last year, FFRF was informed that the city had a large Latin cross overlaid with the design of the American flag on display in a window at the Old Todd County Courthouse.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Mayor Arthur Green, informing him that it was inappropriate and unconstitutional for a government-owned building to include a religious display, and requesting that the cross be removed from the courthouse.
City attorney Jeffrey B. Traughber informed FFRF that this issue has been resolved. “The cross display was not sanctioned by the city and is no longer on display to the public,” Traughber wrote.
The Ohio Hi-Point Career Center superintendent has stopped including religious remarks in convocation speeches after hearing from FFRF on the matter.
FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald wrote to Superintendent Rick Smith about the religious speech he gave at the convocation ceremony, asking him to cease promoting his own beliefs and religion. McDonald reminded Smith that this case had already been settled in the Supreme Court, where “high school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students.”
Smith responded, saying he plans to avoid making religious remarks in the future.
A Tallassee, Ala., art teacher has stopped an art project requiring students to participate in religious assignments, such as making students draw a picture of a cross with graphite pencils.
A concerned Tallassee community member notified FFRF that religious indoctrination could be occurring in an art teacher’s classroom, including encouraging kids to “add a creative saying or bible verse on top” of projects.
Staff Attorney Christopher Line’s letter to the Superintendent of Tallassee City schools asked it to “take immediate action to ensure that (the teacher) is no longer giving religious assignments to students or in any way promoting or endorsing religion through their role as a district employee.”
In response to FFRF’s letter, the school district sent teachers a guide regarding religion in schools, and the teacher that was noted in the letter has retired.
Union Station in Raleigh, N.C., has stopped playing Christian music through its PA system.
A patron of Union Station reported to FFRF that a Christian radio station was being played over the PA system. FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote a letter to Manager Richard Costello, urging him to keep in mind that the public train station serves all types of religious and nonreligious people. She also asserted that Christian music will very easily alienate patrons who are not Christian.
Costello responded to FFRF, writing that the matter was being addressed and assured that no further occurrences would take place.
The Georgia Professional Standards Commission has removed a module in the Georgia Educator Ethics Assessment indicating that a teacher should teach creationism regardless of their beliefs.
To obtain a license to teach in the state, a certain set of ethical standards must be tested and one question posed was about whether teaching intelligent design in schools is illegal.
FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line sent a letter to Brian Sirmans, commission chair, asking that the module be removed from the assessment.
Director of Rules Management and Educator Assessment, Anne Marie Fenton, responded to FFRF, saying that the module has been removed.
The school board in Yupiit, Alaska, has stopped scheduling prayers at school meetings after receiving a letter from FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line.
The letter was sent to Yupit School District Superintendent Cassandra Bennett and Board President Willie Kasayulie.
The response received was, “Cassandra is no longer with the district. They stopped including the invocation.”
An elementary school in Silver Consolidated Schools in New Mexico has stopped requiring students to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance after receiving a letter from FFRF.
A concerned parent from Jose Barrios Elementary contacted FFRF explaining that their child was reprimanded for declining to stand for the pledge, which is recited over the school’s loudspeaker every morning.
Staff Attorney Christopher Line sent a letter to Superintendent William Hawkins, reminding him of the many court cases ruling that forcing children to recite the pledge in school infringes upon a student’s First Amendment rights.
The superintendent responded, saying that all principals, including Joe Barrios Elementary school, will be reminded they cannot disrespect a student’s right to freedom of speech by requiring them to stand for the pledge.
A Georgia school district is rectifying a constitutional breach, thanks to the FFRF.
A concerned local resident informed FFRF that Graysville Elementary School gave students backpacks containing bibles and other religious materials. Children came home from school with a bible, a list of local Baptist churches, and a note asking them to “visit them and become part of the Catoosa Baptist Association family.”
After FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Denia Reese, the district’s legal counsel replied, “The school has been instructed to physically view the inside of any bags or similar items and to remove religious endorsements before giving them to any other students.”
A faculty member at Anoka Ramsey Community College in Minnesota has removed a religious quote from an email signature after being informed by FFRF that it is unconstitutional to promote personal religious beliefs in an official capacity.
FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald wrote to President Kent Hanson, urging him to tell the faculty member to remove the bible verse: “We write to ask that this email signature be changed so as not to create the impression of university endorsement of Christianity over all other religions, or religion over nonreligion.”
Hanson responded, assuring FFRF that the faculty member voluntarily agreed to remove the quote from the email signature.
A resident in Fayette County, Pa., reported receiving a jury summons containing the bible verse, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”
Staff Attorney Christopher Line sent a letter to Commissioners Janet Trees and Lauren Mahoney-Yohman asking for the bible verse to be removed from all jury summonses.
Trees responded in July and said that upon receiving the FFRF letter, the bible verse was immediately removed from all jury summonses.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has removed a cross display on a state-owned utility pole.
A concerned resident reported to FFRF that a Christian cross was displayed on public school property. Upon further inspection, the cross was found to be on state property and FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to the DOT insisting that a sign saying “Jesus still saves” be taken down.
Assistant District Executive Thomas J. McClelland said the cross display had been removed from the utility pole, and the electric company deemed it a potential safety issue, as well.
After hearing from FFRF, a license plate renewal office in North Carolina told an employee to stop giving out pamphlets containing bible verses and “how-to” guides on “gaining salvation.”
FFRF was informed by a concerned Morehead City community member about the unconstitutional religious distribution. Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to the office, asking that it ensures that religious literature no longer be distributed in its office and to remind employees of their obligation to remain neutral toward religion.
FFRF received a response from Sandra Cannon of the Morehead City License Plate Agency, who assured FFRF that she did not condone the distribution of religious materials, told the employee to remove all religious literature from the office and promised that it would not happen again.
Polling places in the parish of East Baton Rouge, La., will be reminded of their obligation to refrain from partisan politicking prior to and on election day.
FFRF was informed that during the November 2020 election, Woodlawn Baptist Church was illegally promoting a ballot item while the church was being used as a polling place. While voting was happening, the church displayed a sign on its lawn that read, “Vote Yes on #1,” a constitutional amendment which was on the ballot.
FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote to county officials urging the county to seriously reconsider allowing area churches to be used as polling places, and at the very least to ensure that churches that are used as polling places are following the law and not promoting any particular political stance.
FFRF received a letter of response from Registrar of Voters Steve Raborn that provided assurances that the leader of the church has apologized for not removing the sign before election day, calling it “an oversight.” More significantly, however, the Clerk of Court’s office in the parish of East Baton Rouge has “agreed to add language to their pre-election letters to all polling places reminding them of state law pertaining to campaign signs at and near polling places.”
A public school district in North Carolina has distanced itself from a religious baccalaureate event after impermissibly entangling with it.
A concerned parent in Lenoir, N.C., reported that the Caldwell County Schools district was organizing and sponsoring a baccalaureate in May 2021. The complainant reported that tickets for the event were being managed by South Caldwell High School and that the event was scheduled to take place in the school’s gym. While the event was apparently not mandatory, the school reportedly told parents and teachers that attendance was “highly encouraged.” The event was also apparently organized by school staff and promoted on the school’s official website.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Donald Phipps alerting the district that this type of religious promotion by a public school is impermissible. FFRF asked that the district end all involvement with the baccalaureate service to avoid the perception of school sponsorship of religious activities.
FFRF was informed that the district has moved this event to the local church that is sponsoring the baccalaureate and has stopped promoting it on behalf of the district.
FFRF has remedied two state/church violations in Camden County Schools in Kingsland, Ga.
A local community member reported that, earlier this year, students at David L. Rainer Elementary School were required to line up and walk through the lobby of the school where a member of the infamous Gideons International offered them a bible. Students were reportedly told that taking the bible was optional, but that all students were required to stand in line and be offered a bible. This apparently had been occurring annually.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent John Tucker, alerting the district to the Gideons’ insidious operating structure to successfully usurp parental power and constitutional limitations on religious promotion in public schools to target young, impressionable students. The district may not, FFRF emphasized, allow the Gideons or any other religious groups to enter school property and distribute religious material.
Additionally, FFRF was recently made aware that teachers at Matilda Harris Elementary School were leading students in daily lunchtime prayers. These prayers were reportedly made “In Jesus’ name.”
Line sent Tucker a second letter of complaint, urging the district to also make certain that none of its employees are unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters by leading prayer, encouraging them to pray, or setting aside time for prayer.
Tucker sent a letter of response to each of FFRF’s complaints, with assurances that the staff members involved have been spoken to about their constitutional obligations surrounding students’ rights of conscience.
“I am confident that staff and volunteers will honor both the letter and the intent of the Constitution, its principles, and applicable statutes,” Tucker wrote.
Brunswick County Schools in Bolivia, N.C., has replaced scheduled prayer before meetings with a moment of silence.
A local resident alerted FFRF that the Brunswick County School Board had been opening its meetings with prayer, including references to “our heavenly father.” Meeting attendees, including students, have reportedly been asked to stand for the invocations, which were then led by Board Chair Ellen G. Milligan.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Jerry Oates urging the board to refrain from engaging in prayer at its meetings. When a government entity like the school board engages in prayer at its meetings, FFRF’s letter emphasized, it violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by showing preference for religious belief.
In a letter of response from the board’s attorney, FFRF was informed that the board has decided to instead open its meetings with a one-minute period of silence.
Administration in Big Sandy Independent School District in Dallardsville, Texas, has taken action to remedy a serious state/church violation occurring in its school.
A district parent reported multiple instances of religious promotion and endorsement occurring at Big Sandy Elementary School. The parent reported that for Easter, a kindergarten teacher at the school gave students “resurrection eggs,” which were Easter eggs with something related to Jesus inside, and had students color “Jesus is love” pictures that included a large Latin cross. The teacher also reportedly was regularly teaching students about Christianity and their “Lord and Savior.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district asking that it take immediate action to ensure that none of its employees are unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters by giving them religious assignments, teaching about religion, or promoting their personal religious beliefs.
Superintendent Eric Carpenter informed FFRF in a letter of response that it is taking the reports seriously. “To the extent that any employee of BSISD is violating the law, the district will address it with that employee to ensure that no violations occur in the future,” Carpenter wrote.
Staff in Bison School District in South Dakota have been reminded that they may not participate in student-led prayer.
FFRF was made aware that the Bison High School boys basketball team was concluding every game with a prayer circle. It appeared that, at times, the coaching staff joined the prayer circle, either standing or on bended knee. The team’s coach stated that “the team’s priorities are, in order, faith, then family, then school, and then basketball.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald wrote to Superintendent Marilyn Azevedo, pointing out that these comments, actions and approach to coaching showed a clear preference for religion and are unconstitutional. FFRF asked that the district commence an investigation into the complaint and take immediate action to stop any and all school-sponsored prayers occurring within any district athletic programs.
The district’s attorney responded to FFRF with assurances that, in response to these revelations, the district will provide specific training for all district coaches regarding students’ right to pray and to remind all personnel that they may not encourage, initiate, lead or participate in student prayer.
Humble Independent School District in Texas has reviewed expectations and guidelines around remaining neutral on religious issues with administration following a letter of complaint from FFRF.
A local resident reported that a local religious group called the Covenant on Campus Team was granted access to the classrooms in Park Lakes Elementary School to leave messages on the students’ desk, regardless of the students’ religious affiliation or lack thereof.
Former FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the district’s attorney to request that the district refrain from allowing religious groups privileged access to public schools.
Humble ISD General Counsel Stephanie Maher informed FFRF in a letter that she has reviewed the standards for community groups at school with the principal and the assistant superintendent.
An issue of religious promotion by the Cumberland County School District in Crossville, Tenn., has been resolved.
FFRF was made aware that the Stone Memorial football coaching staff joined a public prayer with students after a school football game against Christian Academy of Knoxville last fall. Several coaches bowed their heads and held the shoulders of the players.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district’s attorney, informing the district that it is illegal for public school coaches to organize or participate in prayer with their teams.
Cumberland County School Board Attorney G. Earl Patton informed FFRF in a letter of response that the issue has been resolved. “Stone Memorial High School Principal Kelly Smith met with the head coach of the football team and reiterated that public school coaches must refrain, not only from leading prayers themselves, but also from participating in prayers led by students,” Patton wrote.
Additionally, Patton informed FFRF that he gave a presentation to district administration concerning increasing religious diversity and the importance of adhering to religious neutrality.
Religious displays have been removed from Willard County Schools in Missouri following intervention from FFRF.
A Willard Public Schools parent reported multiple constitutional violations. The teacher was displaying a sign that read “Mrs. B’s Mission Statement” outside of her classroom where the first mission statement was to “Follow Jesus.” Additionally, FFRF was informed that the “God’s Not Dead” club, led by a district employee, had placed posters of Christian bible quotes around the school.
FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald wrote to Superintendent Matthew Teeter urging the district to remove these religious displays and posters from school property. The religious messaging alienated those nonreligious students, families, teachers and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school, McDonald’s letter emphasized.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF: “The posters with religious messages have been removed. Teachers have been reminded of their responsibility to comply with Board of Education policies. Finally, principals have been directed to monitor their buildings to ensure that similar postings are not made in their buildings.”
A state/church entanglement was rectified in Alabama at Blount County Schools after FFRF intervened.
FFRF was informed that staff members at Appalachian Elementary School in Oneonta, Ala., had hung up religious displays in the halls of the school. The messages included: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew within me a right spirit,” from Psalm 51, “Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:28-31.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district’s attorney, pointing out that the district violated the Constitution when it allows its schools to display religious symbols and messages. FFRF urged the district to remove the displays immediately.
FFRF was informed that the matter has been resolved.
FFRF has persuaded an Indiana school district to cease opening school board meetings with prayer.
A concerned district community member contacted FFRF to report that the Griffith Public Schools Board of Trustees opened each of its meetings with a prayer led by a member of the board or a guest, including clergy. For example, Pastor Freda Scales with Griffith Lutheran was invited to lead the opening prayer during the January 2021 regular board meeting and John Dudlicek, second vice president of the board, led the opening prayer during the November 2020 special board meeting. These prayers were invariably Christian in nature.
The school board is an essential part of the public school system, FFRF pointed out.
“Students, parents, and district employees have the right — and often have reason — to participate in school board meetings,” FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald wrote to School Board President Kathy Ruesken. “While those in the religious majority may view opening prayers as striking an appropriately solemn tone to mark the start of a meeting, the prayers have the opposite effect for those who do not hold the same religious beliefs as the prayer giver.”
The board was engaging in a governmental endorsement of Christianity that excludes the 30 percent of Americans who are non-Christian and are largely nonreligious, FFRF added. Nationally, among millennials and younger Americans — who make up the entirety of the nation’s student population and most students’ parents — about 46 percent are non-Christian, either practicing no religion at all or a minority religion. Including prayer at meetings unnecessarily ostracized this significant, growing portion of the district’s community.
FFRF’s well-reasoned missive had an impact.
“As a reaction to court opinions and a letter from that watchdog group, the board unanimously eliminated the prayer in favor of being neutral with a moment of silence so people can contemplate whatever they wish,” reports the local newspaper. “The letter was written by FFRF representative Joseph McDonald.”
In an email to McDonald, the school board president acknowledged FFRF’s role in the policy change.
“Regarding the letter that I received from Mr. Joseph McDonald, I would like to state that the trustees of the Griffith School Board have reviewed the contents,” Ruesken stated. “We have concluded that it would be in the best interest of the school district to offer up a moment of silence in lieu of prayer.”
A Pennsylvania public school district has discontinued injecting religion into each school board meeting due to intervention by FFRF.
A concerned Montrose Area School District community member alerted FFRF that the school board had a practice of opening every meeting with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer following the Pledge of Allegiance. Additionally, all nine members of the board were reportedly participating in reciting this Christian prayer, during which students were sometimes present.
FFRF sent a letter to Superintendent Christopher McComb, alerting the district to the unconstitutionality of beginning official district meetings with prayer, especially when students are present.
“Students and parents have the right — and often have reason — to participate in school board meetings,” FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote. “It is coercive, embarrassing and intimidating for nonreligious citizens to be required to make a public showing of their nonbelief or else to display deference toward a religious sentiment in which they do not believe, but which their school board members clearly do.”
FFRF requested the district respect the First Amendment by refraining from scheduling prayers at official board meetings — and its plea had the desired effect. McComb informed FFRF via email that “this practice has ceased and will no longer continue.”
The city of Roanoke, Va., has taken action to address the placement of religious iconography at a polling location during the November 2020 election.
FFRF was informed that during the election, a Roanoke polling place, Christ Lutheran Church, displayed a large portrait of Jesus above the ballot bin. FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote to City Clerk Cecelia McCoy alerting the city to this problematic infringement on free and fair voting.
Director of Elections and General Registrar J. Andrew Cochran assured FFRF in a letter of response that the city will take action to rectify this. “While there was no ulterior motive in the placement of the ballot bin, it is the impact to the voter that we are focused on in this case,” Cochran writes. “I can assure you all Officers of Election will be trained on the learnings from this concern.”
In Missouri, a religious social media post has been removed from the Weaubleau High School Softball Team’s official page.
The team’s official Twitter account posted Christian scripture that read, “With God there is no limit to what YOU can do. There is no obstacle you can’t overcome, through him ALL things are possible! . . . We give God glory for another day to play! #TIGERSTRONG.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald wrote to Superintendent Eric Wilkenm, urging the district to refrain from posting religious messages to official district social media pages as it constitutes an impermissible government endorsement of religion.
Wilken informed FFRF via email that the post has been removed.
Humble Independent School District in Texas has conducted extensive First Amendment training with staff after complaints of a state/church violation from FFRF.
An area resident alerted FFRF that a local religious group called Covenant on Campus Team was granted access to the classrooms in Park Lakes Elementary School to leave messages on the students’ desks. The group was also reportedly allowed to pray over every student’s desk, regardless of the students’ religious affiliation or lack thereof.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the district’s attorney, asking the district to refrain from allowing religious groups privileged access to public schools and spaces occupied by students.
The district’s legal representation informed FFRF in a letter of response that she has reviewed the standards for community groups at school with district leadership. Additionally, Humble ISD has conducted a detailed First Amendment training over the summer with all campus principals and assistant principals, as well as representatives from central office leadership and Human Resources.
The Chicago Police Department has acknowledged its obligation to remain neutral on religious matters.
A local resident informed FFRF that three uniformed police officers on horseback attended the annual Feast of St. Francis Assisi pet blessing service. During the public outdoor service, Pastor Amity Carrubba of Grace Place Episcopal Church recited a Christian prayer and blessed more than 60 pets, including three police horses.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent David Brown, urging the department and its officers to refrain from participating in religious events and avoiding endorsing religion when acting in their official government capacity.
Brown wrote in a response letter to FFRF that the department will “review [its] policies and procedures in an effort to maintain government neutrality and protect the constitutional principles of separation between church and state.”
The Pacific County Sheriff’s Department in South Bend, Wash., has taken action to correct religious promotion on its social media page.
Last fall, the sheriff’s office posted a Thanksgiving message on its official Facebook page, which included a photo of a Latin cross with the message, “Blessings” across it.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Sheriff Robin Souvenir illustrating the constitutional and ethical issues which arise when the sheriff department endorses Christianity on an official website.
Souvenir assured FFRF that the post has been removed and has committed to the department being more diligent in the future to ensure it does not promote religion.
A religious sign has been taken down from a polling place in Wichita Falls, Texas. FFRF was informed that during early voting for the 2020 election, a County Commissioner building being used as a polling site displayed a sign that read “PRAY FOR PEACE 1 Thess. 3:16.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote to County Clerk Lori Bohannon, asking the county to take action to prevent its facilities, particularly polling places, from displaying religious messages or iconography.
Bohannon notified FFRF via email that the office would be removing the sign.
The city of Asheville, N.C., has revoked a proposal to embark on a development deal with a local church.
FFRF was alerted to a proposal under consideration by the Asheville City Council that would have established a partnership between the city and Haywood Street Congregation to build affordable housing.
As part of the deal, through a “separate” nonprofit, the church would have received $1.45 million worth of land for $1 and $1 million in additional funding from the city to develop the land into affordable housing. One of FFRF’s complainants stated that when the Housing and Development Committee considered this proposal last year, Vice Mayor Sheneika Smith noted that she was a woman of faith and that is why she voted to approve this land transfer.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line submitted a public records request to the city and asked for assurances that any deal between the city and Haywood Street Congregation/Haywood Street Community Development would include provisions ensuring that this project would not enrich the church at the expense of Asheville and that the property would not be used for religious purposes.
According to local reporting, the city has pulled the proposal to sell the land to the church.
An issue of religious promotion by a teacher and coach has been corrected in the Brighton 27J School District in Colorado.
A district community member alerted FFRF that a biology teacher and coach at Brighton High School was sending emails from his official district account with a religious signature line. One email included the message: “‘Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not stray from it.’ Proverbs 22:6.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Chris Fiedler, asking him to ensure that religious email signatures are removed so as not to create the impression of school endorsement of religion.
FFRF was assured by the Board of Education that the school principal would address the issue with the teacher.
In Montana, reports of ongoing proselytizing in the Great Falls Public Schools football program have been addressed by district leadership.
FFRF was informed that the head coach of the Charles M. Russell High School football team had been promoting religion to his players and the public at large through official district communication channels. The coach had been praying with his players and the team’s official Instagram account was regularly posting religious content. One post, which selected “Mary, Mother of God” as the “Beast of the Day” read:
“Mary, mother of Jesus, was a willing servant who trusted God and obeyed His call. While her life held great honor, her calling also required great suffering. Though there was joy in motherhood, there was great pain in the privilege of being the mother of the Messiah. Despite these things, she responded to God with great obedience and submission to his plan.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Thomas Moore, alerting him to this impermissible behavior and urging the district to take corrective action.
Moore informed FFRF in an email response that the issues were addressed with the coach and the religious posts have been permanently removed from the team’s social media page.
A church advertisement has been removed from Cobb County School District property in Mariette, Ga.
FFRF was informed that Kennesaw Elementary School, which rents out space on Sundays to HighPoint Church, was permanently displaying two canvas advertisements for the church on the school’s fence.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district’s attorney requesting that the religious display be removed from school grounds any time the property is not being rented by the church.
The district’s attorney sent a letter of reply alerting FFRF that the district “has confirmed that the referenced signage is no longer on display.”
The Elk County Sheriff’s Office has removed a problematic social media post promoting religion in Ridgway, Pa.
A local resident alerted FFRF that Sheriff Todd Caltagarone posted what amounted to a sermon on Facebook, decrying measures aimed at curbing the pandemic, such as limits on in-person gatherings, as an assault on freedom to worship, and advancing his personal religious belief that the bible says his constituents should sing and praise God in church.
FFRF Staff Attorney Maddy Ziegler wrote to Caltagarone to alert the sheriff to the impermissibility of promoting religion on the department’s official social media page. FFRF asked the sheriff’s office to remove the post, refrain from promoting or posting religious messages on social media, and enforce the laws officers swore to uphold, including laws that will reduce the spread of Covid-19.
FFRF was informed that the Facebook post has been taken down.
A Tennessee district has addressed multiple incidents of school-endorsed prayer in Lexington.
FFRF was informed that a student, with several staff members standing behind him with bowed head, led the audience in a Christian prayer at last year’s Henderson County School District graduation ceremony, which concluded with “and we thank You for sending Your son down to this Earth to die on the cross for our sins. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.” Additionally, FFRF was made aware that a district band instructor led students in prayer at a recent football game.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Director of Schools Steve Wilkinson to inform the district that both these instances of school prayer were constitutionally impermissible as they amounted to government endorsement of religion.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF in a letter of response that the superintendent agreed to “address issues with faculty concerning prayer in school and the violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution” at the next staff meeting.
Coach led prayer has been stopped in the Clinton Township, Mich., public school district.
A district parent informed FFRF that a Wyandot Middle School basketball coach had been leading his students in prayer before basketball games. According to the parent, the coach would have the players gather in a circle, make them hold hands and then say a prayer. When he finished saying his prayer, he would ask any of the players if they wanted to say a prayer.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian sent a letter to Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Ronald Robert urging the district to stop any and all prayers occurring within any school athletic programs.
Assistant Superintendent Adam Blanchard sent a letter of response, alerting FFRF that the coach “has been informed that his involvement in this type of religious activity cannot occur during school or a school event.”
A public school basketball coach in Michigan has been asked to stop praying with his team after FFRF contacted his school district.
A district parent informed FFRF that a Wyandot Middle School basketball coach had been leading his students in prayer before basketball games. According to the parent, the coach would have the players gather in a circle, make them hold hands and then say a prayer. When he finished saying his prayer, he would ask any of the players if they wanted to say a prayer.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante CH Harootunian sent a letter to Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Ronald Roberts urging the district to stop any and all prayers occurring within any school athletic programs.
“Public school coaches must refrain not only from leading prayers themselves, but also from participating in students’ prayers,” Harootunian wrote. “It is unconstitutional for public school employees to participate in the religious activities of their students.”
Assistant Superintendent Adam Blanchard sent a letter of response indicating that the district took this issue seriously and that it has taken steps to ensure coaches are not endorsing or joining in on prayer.
The coach, the district wrote, “has been informed that his involvement in this type of religious activity cannot occur during school or a school event.”
A religious song will no longer be played in Simi Valley (Calif.) Unified School District.
A concerned parent reported that Sycamore Elementary asks its students to sing a new “patriotic song of the month” each month following the Pledge of Allegiance. One month, the song “God Bless the USA” was chosen.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Jason Peplinski, urging the district to cease asking students to sing that song and make only secular selections for future songs of the month.
FFRF was informed in a letter of response from the district’s attorney that the school will not choose “God Bless the USA” as a song of the month in the future and has removed references to it from the school newsletter.
A religious display has been promptly removed from a South Carolina school following a complaint from FFRF.
A Palmetto High School community member informed FFRF that a framed prayer was prominently displayed on a table in the school’s front office near the spot tardy students are required to stand and wait for their temperature to be checked before attending class.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson sent a letter to Anderson School District One Superintendent Robbie Binnicker, urging the district to immediately get rid of the religious display, since it constituted an inappropriate government endorsement of religion.
The school district took down the framed prayer from the school office the same day as it received the letter of complaint.
“The sign was removed and the principal dealt with the issue at the school level,” Binnicker informed FFRF via email.
Anderson School District Two in Honea Path, S.C., has ceased sending home religious materials with students after intervention from FFRF.
A Marshall Primary School parent alerted FFRF that their child was given religious Christmas materials by the school. The parents reported that when they went to the school to pick up essential materials for distance learning, they were given a Christian coloring book, nativity stickers and a candy cane with the message “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” and a bible verse attached.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Interim Superintendent Donald Andrews urging the district to take corrective action and train school and district staff on constitutional requirements.
Andrews sent a letter of response with assurances that this distribution of religious materials was a mistake, does not comply with district policy, and will not happen again in the future.
A religious display has been taken down from Achille Public School property in Achille, Okla.
Multiple local residents alerted FFRF that in December, Achille Elementary School was displaying a nativity scene with the message, “Our world needs a stable influence.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Rick Beene to request that the district ensure that the nativity scene, or any other religious displays, will not be displayed in the future.
Beene assured FFRF via email that the display was taken down and he spoke with the person that put it up about the issue.
A Virginia police department has agreed to strip a religious display from its office property.
Multiple South Hill, Va., residents informed FFRF that the South Hills Police Department was prominently featuring a “thin blue line” flag on its side door. This flag was overlaid with a quote of Proverbs 28:1 from the bible, stating “The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Chief of Police Stuart Bowen to request that the department move this and any other religious displays from its premises.
Bowen informed FFRF in a letter of response that he has taken action to remove the bible verse from the office door.
Religious iconography has been removed from multiple spots in the International Leadership of Texas Grand Prairie School in Richardson, Texas.
One sign, located in a counselor’s office frequented by students, stated “the Lord is good.” A second wall decoration, located in a third-grade classroom, read “God, thank you for everything.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Eddie Conger, requesting that these signs come down as they constituted the appearance of government endorsement of religion.
The school’s attorney has informed FFRF that both displays have come down.
The city of Wills Point, Texas, has addressed concerns about a religious proclamation made on behalf of local government.
Multiple Wills Point residents informed FFRF that Mayor Mark Turner declared a “Day of Prayer and Fasting,” which was advertised on the official city Facebook page. In the proclamation, issued in his official capacity as mayor, Turner invited residents to join “Christians of all traditions in prayer,” and urged them to spread the word to others “willing to humble themselves, repent and ask God to heal their land.” Additionally, the proclamation — to which the official Wills Point city seal is affixed — stated “Now therefore we proclaim the healing of the City of Wills Point in Jesus’ name! Amen.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson sent a letter to Turner urging him to discontinue all endorsement of religion in his official capacity as mayor. Government officials are free to worship, pray and participate in religious events in their personal capacities, FFRF emphasized, but may not provide credibility or prestige to their religion by lending a government office or title to religious events.
The city’s attorney informed FFRF via email that the post promoting the event has been removed from the city’s Facebook page and the district will “be more cognizant of [these] concerns in the future.”
In Illinois, Roxana Community Unit School District #1 staff have been reminded they may not partake in religious observance during school events.
A local community member informed FFRF that district personnel, including staff and school board members, attended and participated in a “See You at the Pole” event last fall.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Debra Kreuztrager, reminding the district that staff must not plan, promote or participate in any future “See You at the Pole” events nor encourage students to put on such events.
Kreuztrager sent a letter of response with assurances that “expectations will be communicated to ensure that staff remember to serve only in a supervisory role as needed for this event in the future.”
A staff prayer issue was resolved in Kirksville R-III School District.
A district community member reported that during a Kirksville High School graduation ceremony, Superintendent Richard Webb included a prayer in his remarks to students.
He said: “And today, which is the Sabbath Day, I pray also that you won’t let memes or social media define the truth for you, but that you’ll instead see you as God sees you. That you will listen to Him when He whispers the truth of a variety of things to you.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Webb requesting that he refrain from abusing his position as superintendent to proselytize. Line pointed out that it is particularly concerning that, as superintendent, Webb is charged with ensuring constitutional compliance in the district, but instead used his position to promote his personal religious beliefs to students.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF in a letter of response that “employees of the district were reminded of the district’s board policy regarding religion at school and were also instructed not to lead students in, or promote, prayer or religion.”
Employees of Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri have been instructed not to include religious messages in email signatures from their official Army accounts.
A technical support specialist for Fort Leonard Wood had been including the bible verse “‘With GOD all things are possible’ Matthew 19:26” in the signature block of his official U.S. Army email address.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Fort Leonard Wood Garrison Commander Colonel Jeffrey O. Paine and Command Inspector General Lt. Colonel Mary M. Smith asking that this email signature be changed so as not to create the impression of official military endorsement of Christianity over all other religions or religion over nonreligion.
Employees were instructed, per Army policy, to remove all religious references from their official email signatures.
Kansas City Fire Department staff in Missouri will no longer schedule prayer as part of fire academy cadet graduation ceremonies.
FFRF was made aware that the department scheduled invocations as part of its cadet graduation ceremonies and posted videos of these ceremonies on its official Facebook page. The 2020 winter ceremony prayer, led by one of the department’s firefighters, called on attendees to “bow [their] heads and come together now in prayer.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Fire Chief Donna Lake, pointing out that in addition to violating the Establishment Clause, calling on attendees to pray at fire department events is coercive, embarrassing and beyond the scope of a fire department. FFRF’s letter encouraged the department to respect its pluralistic class of firefighters and cease from including prayer at future official ceremonies and events.
Lake informed FFRF via email that department staff have been directed to “discontinue sponsoring or scheduling an invocation or any other prayer at Fire Academy cadet graduation ceremonies.”
One of Idaho’s most prominent educational institutions has listened to the Freedom From Religion Foundation regarding its unconstitutional football chaplaincy.
The national state/church watchdog had written to Boise State University about the football program’s official chaplain, Mark Thornton. Thornton has arranged for post-game prayers on the field with players, led them in chapel the night before games and prayed with players individually before games.
Public schools may not advance or promote religion, FFRF emphasized.
“Government chaplains may only exist as an accommodation of a public employee’s religious beliefs when the government makes it difficult or impossible to seek out private ministries,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Boise State University President Marlene Tromp.
Abolishing the team chaplaincy would not alter student athletes’ ability to pray, but it would prevent some student athletes from feeling coerced into participating in prayers to a deity they may not believe in, FFRF added.
FFRF’s reasoning seems to have scored many points with Boise State, which has pledged to significantly downgrade its chaplaincy program.
“We have been in communication with the Athletic Department to provide some education about this issue and to ensure measures are taken now and in the future to resolve the issue and establish appropriate constitutional boundaries,” the university’s legal counsel recently responded via email. “Mr. Thornton did not travel with the football team to our recent game in Wyoming and the university will no longer include a chaplain in its travel party. Written references to Mr. Thornton as the chaplain of the football team have been or are in the process of being removed and no future references will be made in writing or otherwise.”
Morning prayers have been stopped in the Washington Parish School System in Louisiana.
A local resident alerted FFRF that Franklinton High School’s student chaplain had been leading the school in prayer each morning before the Pledge of Allegiance.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson sent a letter to Superintendent Frances Varnado asking that the district immediately cease scheduling this prayer as it constitutes illegal religious endorsement on the part of the school.
The complainant has informed FFRF that the daily prayers have stopped.
An impermissible religious display has been removed from Harrison County Schools property in West Virginia.
A community member informed FFRF that a picture of Jesus was on display at Robert C. Byrd High School.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Dora Stutler reminding the district that it may not advance, prefer or promote religion and therefore must remove this religious photo.
Stutler confirmed in a letter of response the photo has been taken down.
Religious displays have been removed from government property in Macon County, N.C.
A concerned employee in the Macon County Solid Waste Department reported that religious materials were on display in the workplace at Otto Center. These displays included the Ten Commandments, as well as various other religious postings.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Recycling Coordinator Shaun Cribbs requesting that these materials be removed.
Cribbs responded via email to inform FFRF that the religious materials have been taken down and that a memo was sent to all staff to ensure this does not happen again in the future.
Pine Tree Independent School District in Texas will train teachers on appropriate usage of the district’s social media pages following its impermissible promotion of a religious event.
A local resident reported that Pine Tree Elementary School used its official Facebook page to promote a “See You at the Pole” event. The post described the event as a “national day of student prayer” and indicated that the event was being hosted by the school.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Steve Clugston to request that the district refrain from endorsing religious events.
The district sent a letter of response indicating that it recognizes this as an “opportunity to educate [its] staff while continuing to support the rights of [its] students and will develop a training for district staff who have control over district social media pages addressing this issue.”
School board prayer in Pelham City Schools in Alabama has been stopped.
A district community member reported that the Pelham City Schools Board of Education opened each of its meetings with prayer. FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to School Board President Rick Rhoades, informing the district of the impermissibility of such prayer at school board meetings.
FFRF received a response from the school board’s attorney. “Please be advised that in a good faith effort to accommodate the various points of view, interests and legal considerations that are implicated by the practice of opening public meetings with invocation, the Board of Education has elected, effective as of its meetings on Oct. 26, 2020, not to include an invocation on its meeting agendas or set aside time for that purpose as part of its official proceedings.”
Administration in the Fannin County School System in Blue Ridge, Ga., has committed to meeting with all district coaches to address First Amendment obligations.
FFRF was informed that the Fannin High School football coach was regularly leading his team in prayer. FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Michael Gwatney informing the district that it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer as it constitutes a government endorsement of religion.
The district’s attorney sent FFRF a letter of response with assurances that Gwatney “has met with the high school principal and a plan is in progress to meet with all coaches to discuss issues related to the First Amendment, including the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause.”
Pratt USD 382 in Kansas has remedied multiple constitutional violations in its district following a letter of complaint from FFRF.
A concerned school staff member reported several concerning incidents of religious promotion at Liberty Middle School. The school’s vice principal had been using his position to promote and endorse his personal religious beliefs to students. The complainant reported that on “See You at the Pole Day,” the vice principal announced the event over the intercom, personally invited students to the event and then led students in prayer. He also apparently included religious messages and bible quotes in his official district communications. Recently during morning announcements, he said, “we need to remember to give all the glory to God, whether others agree with it or not, and I don’t care if I offend anyone by saying that.” The vice principal also reportedly played Christian music during class and made religious statements to students, including telling a group of students that “God is sad when you don’t tuck in your shirts. You are disrespecting God.”
The complainant additionally reported that the school’s principal has directed staff members to arrange for the school to participate in “Operation Christmas Child,” which is a charity project sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse (led by Franklin Graham), which describes the program as a “shoebox ministry.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter of complaint to Superintendent Tony Helfrich requesting that the district investigate these serious violations and take immediate action.
Helfrich informed FFRF in a letter of response that the district has investigated and addressed the issues and will see that “the actions in questions are discontinued.” The district has also discontinued its partnership with “Operation Christmas Child.”
Lewis County Schools in Vanceburg, Ky., has addressed concerns regarding promotion of a biblical message by a district coach.
FFRF was made aware that Lewis County High School had chosen an explicitly religious theme, directly from the bible, for its football theme this year. According to an official press release on the school’s Facebook page, “Our team motto this year comes from the story of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its wall.” The story, which comes from the Old Testament, uses “the sword and the shovel” as metaphorical imagery. The school had adopted this imagery for the boys’ football team logo and promotional poster included a student wearing the football team’s jersey while holding a sword and shovel.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Jamie Weddington to ensure that the district no longer impermissibly promotes religion through its football program.
Weddington informed FFRF in an email response that “the post has been removed and your concerns have been addressed.”
A religious message has been removed from a staff email signature at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.
FFRF was informed that one staff member had a bible verse in the signature block for their official university email address. The signature included: “Faith does not make things easy, it makes them possible.”
FFRF’s then-Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Grand Valley State University President Philomena Mantella urging the university to see to the email signature being changed so as not to create the impression of university endorsement of Christianity over all other religions or religion over nonreligion.
FFRF was informed by the university that administration has standardized email signatures for all staff free from any mention of religion.
A homework question promoting religious donations has been removed from the curriculum in Paradise Valley Unified School District in Phoenix.
A concerned district parent alerted FFRF that their student’s personal finance class included an assignment that asked students to evaluate certain personal finance choices and rate them as being either good or bad. The assignment included the statement: “I give $2 at church every week.” The assignment reportedly considered the only correct answer to this statement to be “good,” and that if a student were to rate it as “bad” they would not receive any points for the answer.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent of Schools Jesse Welsh, pointing out that the suggestion that giving money to a church every week, without any additional context, does not promote a “good money habit” but instead encourages students to partake in a common religious practice. Many students, FFRF reminded the district, do not attend church, and suggesting that it would be wise for them to give their money to a church is an advancement and endorsement of religion on the district’s behalf.
The district has changed the question in the assignment to state “charity” instead of “church.”
Employees of Shelby County School District in Columbiana, Ala., will no longer be subjected to prayer at staff meetings.
A district employee informed FFRF that during a recent mandatory professional development meeting, one teacher began the meeting by delivering a prayer. The complainant reported that the teacher told staff he would make a motion when he began and ended his prayer so that anyone who was offended could mute him.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district to ensure that it no longer includes prayer as part of any employee meeting or events. The reported teacher has been counseled that this was not permitted and the district has initiated additional refresher training for its principals on this subject.
A Missouri school district has ended its football coaching staff’s practice of praying with the student-athletes after FFRF got involved.
Joey Ballard, head coach for Jasper High School’s boys football team, regularly led team prayer, a concerned parent of a player had informed FFRF. During these prayers, student players gathered around Ballard on bended knee, with additional coaching staff surrounding the students while Ballard delivered a Christian prayer and then led the students in reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Jasper R-5 School District Superintendent Christina Hess, reminding the district that it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer.
FFRF’s constitutional advice has been heeded.
“In response to your letter dated Oct. 6, 2020, we write to advise you about the actions the district,” the district’s legal counsel stated. “Employees of the district were reminded of the district’s board policy regarding religion at school and were also instructed not to lead students in, or promote, prayer. This matter has therefore been resolved.”
In Missouri, a coach in the Jasper R-5 School District has been advised to cease proselytizing students.
FFRF was informed that Jasper High School’s head football coach was regularly leading his team in prayer. During these prayers, student athletes knelt around the coach, with additional coaching staff surrounding the students as he gave a Christian prayer and then led the students in reciting the Lord’s prayer.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Christina Hess, reminding the district that it is illegal for public school staff to lead students in prayer.
The district’s attorney alerted FFRF in a letter of response that the district has investigated the incidences of staff-led prayer and that “employees of the district were reminded of the district’s board policy regarding religion at school and were also instructed not to lead students in, or promote, prayer.”
The Orangefield Independent School District in Texas has removed scheduled prayer from its graduation ceremony.
A community member informed FFRF that the Orangefield High School graduation program included an invocation and benediction, during which students lead the audience in a prayer through the microphone on the graduation stage. This practice occurred at the May 2019 graduation ceremony and remained in place, traditionally enforced by the superintendent.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Kevin Weldon, informing the district of the unconstitutionality of prayer, invocation and benediction at school-sponsored events.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF in a letter of response that the district “changed all references to invocation and/or benediction to opening and closing remarks, respectively, in its 2020 graduation programs. Additionally, the Orangefield High School Yearbook for the 2019-2020 year did not refer to invocation or benediction.”
A Capistrano Unified School District school in California has ceased playing a religious song after the Pledge of Allegiance.
A district parent alerted FFRF that during distance learning at Reilly Elementary Schools, teachers were playing an audio recording of “God Bless America.” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Kirsten Vital, asking the district to immediately stop this divisive practice.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF in a letter of response that the district will no longer play “God Bless America” at events.
In West Virginia, Morgantown police officers will no longer participate in prayer events in uniform.
A local Morgantown resident reported that a local police officer and pastor at New Life Ministries appeared in uniform and delivered a prayer at a National Day of Prayer event. Several other uniformed officers reportedly also participated in this prayer event, including joining in a prayer circle with citizens while in uniform.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Interim Police Chief Ed Preston to ensure that no department members participate in religious events in their official capacities as public servants.
Powell sent FFRF an email response with assurances that he has addressed the matter with the officer and “advised him to not participate in any further activities while in uniform.”
U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo has stopped including prayer requests in constituent emails in Palo Alto, Calif.
A constituent from California’s 18th congressional district reported that her office regularly sent out prayer requests. One communication said, “Let’s pray for each other, all the firefighters, and all those who have had to evacuate their families.” For a few weeks, her office was also sending a weekly newsletter that also ended with a prayer request.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Eshoo’s office noting that, while the California wildfire crisis is putting immense pressure on leaders to respond to and comfort constituents, as a U.S. representative she represents a diverse population including atheists, agnostics and other nonbelievers. FFRF encouraged Eshoo to stand up for the precious constitutional principle of separation between state and church by refraining from sending prayer requests through official government channels.
FFRF was informed by the complainant that Rep. Eshoo’s more recent weekly newsletters did not include a call for prayer by constituents.
A video containing religious messages has been removed by the Marion (Ark.) School District.
A district parent reported that the district recently produced and distributed a video titled “Welcome Back, MSD Faculty and Staff” that included several prayers and a bible reading. The video begins with messages from the mayor and a state representative and then features two preachers who deliver prayers.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Glen Fenter with a reminder that it is unlawful for the district to promote religion by including prayer in an official school-sponsored video that was shared with staff, students and parents.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF in a letter of response that the video has been removed.
In Kenansville, N.C., Duplin County Schools teachers and staff will be reminded of their obligation not to proselytize students.
FFRF received reports that Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) Area Director Ken Lovell had been repeatedly granted access to the district’s student-athletes, particularly the football team, during school-sponsored events.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the district’s attorney, reminding the district that coaches may not grant outside adults access to school-sponsored activities to preach religious messages to students.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF in an email response that he has discussed the issue with the Duplin County Schools superintendent. “He has, and will again, emphasize to principals and athletic directors that outside groups like FCA may not proselytize to students,” the attorney writes.
In California, the San Bernardino County Clerk’s Office has addressed a complaint about an impermissible religious display on county property.
A San Bernardino County citizen alerted FFRF that there is a sign stating “Jesus Christ is Lord of All” displayed in the customer service window on the first floor of the county clerk’s office.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to County Clerk Bob Dutton asking that the sign be removed and that employees be reminded of their obligation to remain neutral toward religion while serving in their official capacity as public employees.
Dutton sent a letter of response informing FFRF “[these] concerns had been addressed.”
Pasadena Independent School District in Texas will be considering its legal obligations with regard to student speeches at graduation ceremonies.
A concerned citizen informed FFRF that the Pasadena Independent School District high schools have been including prayers at their graduation ceremonies. Video shows that multiple district graduation ceremonies began and ended with prayer. This had apparently been an established practice at several schools for years.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the district’s attorney, urging the district to refrain from endorsing, promoting or otherwise encouraging prayer at their graduation ceremonies.
FFRF was informed in a letter of response that the attorney is “advising the district on its legal obligations” and that the district “is committed to following the requirements of the First Amendment when it comes to student speech, both at graduation ceremonies and elsewhere.”
A Kentucky school district will no longer subject graduation attendees to prayer.
FFRF was informed that the July 2020 Pikeville High School graduation program included three student-led prayers. These prayers were explicitly Christian in nature, including language such as “Oh Heavenly Father,” “In your son’s name, we pray,” and thanks to the “Lord and savior, Jesus Christ,” as well as warnings of the “war on the Christian faith.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent David Trimble, informing him that this inclusion of prayer at a public school graduation ceremony is impermissible and encouraged the district to ensure that future ceremonies remain secular.
The school district’s attorney informed FFRF in an email response that he has advised the school’s principal to “refrain from religious prayer at future graduations.”
The Myrtle Beach mayor’s office in South Carolina has agreed to avoid language that shows endorsement of a specific religion and make sure social media posts are free of such religious bias.
A Horry County citizen alerted FFRF that Myrtle Beach’s Facebook page was periodically promoting events for religious worship. Last summer, one post urged citizens not to miss out on Sunday Celebrations, “a free concert series” with “good music and a great message.” This promotion lacked any information or disclaimer about the organization putting on the event, Ground Zero Ministries, which has a self-professed strategy to utilize “high-energy events and unforgettable experiences to capture the attention of teenagers and introduce them to Christ.” The city continued to promote several other religious events.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Mayor Brenda Bethune, asking the city government to refrain from promoting events for religious worship, as these promotions venture into the “perilous ground of mingling state and religion.”
Bethune informed FFRF in a letter of response that the city will be more careful in the future to “avoid language which might tend to imply support or endorsement for a religious belief.”
Religious displays were removed from Eastside Union School District property in Lancaster, Calif., after a resident contacted FFRF.
A community member alerted FFRF that there were religious displays in several locations throughout the district, including in classrooms, staff lounges and the district office.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Joshua Lightle, pointing out the impermissibility of such religious displays on public school property.
Lightle responded to FFRF’s letter with assurances that the district has addressed these concerns.
A Seminole County Public Schools employee in Ovideo, Fla., will no longer be using a religious email signature.
A district community member reported that an administrative secretary at Paul J. Hagerty High School was sending emails from her official district account with a religious message included in the signature line. One email she sent included the message, “Believe. When a believing person Prays, Great things happen. James 5:16.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the school’s attorney, requesting that the email signature be removed so as not to create the impression of school endorsement of religion.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF the religious signature has been removed from the staff member’s email.
A religious message has been removed from a Wayne County Schools (W.Va.) sign.
A local resident reported that the electronic notice board outside of Buffalo Middle School had featured the message “God will carry us” for much of the summer.
This message was accompanied by several footprints on the digital notice board, presumably in reference to the popular Christian poem “Footprints in the Sand.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Todd Alexander, pointing out the constitutional impermissibility of projecting this overtly religious message on public school grounds.
Alexander assured FFRF in an email response that the message has been removed from the sign.
In Tennessee, a religious post has been removed from Alamo City School District’s social media page.
FFRF was alerted that the district had posted a graphic on its official Facebook page encouraging students and parents to “Park & Pray Everyday.” The graphic read: “Driving past a school? Pull in, park and pray for our children, teachers and staff! Driving past an administration building? Pull in, park and pray for our leaders! Driving past a bus lot? Pull in, park and pray for our bus drivers!”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Director of Schools Reecha Black, requesting that the district cease posting religious content on its official social media pages and that this and any related posts be taken down.
Black informed FFRF that the post has been removed.
Future Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employee meetings will not include an opening prayer.
FFRF was informed that, earlier this year, several Wisconsin DNR employees were required to attend an awards ceremony sponsored by the department. During the event, official DNR chaplains led prayers and invoked Jesus Christ.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to DNR Secretary Preston Cole, informing the department that, as a government entity, it has a legal obligation to remain neutral toward religion. Federal courts have held that mandatory meetings for government employees cannot promote religion.
The department’s legal counsel informed FFRF in a thorough response that the DNR agrees such prayer was inappropriate. “In the future, if a member of our Chaplain Program asks to give an opening prayer at a mandatory training meeting, we will deny the request,” the response read.
A “prayer locker” has been removed from Prairiland Junior High School property.
A local resident alerted FFRF that the school had designated a locker to be used as a “prayer locker” for its students, marked with a Latin cross and a sign that reads: “Drop Prayer Here. Prayer Locker.” The purpose of this locker was apparently to encourage students to submit prayer requests to an outside religious group — Youth for Christ.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Jeff Ballard, informing the district that the First Amendment prohibits government entities like Prairiland Independent School District from promoting religion.
Johnson encouraged the district to remove all prayer boxes from district property. Ballard informed FFRF via email that the prayer locker has been removed.
No proselytizing took place at Allen Parish Schools’ (Kinder, La.) back-to-school meeting after last year’s mandatory meeting subjected attendees to prayer.
FFRF was informed that at last year’s mandatory teachers’ meeting at Kinder Middle School, a Catholic priest was allowed to speak to the group and recite a prayer before the meeting. The result was that the school created a public platform for a religious leader to spread his religious views to a captive audience of school employees.
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent Kent Reed to ensure that no prayers were scheduled for this year’s meeting, out of respect for the religious and nonreligious diversity of the district’s staff.
Reed informed FFRF in an email response that no prayers took place at the meeting this year.
Morgan County Schools has discontinued prayers at its school board meetings.
A concerned local resident reported to FFRF that the Morgan County School Board had been opening its meetings with Christian prayer.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Board Chairman Wade Summers, requesting that the board refrain from engaging in prayer at its meetings, as it violates the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Summer responded to FFRF via email with assurances that the request would be met and the board will no longer include prayer at its meetings.
LaBrae Local School District meetings in Leavittsburg will no longer begin with prayer.
A district community member alerted FFRF that the May 11 school board meeting opened with a Christian prayer. FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to School Board President Russell Sewell informing him that it is unconstitutional for the board to institute prayers at its meetings and requesting that it immediately refrain from including prayer at board meetings.
Sewell informed FFRF in a letter of response: “Effective with the June 8, 2020, meeting and all subsequent meetings, the LaBrae Local School Board will refrain from including a prayer at the openings of the Board meetings.”
A religious event has been removed from a Community Unit School District #200 summer activity handout in Wheaton.
A district parent informed FFRF that the district sent out a “Summer Choice Board” handout to parents via email which provided various summer activities for students to participate in. One of these activities, “Summerfest Goes Wild,” was a Christian worship event presented by Highpoint Church. The event began with a woman explaining, “We are here for one reason, and that’s to get to know who God is and his great love for each of us.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Jeff Schuler reminding him that the district may not encourage students to attend a Christian worship event. Schuler informed FFRF in a letter of response that the event has been removed from the handout.
A local church will no longer advertise on Salem-Keizer Public Schools property.
A local community member contacted FFRF to report that signs advertising Way of Life Fellowship’s Sunday service have been placed on the grounds of Battle Creek Elementary School. These signs had apparently been on school grounds for over six months, even during times when Way of Life Fellowship is not renting the property.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Christy Perry to ensure that, moving forward, Way of Life Fellowship is only using or displaying messages at times when it is actually renting the property.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF that the sign had been left up inadvertently, has since been removed and the church was notified that it cannot let a sign remain on district property.
The Ashland Police Department is doing an audit of its social media page to redress inappropriate religious content.
It was reported that the department was regularly promoting Christianity on its official Facebook page. In March, the department posted an image that depicted fictionalized quotes from Satan and Jesus. Satan said, “I will cause anxiety, fear and panic. I will shut down business, schools, places of worship and sports events. I will cause economic turmoil.” Jesus said: “I will bring together neighbors, restore the family unit, I will bring dinner back to the kitchen table. I will help people slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters. I will teach my children to rely on me and not the world. I will teach my children to trust me and not their money and material resources. AMEN!”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Police Chief Joseph Baudler pointing out the constitutional issue with this post and others like it. FFRF urged the department to remove all social media posts promoting religion and refrain from posting such content in the future.
Baudler informed FFRF via email that the department will be conducting an audit of its Facebook content and has removed the religious posts.
A Long Beach Unified School District teacher will no longer be promoting the religious “Good News Club.”
A teacher at Colin Powell Elementary School reportedly founded and was running a Good News Club for first- and second-grade students that met in her classroom. Other adults, at least some of whom are district employees, reportedly also helped to organize the club and “bring the gospel message” to students.
Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Chris Steinhauser asking that he inform staff that school-sponsored religious activity, like this club, violates the Constitution as well as the rights of conscience of students.
The district’s attorney has informed FFRF that the teacher leading the Good New Club has been told to stop while in her role as a public school teacher.
FFRF has persuaded a Massachusetts town into removing a religious display from a library playground.
A concerned community member contacted FFRF to report that the Ashburnham Library playground featured a turning picture game describing the biblical tale of Noah and the Ark. Each section of the turning game contained a passage from the genocidal tale, which was paraphrased from the book of Genesis in order to be more easily understood by young children. For instance, one section read: “Once there was a man named Noah who was warned by God of a great flood. Noah began to build an ark that was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high.”
Federal courts have held displays of religious symbols on public property to be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, FFRF stressed.
“It is settled that permanent displays on public land are government speech,” FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote to Ashburnham Board of Selectmen Chair Leo Janssens. “It makes no difference whether this part of the playground was donated to the city. As a permanent fixture, observers understand that the display is sanctioned and approved by the city.”
The display of this vengeful biblical tale on public property conferred government endorsement of religion, FFRF added. It was especially troublesome that this display was aimed squarely at young children using the public library. The government should not be using public grounds to promote bible stories to the most impressionable members of society, FFRF emphasized.
The town must remove this Noah’s Ark display from the playground and refrain from approving any such displays in the future, FFRF insisted.
City officials read FFRF’s message loud and clear.
“Thank you for bringing this matter to the town’s attention,” Ashburnham Town Administrator Brian Doheny recently emailed the state/church watchdog. “In response to your letter, the town has painted over both sides of the display with white paint so that no symbolism is shown (see attached pictures).”
FFRF appreciates the city’s prompt action.
“We’re pleased the town realized that allowing biblical preaching to children at a public institution isn’t in keeping with our nation’s secular ideals,” says Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
The city of Truth or Consequences has pledged to more closely scrutinize any public recognition of churches after a recent anniversary proclamation crossed the line into religious endorsement.
Earlier this year, the city proclaimed April 26 to be “First Baptist Church 100th Anniversary Celebration Day.” In its proclamation, the city explicitly endorsed the religious mission and views of the First Baptist Church.
The proclamation reads, in part: “Whereas for the past one hundred years the First Baptist Church of Truth or Consequences has faithfully demonstrated the love of God, communicated the Word of God and developed the Family of God.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Mayor Sandy Whitehead pointing out the constitutional issues with the city issuing such a proclamation. While FFRF recognizes the city may acknowledge and honor local organizations for their history and contributions to the community, it cannot explicitly endorse the religious views and mission of the church, presenting the doctrine as true thereby indicating the city’s endorsement of that religious mission.
The city’s attorney sent a letter of response informing FFRF that, while it was not the city’s intention to endorse the church’s religious message, it understands the present constitutional concerns and will exercise further caution in the future.
Rapides Parish Schools in Alexandria has addressed several church/state issues raised by FFRF.
A concerned community member reported that Brame Middle School has begun each school year by inviting a local church to its faculty meetings to pray with and preach to teachers and staff. Teachers have reportedly been told they cannot leave during this portion of the meetings. Additionally, teachers and staff at the school had been regularly participating in student Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) meetings, often by signing praise songs with students. Finally, many classrooms throughout the school featured religious displays, including crosses and bible verses.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the district, pointing out the constitutional concerns with each of these reported violations and urging it to immediately cease prayer at faculty meetings, staff participation in student religious practices and display of religious symbols and messages in the classrooms.
The district’s attorney responded to FFRF’s letter with assurances that these complaints were addressed by the school principal.
Coaches in Muskegon Public Schools will no longer be leading their athletic teams in prayer.
A district community member reported that the Muskegon High School’s head football coach was leading the team in prayer after games and practices.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Matthew Cortez reminding the district that it is illegal for public school coaches to lead their players in prayer and that this practice must cease.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF that Cortez will be directing all coaches to cease prayers with team members. “All coaches will be educated on the constitutional limitations of prayer in public schools,” the attorney noted.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is celebrating a victory for taxpayers near its home.
The city of Monona (adjacent to FFRF’s headquarters in Madison, Wis.) had incorrectly classified a nearly 10-acre property on Lake Monona as being exempt from property taxes. Even though the property is generally referred to as the “San Damiano Friary,” it reportedly hadn’t been used for tax-exempt purposes since at least 2015. FFRF had protested this misclassification in December.
“Property that is exempt under Wis. Stat. § 70.11(4) must actually be used by the entity seeking an exemption,” FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott had written to Monona City Administrator Bryan Gadow and the official appraisers. “It is not enough for a religious organization to own the property, it must be ‘used exclusively’ by the organization.”
Wisconsin case law backed FFRF’s argument. In Dominican Nuns v. City of La Crosse, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled that a church property that was being maintained but had been vacated by a religious order was taxable. Any claim to an exemption by the owner here was even worse than in the Dominican Nuns case, since the property was reportedly being rented to tenants, FFRF had added.
The city of Monona seems to have come around to FFRF’s perspective. The latest documents from the city’s assessing agency show that it is being appraised at just under $4 million, and the property owners could end up paying more than $80,000 in taxes annually.
“We’re glad we were able to help end yet another case of religious privilege,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Monona residents will no longer have to compensate for this entity not paying its taxes.”
School officials in the Logan-Magnolia Community School District will no longer send out religious messages to district families.
In April, the district sent a mass email to parents that endorsed Easter and religion. The email read, in part: “Easter is normally a time of rebirth and bringing together of family. Unfortunately, the coronavirus has thrown our entire world upside down.” The email concluded: “And, in the end, take time to thank God for all your blessings. Your children are a blessing, and now more than ever, you need them to give you hope for the future.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Tom Ridder to ensure that future communications do not include religious messages or endorse religious holidays. Ridder confirmed in a reply email that the district will comply.
Thomas County Schools events will no longer contain school-sponsored prayer.
A Thomas County Central High School student alerted FFRF that the school’s 2020 graduation ceremony opened with a scheduled invocation. Everyone in attendance was instructed to rise for the prayer and it was delivered “in Jesus’ name.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district reminding it that the Supreme Court has continually struck down prayers at school-sponsored events and that, in order to protect the rights of all its students, the district must no longer allow invocations at official events.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF in a letter of response that the district has reviewed the relevant legal requirements and will adhere to them in the future. “The district takes very seriously its responsibility to protect the rights of all students,” the letter reads.
Booneville School District has addressed concerns over an overtly religious flyer that was sent home with students before Christmas last year.
A Booneville community member reported that Anderson Elementary School’s kindergarten teachers sent a letter home with students asking children and parents to “remember the true ‘REASON FOR THE SEASON’” next to a drawing of a Christian nativity scene.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the district’s attorney urging officials to ensure that district employees refrain from spreading messages that promote religious practices in accordance with their First Amendment obligations.
The district informed FFRF has addressed the matter internally.
County bus drivers in Duplin County have ceased playing proselytizing radio stations on the public bus.
A local resident informed FFRF that many of the drivers for the Duplin County Transportation Department had been playing Christian radio stations that included religious music as well as sermons while riders were present. Several of the drivers reportedly also attempted to discuss God and Jesus with their riders.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the department of transportation informing the county that bus drivers may not continue to proselytize to bus riders while working in their official capacity as government employees.
Director of Duplin County Public Transportation Angel Venecia responded to FFRF with assurances that the county would promptly investigate and remedy the issue.
Prayer at Norfolk City Council meetings will be replaced with a moment of silence. A local religious leader representing Satanic Norfolk reportedly had their offer to give an invocation at a Norfolk City Council meeting rescinded after the city clerk learned the leader’s religious beliefs did not include belief in the bible. Every invocation at Norfolk’s city council meetings since at least 2017 has been a Christian one.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Cooper, pointing out that singling out a religious denomination by denying them a chance to give an invocation, despite allowing similarly situated Christian leaders to offer invocations, amounts to a clear violation of the First Amendment. If a government entity like the City of Norfolk chooses to engage in prayer before its legislative meetings, FFRF pointed out, it may not constitutionally restrict opportunities to give invocations at faith traditions of which the city approves.
City Deputy Attorney Jack Cloud sent a letter of response, informing FFRF:
“After much thought and careful consideration, the city has suspended its practice of inviting community members to give legislative prayers or to engage in the practice of legislative prayer at all. The city now holds a moment of silence instead.”
District officials in Henderson County Public schools will address a religious club run by teachers at Hendersonville Elementary School.
A community member alerted FFRF that elementary school teachers were hosting a Good New Club, a self-proclaimed child evangelism fellowship whose mission is to “evangelize boys and girls with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Bo Caldwell, requesting that the district cease allowing any Good News Clubs in its elementary schools, as such clubs violate the First Amendment.
The district’s attorney responded to FFRF with assurances that he will address the legal issues involved with this club with the district.
Independent School District 728 will make certain that staff are no longer involved in planning, organizing, supervising or carrying out a baccalaureate service in their capacity as district employees.
A district student reported that Rogers High School sponsored and promoted a baccalaureate ceremony that took place online last month. The ceremony was promoted on the school’s official Facebook page and an assistant principal and three teachers participated. The program for the ceremony clearly indicated that these staff members participated in their official capacity as representatives of the school.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Daniel Bittman, informing him that the Establishment Clause prohibits public schools from sponsoring any type of religious practices, including baccalaureate services.
Bittman informed FFRF in a response email that the school district does not permit staff to have any involvement in programs like this one and that “no public resources may be used in planning, organizing, supervising or carrying out such a service.” Bittman added that this information will be part of the district’s back-to-school orientation with school administrators.
The town of Callahan, Fla. will no longer sponsor a National Day of Prayer.
The town reportedly had been sponsoring and organizing a National Day of Prayer event annually. This year’s event was held virtually and posted on the city of Callahan’s official website. The video was also recorded in the Town Council meeting room.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Callahan Mayor Marty Fontes informing him to refrain from further organization and promotion of religious events, stop having government employees organize the event and stop advertising the event on the official Callahan website.
The town of Callahan’s attorney sent a letter of response informing FFRF that it does not plan to sponsor the National Day of Prayer going forward.
Religious content will be removed from a video on the Hutto (Texas) Independent School District website.
A local resident informed FFRF that the school posted a video of its Teacher of the Year award on its official Facebook account, which featured a district principal speaking to the awardee: “Scripture tells us that we all have different gifts according to the grace given to each of us,” the principal said. “Your gifts are the gifts of service and the gifts of teaching.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the district, informing it that in order to avoid Establishment Clause concerns, district personnel must not post religious messages to public social media pages on which they represent themselves using their job titles.
The district informed FFRF it is in the process of editing the video to remove the religious content.
A bible verse was removed from the DeWitt Township Police Department website.
The department had been displaying a verse from the bible, John 15:13, on a page memorializing a fallen officer. The verse read, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
Former FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to the department requesting that the verse be removed, which the sheriff’s office has since done.
A religious post has been removed from Hinton Public Schools’ official social media page.
FFRF was informed that a Hinton High School coach recently posted a religious message on the football team’s official Facebook page. In this post, he explained that “in the Hinton Football Program, we want to live by a simple biblical principle ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” He continued, “We don’t all have the same life experiences but the bible doesn’t call us to love only those like us. It calls us to love everyone.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Marcy Derryberry pointing out that, while FFRF agrees with the sentiments of unity and togetherness that the coach promoted in his post, it is in violation of the Establishment Clause for teachers and coaches to endorse a religious message to students.
Derryberry sent a letter of response informing FFRF that the post has been deleted and that employees will be provided training to ensure that such behavior is not repeated. “Our coaching staff and employees have been directed not to utilize school resources or property to engage in religious lessons with students during athletics or at any time they are performing services for Hinton Public School District.”
A staff member at the Protected Species Division of NOAA Fisheries, a federal wildlife conservation organization, has removed a religious reference from its email signature.
FFRF was informed that a government employee in the division was including two bible verses in her email signature on emails sent through her official government email address to members of the public.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Acting Division Director David Bernhart urging him to direct employees to remove religious references from official emails, so as not to create the impression of official endorsement of Christianity.
Bernhart informed FFRF in an email response that the division has established a standardized template for employees to use for their email signatures, free of religious references.
A teacher in Fairview Area Schools has been instructed to cease reading religious stories to her class.
A district parent informed FFRF that an elementary school music teacher read her class a story in which a man causes a blind girl to see again by praying and which ends with a moral that “all God’s children should love one another.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to the district superintendent, asking that Fairview remove this story from its curriculum and remind staff of their obligations under the Establishment Clause to remain neutral on matters of religion.
Superintendent Bill Lake assured FFRF in a letter of response that he met with the teacher involved and that this story is not a part of district curriculum. This story or any with similarly religious messages will no longer be given to students in the future.
A Georgia school district has stopped the Gideons from distributing bibles in a number of schools after FFRF raised several objections.
Many parents reported to FFRF that Ebenezer Elementary School and Marlow Elementary School in the Effingham County Schools system allowed Gideons to enter classrooms, preach to students about the significance of the bible, and distribute bibles to young students, including our complainants’ children. Every child was reportedly given a bible (although they were told that they could return it to the teacher if they didn’t want it).
Gideons International is an association of Christian business and professional men who are members of Protestant/evangelical churches “dedicated to telling people about Jesus . . . by providing Bibles and New Testaments.” Their website openly refers to “students in the fifth grade and above” as prime targets.
It is unconstitutional for public school districts to permit the Gideon Society to distribute bibles as part of the public school day, FFRF Attorney Chris Line emphasized to Effingham County Schools officials.
FFRF’s admonitions had their effect.
“The Board of Education has authorized me to assure that outside adults, including the Gideons, will not be allowed into the classrooms of any of the schools in the school district to proselytize or distribute religious materials,” the school system’s legal counsel recently responded.
A video featuring a Fergus Falls Public Schools teacher at a religious service has been removed from the district’s online learning platform.
A district parent reported that after a student posted a video of the teacher leading a religious worship at a church service, he encouraged students via the online learning platform to watch the video and to share the video with their friends outside of the class.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Jeff Drake, reminding the district of its duty to “ensure that ‘subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion’ or use their positions of authority to promote a particular religious viewpoint.”
A response from Drake explained that the video has been removed and, while it was originally posted by a student, the teacher involved understands the content should not have been allowed to remain viewable on the district’s online learning portal.
St. Mary’s Parish Sheriff’s Department has removed a religious post from its official Facebook page.
A Franklin, La. resident informed FFRF that St. Mary’s Parish Sheriff’s Office posted a “special Easter message from Sheriff Blaise Smith,” including a video over 2 minutes in length that largely amounted to a sermon by a government official. In this video, Smith stated:
“Jesus Christ has risen. Hallelujah. That’s what we need to be thinking about. The one thing we need to be thinking about is that we’re in a relationship with God . . . What a better time to come to the Father than today on Easter Sunday?” Below the video, the post stated that the sheriff’s office “prays that you will find hope and comfort in these words.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Smith requesting that the sheriff’s office refrain from posting messages and videos that proselytize or endorse religion.
Smith has informed FFRF via email that the post has been removed and no such messages will be posted in the future.
No future Gresham-Barlow School District student performances will take place in the churches.
A concerned district parent reported that the Deep Creek Damascus Middle School choir once again performed at a church that contained graphic religious iconography and required parents to pay the venue in order to see their children perform.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent A. Katrise Perera, informing the district that the use of churches for public school programming is inappropriate and unconstitutional. A school’s use of a church for school functions is problematic, FFRF points out, because it sends a message of approval of the church to impressionable students.
Executive Director of K-12 Education John Koch informed FFRF that no future performances will take place in churches.
Preston County Schools has removed a “prayer locker” from school property.
A concerned citizen alerted FFRF that Terra Alta/East Preston School had established a “prayer locker” for its students, marked with a Latin cross and sign that read: “Prayer Locker. Write your prayer request on an index card and slip it into the locker. We will be happy to pray for you! All prayer requests remain confidential.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Steve Wotring, informing him that the district has a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion.
Wotring sent assurances via email that school administration has assured him that the “prayer locker” has been removed and that he discussed the incident with them “to ensure that no such designation would occur in the future.”
Guthrie Public Schools officials have taken measures to ensure school-sponsored prayer will not continue in its schools.
A district parent alerted FFRF that an official Guthrie Junior High event opened with a prayer that was scheduled as part of the event and appeared on the program.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district’s attorney and asked that the district make certain scheduled prayer is not a part of future events.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF in a letter of response that “this matter has been addressed by the highest levels of district administration and that the district will redouble its efforts not to allow prayers to be a scheduled part of any school-sponsored event. Further, the superintendent will address this issue with administrative personnel at an upcoming administrative staff meeting.”
Public funds will no longer be spent on erecting religious displays in Val Verde County, Texas.
A local resident informed FFRF that the Val Verde County Commissioners Court approved allocation of $4,000 of county money to purchase rebar in order to build crosses to be placed over approximately 200 unmarked graves in Val Verde County.
Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the court, urging it to refrain from using taxpayer money to purchase materials to put up crosses, and instead choose a more inclusive method of memorializing unmarked graves.
Judge Lewis Owens responded via email to inform FFRF that public money will not be spent on building these crosses.
Juveniles who appear before the Grove Municipal Court will no longer be coerced into praying and memorizing bible quotes by Judge Richard James.
A local resident who was recently in James’ courtroom informed FFRF that during a regular session of his court, James hosted a panel of religious leaders in the courtroom. He reportedly had a table set up at the front of the room with several Christian chaplains seated at it. After entering the courtroom, James introduced each chaplain by name and said they were there so people could live correctly based on “what the Lord says.” He told those present that “we use them instead of fines, if the offenders choose them.”
The complainant reported that as juvenile offenders came before James, he would conduct a normal judicial hearing that he concluded by giving them a choice: pay civil fines and do community service or learn chapters from the bible and the Ten Commandments. If the juvenile offender chose the latter, James directed them to the panel of Christian chaplains who gave them religious materials for memorization.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line filed an ethics complaint on James, pointing out that coercing juvenile offenders to support or participate in any religious exercise is a serious violation of their civil liberties.
“Giving juvenile offenders the option to study the bible and Ten Commandments rather than civil fines or community service appears to any reasonable observer an endorsement of Christianity,” Line wrote. “This is exactly the type of government endorsement of, and entanglement with, religion that is prohibited by our Constitution.”
The Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints informed FFRF in a letter of response that, going forward, “any option for offenders to select memorization over another form of punishment will exclusively feature secular texts for such memorization.”
A preaching Townsend School District #1 teacher has been reined in after routinely proselytizing to her elementary school students.
A district parent reported that a music teacher at Townsend Elementary School had been initiating conversations with her second-grade students about God by asking them to each name “one good thing about God” and used those answers as a launching pad for larger discussions about God and her religion, including discussions about bad people burning in hell. Many of these discussions apparently happened during practices for school concerts.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Erik Wilkerson, urging the district to make certain that none of its employees are unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters by leading impressionable elementary students in discussions about God and religion.
Wilkerson responded via email with assurances that the situation was addressed with the teacher and that the district takes the letter and the separation of state and church seriously.
A bible verse will be removed from Wood County Schools property.
A local resident reported that the Parkersburg South High School prominently features a bible verse, Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”), painted above one of the doors in its gymnasium. This display is apparently quite visible during school hours as well as during school athletic events.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent William Hosaflook requesting that the religious display, and any others like it, be removed from district property.
Hosaflook confirmed that the display will be removed once custodians are permitted to re-enter the building under COVID-19 quarantine protocol.
In Virginia, bibles have been removed from “emergency blessing buckets” in Danville Public Schools.
A Danville community member reported to FFRF that the district had partnered with God’s Pit Crew, a Christian organization, to stock its classrooms with “blessing buckets.” Each “blessing bucket” is filled with various emergency supplies and each bucket contains a bible.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Stanley Jones, urging the district to cease allowing its schools to be used for recruiting grounds for churches or as a conduit for spreading religious literature.
The school’s attorney informed FFRF that Danville Public Schools removed all bibles from the “blessing buckets” after receiving the letter of complaint.
FFRF has seen to it that Franklin County Schools will no longer advertise religious events on its social media page.
Franklin County Schools had been advertising a community-wide prayer event that takes place each Friday morning on Facebook. The event had been shared on the district’s official Facebook page, featuring the district superintendent.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Chris Forrer, urging him to discontinue this practice immediately. Using his position as superintendent to promote his personal religious beliefs to students and the community is an egregious violation of the Establishment Clause, Line pointed out.
Forrer clarified in a response post that this weekly program was not an official district event and the district will no longer be promoting the event.
A religious social media post has been removed from the Valliant (Okla.) Public Schools social media page after FFRF contacted it.
An area resident reported that Valliant High School’s baseball coach posted a message on the team’s Facebook page informing the team that this year’s season would be cancelled because of the coronavirus. In the post, he explained that he teaches his players that sports should not be in their top three priorities but that their priorities should be “1. God and Faith. 2. Family. 3. Education. 4. Activities and Hobbies.” He went on to instruct all his students to spend this time “praying and educating yourself about God.” He also said that he hopes the community will grow to be more “God like.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Craig Wall, urging the district to ensure that religion is no longer being promoted in any district athletic programs.
The school’s attorney informed FFRF in a letter of response that the superintendent reviewed the post and spoke with the coach concerning the problems with this post and revised the post to remove all references to God.
The Gilmer County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has deleted a religious social media post after receiving a letter from FFRF.
A local citizen reported that the department, in a Facebook post on March 24, stated that “tomorrow is national day of prayer . . . we need to pray really hard for our state and our nation!”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Director Eric Squires, requesting that the department refrain from issuing such statements in the future. By appearing to be neutral on matters of religion, FFRF pointed out, the department ensures the citizens from which the government derives its power that the department will be evenhanded regardless of their faith tradition or lack thereof.
Squires informed FFRF via email that the post has been removed and that similar messages will not be posted in the future.
Coaches in the Hartselle City School District are no longer leading prayers with students after FFRF got involved.
A district parent alerted FFRF that Hartselle High School’s football coach had been leading his team in prayer. At the end of each team workout, the coach reportedly directed the team to get on their knees and then led them in a Christian prayer. After the prayer, players were allowed to leave.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Danna Jones, asking the district to investigate this routine and take immediate action to stop any and all school-led prayer at district athletic events.
In a letter of response, the district’s attorney informed FFRF that he has discussed the coach-led prayers with the superintendent and school officials and that staff has been “advised to discontinue any such practice.”
In Prattville, concerns regarding staff involvement in an Autauga County School District religious event have been addressed by administration.
A local resident reported that Daniel Pratt Elementary School organized and promoted a “See You at the Pole” event last fall. The school’s principal reportedly led students in prayer.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line alerted the school’s attorney to this violation and urged the district to ensure that no staff member plans, promotes or participates in any future “See You at the Pole” events.
The principal involved “acknowledges she was caught off guard” when asked to pray by the students and “should not have been a participant in the event.” The school’s attorney further informs FFRF the principal “has been counseled on her role as principal and board employee at ‘See You at the Pole’ and similar events.”
The Morgan County School District has indicated it is not moving forward with a planned bible class partnership, thanks to FFRF’s intervention.
FFRF was alerted to a potential partnership between Morgan County Schools and Piedmont International University, which would establish a bible class for the district.
FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to the district’s attorney, pointing out several constitutional concerns with this pending arrangement. First, Jayne wrote, Piedmont University professors are experts in training Christian ministers, not teaching secular history. Additionally, Piedmont discriminates in its hiring based on religion and is flagrantly anti-LGBTQ. The university’s handbook states that homosexuality is a “sinful perversion” and that “God disapproves of and forbids any attempt to alter one’s gender by surgery or appearance.”
FFRF was informed that the district has no plans to move forward with this dual enrollment program.
Gideons International — the infamous evangelical association — will no longer be distributing bibles in Autauga County Schools in Prattville.
A concerned district parent reported that a teacher at Daniel Pratt Elementary School used the school’s official communication channels to send a message to all parents: “The Gideons come every year to distribute bibles to any fifth-grade student who wants to have one.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district, urging it to take immediate action to ensure that it no longer facilitates the distribution of bibles to students.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF in a letter of response that the superintendent was made aware of the issue and will “address the inappropriate use of Autauga County Board of Education’s communication’s channels for non-school-related matters, including but not limited to, the distribution of Gideon bibles with all board personnel.”
Delano Joint Union High School District will no longer recruit teachers as bell ringers for The Salvation Army after FFRF got involved.
A concerned community member informed FFRF that the district sent out a mass email seeking volunteers for The Salvation Army, an overtly Christian ministry. The stated mission of the Salvation Army is “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination.”
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote to Superintendent Jason Garcia, pointing out that the Salvation Army’s religious mission makes it a poor choice for a public school charity drive. Garcia informed FFRF that the district will no longer be disseminating volunteer opportunities to staff in the future.
Religious reading materials have been removed from Arlington National Cemetery’s Administrative Building.
A local resident reported that Arlington National Cemetery had a kiosk displaying Christian material in its administration building where families meet prior to burial. According to the complainant, the administration building only displayed books from the American Bible Society, and did not contain secular grief guides.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian asked Arlington National Cemetery Chairman Lt. Gen. James Peake to respect and honor the wishes of our nation’s minority religious and nonreligious military personnel and veterans by removing the Christian literature from displaying in the ANC administrative building.
A free concealed-carry permit program has been extended to include all nonprofits rather than just churches in Butler County.
A Hamilton citizen reported to FFRF that the Butler County Sheriff’s Office was offering free concealed-carry weapons training to churches. The classes were reportedly only intended to be open to church security teams in Butler County.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones, pointing out that extending a free government benefit only to churches, or even solely to houses of worship, is unconstitutional.
The department, along with local media reports, confirmed these classes will now be offered free to all nonprofit organizations.
The Libby School District’s Veteran’s Day assembly will no longer include religious language as part of a flag folding ceremony.
A district community member reported that during last year’s ceremony, student participants were provided with a script that claimed to explain the meaning of each of the 13 folds in the flag. According to the complainant, the script attributed religious meaning to the majority of the folds. This includes assertions that Americans rely on God and his guidance, “glorify the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit” and that one fold “in the eyes of a Hebrew citizen represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Craig Barringer, asking the district to end promotion of religion at official school events. Barringer responded to FFRF’s complaint with assurances that the script would not be used again in the future.
FFRF has prompted Hogan Preparatory Academy in Kansas City to address complaints of a teacher handing out rosaries as “prizes” to students.
A concerned Hogan Academy parent reported to FFRF that, after handing out rosaries, this teacher told students that, if they carry the rosary, nothing bad will ever happen to them. He also reportedly told students a story about two students who were shot while walking home from school. The student not wearing a rosary was killed, while the student who had a rosary survived. Our complainant also reports that he told students that he is followed by “spirits,” and that he has a device that will beep when spirits are near.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Jayson Strickland that he should no longer be allowed to distribute religious items or promote his personal religious beliefs to students.
Strickland sent a letter of response, assuring FFRF that the issue has been addressed.
A Sparta Area Schools coach has been instructed to cease religious proselytizing to his team.
A district parent reported that a Sparta High School football coach used his position to promote a religious event to students and their families. According to the parent, this coach sent a mass Remind App message encouraging students and families to attend a worship event called “FAITH…FIGHT…FINISH!”
This event was listed as taking place at Sparta High School and organized by “The Big Idea — Sparta Elementary School.” The district’s website also had a section entitled “Sparta area churches” that lists the names, addresses, phone numbers, worship times and Sunday school times for several local Christian churches.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian informed Superintendent Pete Bush that the district cannot allow its schools to be used as recruiting grounds for churches.
Bush informed FFRF in a phone call that the football coach has been instructed to refrain from promoting religion and that the church directory on the school’s website was removed.
Ludlow Independent Schools has deleted religious posts on its official district social media pages.
A district parent informed FFRF that a teacher at Mary A. Goetz Elementary School had been using her official position as a district employee to promote her Christian youth group to students. According to the complainant, the teacher invited students to her youth group on a daily basis, included information on the youth group in a newsletter to parents, and posted flyers promoting this group around the school. The teacher also reportedly organized a prayer walk on school property which the school promoted on its official Facebook page. The Christian youth group and the prayer walk appeared to be affiliated with a local church.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian asked the district to make certain that none of its employees are unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters by encouraging them to pray, recruiting them for religious organizations or activities or otherwise using the district to promote religion.
In a response letter, the district’s attorney informed FFRF that the administration has addressed these matters with the teacher involved and deleted the social media posts corresponding to the event.
Religious posts have been removed from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office official social media page.
A concerned area resident reported that a recent post on the office’s Facebook page concluded with the bible verse Galatians 6:9 — “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian asked the office to remove all social media posts promoting religion and refrain from uploading such posts in the future. Sheriff Mark Moore informed FFRF in a letter of response that this post has been removed.
A constitutionally inappropriate partnership within the Lakeland School Corporation in LaGrange will not continue.
A community member reported that Lakeland Middle School organized a field trip to pack meals for Feed My Starving Children, an overtly Christian charitable organization. During the trip, the group’s staff asked students to pray over the meals they packed, and overtly Christian music was played over the loudspeakers for the duration of the trip.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian alerted the district that this proselytizing partnership is not acceptable for a public school district. Lakeland Superintendent Eva G. Merkel informed FFRF via email that the district’s partnership with this Christian organization will “simply have to cease.”
Outside adults, including religious leaders, will no longer be allowed to attend student club meetings in Arcola School District #56.
A student contacted FFRF to report that the Arcola High School Students with a Testimony club’s Tuesday meetings were regularly attended by an outside pastor who came in to spread his religious beliefs to students, promising pizza and soda to attendees. These meetings apparently take place during the school day.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian informed the district that public schools are not an appropriate place for outside adults to proselytize to children. FFRF asked that the district ensure this club is truly student-led, and not facilitated by religious leaders.
FFRF received a letter of response from the district, assuring that only school staff will be allowed to attend student meetings in the future, and that staff will “be present only in a non-participatory capacity.”
An annual winter concert program in the Merced City School District will be moved to a non-church location in future years.
A district parent reported that last year, Burbank Elementary School held a Christmas concert at a nearby church. According to the parent, the church contained religious iconography including a large cross and a nativity scene, as well as a banner outside the building advertising worship services.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran, pointing out that the use of a church for public school programming is inappropriate and unconstitutional because it sends the message of approval of the church to impressionable students.
In a response letter, the district’s attorney informed FFRF that in consideration of the complaint, the district will “seek out alternative, non-church venues to host such events in the future in order to avoid any misinterpretation that the district is endorsing or promoting any particular religion, or religion in general.”
Yuma Union High School District has taken exemplary action to address a state/church violation in its school.
A Kofa High School student contacted FFRF to report that the 2019 Kofa High School graduation ceremony included an invocation. This invocation was scheduled in advance by the school and listed in the graduation program.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Gina Thompson, asking that the district take action to ensure that religious rituals are not part of graduation ceremonies or any other school-sponsored events. Thompson sent a very positive letter of response to FFRF outlining the district’s commitment to remedying this violation.
“First, I will meet with individual employees who may have been responsible for the inclusion of an invocation in the Kofa High School graduation ceremony to educate them about the importance of separating church and state and preventing school sponsored prayer in school activities,” Thompson wrote. “Second, I will be distributing a statement of policy to all district employees, which will refer in part to the prohibition of the use of district resources for the promotion of religion in school activities. Third, we plan to add a component to our training for new employees reminding them of the importance of separating religious matters from state public school functions.”
After hearing from FFRF, administrators in the Lackawanna Trail School District have taken several affirmative steps to ensure that students are no longer subject to religious promotion during athletic events.
FFRF was informed that before each Lackawanna Trail High School football game, the team gathered in a prayer circle in which team coaches participated.
FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote to Superintendent Matthew Rakauskas, reminding the district that it is illegal for public school coaches to sponsor prayers, as doing so constitutes a government endorsement of religion.
The district’s attorney sent a letter of response assuring FFRF that the football coach was directed to cease leading the team in prayers. Rakauskas also issued a directive to all coaches that school-led prayer is not permitted at any school event and held a district-wide training earlier this year, where he specifically instructed staff not to lead or take part in prayer with students.