FFRF was notified by a concerned community member that a clerk at the O’ahu Family Court Service Center in Hawaii prominently displayed countless Christian decorations, including multiple Latin crosses, figures of Christian saints, bible verses, prayers, and a rosary, in a public-facing workstation. The religious decorations and messages were unavoidable to any member of the public who would interact with the clerk and seek services from the center.
“We urge the O’ahu Family Court Service Center to recognize its obligation to provide the people it serves with an environment free from religious messaging by removing these exclusionary displays,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Deputy Administrator Dwight Sakai.
FFRF has since been notified that the cubicle in question is no longer employee facing, and all the decorations have been removed.
The Dickinson Independent School District in Texas will no longer include proselytizing remarks in future graduation ceremonies after hearing from FFRF.
A district parent reported that Principal Billye Smith delivered a speech in which she quoted scripture during the 2023 Dickinson High School graduation ceremony. FFRF was informed that graduating seniors, including the complainant’s child, were not aware that Smith would be delivering a religious speech during the ceremony.
“Public school students have a constitutional right to be free from religious indoctrination in their public schools, including while participating in graduation ceremonies,” FFRF Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote.
FFRF received an emailed response from Superintendent Carla Voelkel, promising action in regard to the violation. “Dickinson ISD will promptly address this concern, and we will ensure that all future school-sponsored events respect the First Amendment rights of students and their families,” she wrote.
The “Tiger Talk” podcast, the official podcast of Northeast Mississippi Community College, will be free from future references to religion after FFRF wrote a letter to the college president.
A member of the community reported that during the closing of the Dec. 7, 2022, episode, the president urged students and staff “not to forget the reason [for the season] and of course that’s the birth of our savior Jesus Christ. I want everybody to remember that.” The podcast is used to keep students and staff informed about new programming and partnerships at the college.
“We ask that in the future, you and other college employees refrain from engaging in religious promotion when acting in your official capacities,” FFRF Equal Justice Works Fellow Kat Grant wrote.
Legal Counsel Daniel K. Tucker responded with a letter, stating that after discussing the matter with the president, he was informed that the president merely got “caught up in the season” and apologized to any who were offended. He assured that the situation would not happen again.
A school bus will no longer carry an offensive religious sign after FFRF contacted the school district.
A Scott County Schools parent noticed that one of the district’s buses had a rear license plate reading “God Bless America,” as well as a sign on the back of the bus claiming, “Our government makes sin legal — Our God does not! Jesus is coming soon and boy is he mad!” The complainant noticed this bus while picking up their child from elementary school.
“By allowing an official SCS bus to display blatantly proselytizing messages, SCS fails to remain neutral toward religion and shows clear favoritism toward Christians who subscribe to this particular religious message,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote in her letter of complaint. “In recognition of SCS’s constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion and in order to respect the right of conscience of all students and their families, these religious messages must be removed immediately.”
FFRF received a response from Billy M. Hall, director of schools with the Board of Education Central Office, stating that the signage had been removed the following day.
A principal’s proselytizing remarks, including a prayer, will no longer be a part of Battle Creek Middle School’s eighth-grade awards ceremony.
A Maury County Public School parent reported that Battle Creek Middle School promotion and awards ceremony featured a speech from the principal which included several bible verses as part of his closing remarks. He stated that he regularly reads the bible to students and recommends that students read the bible as a good guide for their lives. The complainant further reports that the principal closed the ceremony with an explicitly Christian prayer, prefaced by stating that he was honored to be principal, but he was still going to pray. The complainant took this to mean that the principal was aware that it is unconstitutional for a public school district’s principal to deliver prayers at a school-sponsored event.
FFRF’s complainant reported feeling uncomfortable as part of a nonreligious family, and did not participate in the prayer or stand to applaud the principal. The religious remarks made them and their children uncomfortable, as the prayer and proselytizing remarks were unconstitutional, but they also felt singled out and excluded at a school-sponsored event.
“School officials, including principals, may not invite a student, teacher, faculty member, or clergy to give any type of prayer, invocation, or benediction at a public school graduation nor may they deliver one themselves,” FFRF Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Superintendent Lisa Ventura.
FFRF received a swift response from Ventura, notifying of actions taken. “I have investigated this incident and spoken with [the principal]. The actions of [the principal] violated the school district’s policies and procedures. I have issued a private letter of concern, and he has been instructed not to repeat this behavior going forward.” FFRF was additionally notified that in response to the incident, further training will be provided to the staff to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
The Oklahoma-based Keystone Public Schools has removed prayers from its graduation ceremonies after getting a letter from FFRF.
A Keystone Public Schools parent informed FFRF that the district’s eighth-grade graduation ceremony on May 4 included an opening and closing prayer. The complainant reported feeling uncomfortable with this religious ritual, and feared being ostracized if others noticed they were not participating.
“A public school may not violate the constitutional rights of graduating students and their families by subjecting them to prayer,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Rhett Bynum.
FFRF has received a penitent letter from Superintendent Bynum in response, reporting that the district will no longer include opening and closing prayers at any graduation ceremony. “I am truly sorry to anyone that was in a difficult position of deciding to stay or leave this eighth-grade graduation ceremony,” he writes.
A concerned Tomball ISD parent reported that on Nov. 11, 2022, Grand Lakes Junior High School in Texas held a mandatory Veterans Day assembly that included prayer. The assembly took place in the school gymnasium during the school day, and students were not allowed to opt out of attending the assembly or the portion that included prayer. FFRF was additionally informed that the school board vice president delivered a prayer at the district’s May 2023 A+ Award Ceremony for outstanding students.
“These multiple incidents are especially concerning as they suggest the District has a custom and practice of facilitating pre-planned prayers at its official events,” FFRF Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Superintendent Martha Salazar-Zamora.
In response, FFRF received a letter from TISD legal representative Holly A. Sherman, writing, “The district is aware of the parent’s concerns regarding these specific events. The district ensures that it will comply with applicable federal and state law and any applicable TISD board policies regarding prayer at school-sponsored events in the future.”
The Chino Valley Unified School District in California has taken action to prevent board members from making religious comments during meetings, after receiving a warning from FFRF.
On April 6, a board member engaged with a community member regarding a resolution requiring staff to inform parents within three days if they became aware that a student might be identifying as a gender other than their sex assigned at birth. The community member was gay, to which the board member implied that the community member had been confused about his sexuality while growing up, before stating, “I was reflecting on what you were saying. I do love one man. I really love this man and that is Jesus Christ. It’s in my head.”
“[The board member]’s inappropriate proselytizing alienated our complainant and may constitute a violation of the injunction against the board,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote in a letter to the Chino Valley legal representative.
Attorney William A. Diedrich wrote to FFRF, stating that he had met with the board, and said that, “we believe the board is aware of its rights and obligations concerning the Establishment Clause and expression of religious beliefs during meetings of the Governing Board.”
After FFRF got involved, a middle school in the Corcoran Unified School District in California has moved to ensure that teachers will have no part in the student religious club.
An employee of John Muir Middle School reached out to FFRF in regard to a staff-wide email from one of the teachers encouraging staff to donate and help send students to the Christian youth ministry’s Young Life Wyldlife summer camp. Two other teachers cosigned this document.
“We write to request that the district immediately investigate this situation and ensure that all religious clubs are run by students and not adults in accordance with the Equal Access Act and the United States Constitution,” FFRF Equal Justice Fellow Kat Grant wrote in a letter to Superintendent Eduardo Ochoa.
Ochoa responded to FFRF via email, stating that he has spoken with the principal of the middle school. “He is addressing the situation so that a repeat action of what took place does not happen again. He is speaking with all three of the adult staff members listed on the email as to why the adults need to be in a nonparticipatory capacity and what that translates to in real action.”
Ochoa assured FFRF that all religious clubs on campuses will be completely student-run in the future.
FFRF has ensured that only secular music will be played at the Nadine Johnson Elementary School in Hutto, Texas.
FFRF was informed by a district parent that staff at the school regularly played Christian worship music during morning arrival time. Additionally, the front office staff consistently played Christian pop and worship music during the school day. The complainant reported feeling angry and concerned over the school faculty and staff’s custom and practice of playing overtly religious music during the school day, saying that it signals a clear lack of inclusivity.
“Playing Christian worship music carries with it the risk of ostracizing non-Christian students, which may lead to bullying — a risk not shared by most secular alternatives,” FFRF Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Superintendent Celina Estrada Thomas.
Thomas wrote a letter in response to FFRF, informing of an investigation that took place. “The campus principal responded immediately and has assured me that the front office staff will be more mindful about playing music that is inclusive and representative of the students who attend school,” she wrote.