After a parent-led bible club and a discriminatory apparel policy were brought to FFRF’s attention, action was taken to bring the Alabaster (Ala.) City School District in line.
Concerned parents in the district reported a “First Priority” bible club at Thompson Intermediate School run by a parent.
Additionally, the dress code guidelines were also brought into question. The code bans students “from wearing any sign, symbol, logo or garment which has become synonymous with . . . Satanism.”
“Schools should not allow non-school persons to treat schools as a recruiting ground for their religious mission,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote in a letter to Superintendent Wayne Vickers.
FFRF received a letter from Melissa B. McKie, legal counsel representing the Alabaster City Board of Education. McKie wrote, “The school system has spoken with each of the adults who supervise the First Priority groups that meet on its campuses and has reminded them that the groups must be student-led.” Additionally, the letter stated that the references to Satanism in the dress code have been removed.
FFRF successfully worked to keep religion out of Shelby County Schools in Birmingham on two separate matters.
The first situation was brought to FFRF’s attention from a parent of an Oak Mountain Middle School student. The parent reported that its child was required to participate in a prayer led by the coach before their first cross country meet of the year.
Additionally, FFRF was alerted to a policy in Columbiana Middle School that students were not allowed to promote Satanism through their attire. FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Anne Knox Averitt, the legal representative of Shelby County Schools.
Averitt emailed FFRF back stating that, “This and the coach issue have been addressed.”
Proselytization of students in Rogersville, Tenn., was put to an end, thanks to FFRF.
A community member of the district reported that Hawkins County Schools allowed an evangelical Christian group to speak to students at various schools in the district throughout the day to encourage attendance at a religious event — the Upper East Tennessee Go Tell Crusade. The group posted about it on Facebook, thanking principals and superintendents of the county for allowing them to speak at HCS schools.
FFRF Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Director of Schools Matt Hixson, who emailed explaining that, as the group met all requirements on the facility use form, they were allowed to use school buildings for events. However, he wrote, “I have ceased any and all relations with this group (Go Tell), as well as any other religious group (no other group previously sought such use and access, nor have any other organizations sought such access since.”
A Land O’ Lakes, Fla., high school parking lot will have a painted bible verse removed after FFRF sent a letter to the district.
A Pasco County resident saw a parking space at Wiregrass Ranch High School with the bible verse Philippians 4:13 painted on the ground, reading “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line contacted Superintendent Kurt S. Browning regarding the situation.
FFRF received a letter from Dennis J. Alfonso, legal counsel to the School Board, who reported that the bible vers had been removed. “The display depicted is not one created by or at the direction of the School Board,” Alfonso wrote.
After hearing from FFRF, religious invocations at mandatory teacher appreciation events will no longer happen in the Springdale Public School District in Arkansas.
A district employee reported that a mandatory teacher appreciation event featured an invocation in Jesus’ name, given by a reverend. According to the employee, all district employees are required to attend the event and their presence is verified by sign-in sheets passed around by school principals. Despite being hosted by the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, the event took place on school grounds during contract hours.
“It’s unlawful for a school district to include prayer at a school-sponsored event,” FFRF Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Superintendent Jared Cleveland.
FFRF received an email response from Cleveland, stating that the situation had been addressed. “I have sent notification to the Springdale Chamber of Commerce asking for them to refrain from the practice in the future,” he wrote.
In the West Sabine Independent School District in Texas, a display featuring religious quotes was removed, thanks to FFRF.
Superintendent Carnelius D. Gilder prominently displayed a plaque on his desk with the words “Trust in the Lord” facing outwards. The sign also quoted Proverbs 3:5-6.
“We write to remind you that you cannot use your position as superintendent to advance your personal religious beliefs and to ask that this, and any other prominent, publicly displayed religious messages be removed from your office immediately,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line in a letter to Gilder.
FFRF received a message back from Gilder, stating that the sign had been removed. “I appreciate the enlightenment. Action taken and now you may consider the request met,” he wrote.
FFRF successfully intervened to halt religious invocations prior to council meetings in Columbia Borough, Pa.
A concerned resident of the town contacted FFRF to report the Columbia Borough Ad Hoc Committee meetings repeatedly opened with an invocation, led by a council member. The practice began in November 2021, wherein the council member would request all attendees stand before being led in a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.
“Prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive,” FFRF Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to the Columbia Borough Council President Heather Zink. “We write to request that the Ad Hoc Committee and Borough Council refrain from opening meetings with prayer and instead solemnize meetings with the much more inclusive practice of observing a moment of silence.”
FFRF received an email response from Zink addressing the situation. “The Columbia Borough Council discussed this and we agree the leader of the ad-hoc committee should not have led a meeting with the Lord’s Prayer. All committee chairs have been advised they (or any member of their board) cannot lead any invocation at their meetings.” Additionally, Zink confirmed that meetings are now opened by asking if any attendees would like to deliver an invocation. There are no restrictions on who can deliver an invocation, except that it may not be by a member of the board.
An assignment questioning students’ religious beliefs in regard to Christianity was removed from a West Virginia district, thanks to FFRF’s intervention.
A concerned district community member reported that an English teacher at Jackson Middle School in the Wood County School District provided an assignment to students that would “determine the degree to which [they] agree with Puritan beliefs.” Questions heavily relied on Christian ideology, such as “Do you believe strongly in the existence of God?” and “Do you believe it’s more important to glorify God than to express yourself?”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter to Superintendent Christie Willis, who responded to FFRF in an email, stating that steps have been taken to prevent further distribution of the assignment.
FFRF was successfully able to stop a Fellowship of Christian Athletes club from being promoted and practiced at a public elementary school in South Carolina.
On Feb. 28, 2022, a concerned parent from South Carolina Public Charter School District reportedly received an email inviting them to “Please join” the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes Club. The complainant also reported that teachers at the school were encouraging elementary students to attend the club.
“The district may not allow teachers to use public schools to proselytize,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote in a letter to Superintendent Chris Neeley. “Given the school’s promotion of this club and the fact that it is run by teachers, a reasonable student or parent will perceive this religious club as ‘stamped with [their] school’s seal of approval.’”
FFRF received a response from the district stating the issue has been resolved. “The district has confirmed with the school that FCA for elementary students no longer meets at the school or is promoted by the school.”
FFRF was able to end repeated school prayers by a wrestling coach in Burbank, Wash.
On Dec. 1, 2022, a wrestling event at Columbia High School was reportedly opened by the coach informing the audience that a prayer was scheduled to take place prior to the match. Attendees were told they could opt out before the microphone was handed to a student, who led everyone in a Christian prayer delivered “In Jesus’ name.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter to Superintendent Todd Hilberg, who responded to FFRF in a formal email, outlining a full action plan for the coach. “The CSD Athletic Director has taken immediate action and met with [the coach] over two occasions to review expectations moving forward that would eliminate religious activities within the wrestling program,” he wrote.
FFRF intervened after a high school in West Virginia started a high school football game with a prayer.
A concerned parent notified FFRF that a football game at Wayne High School on Oct. 21, 2022, broadcast a prayer over loudspeakers before the game started. The parent brought their child to their first football game, but did not want or expect to expose their child to religious ideology at a school- sponsored event.
“We write to ask that the district immediately cease opening its football games with school-sponsored prayer in order to uphold the rights of its students,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote in a letter to Superintendent Todd Alexander.
Alexander responded to FFRF in a formal email, informing it of a policy review in regard to religious ceremonies. “It is the district’s intent to comply with the policy which is based upon the case law outlined in your letter,” he wrote.
FFRF put a stop to opening prayers at the school district board meetings in Sutton, W. Va.
A concerned district parent informed FFRF that the Braxton County School District had been opening School Board meetings with a prayer led by board members. The report was then confirmed by official meeting agendas from the school board, listing “Opening Prayer” at the beginning of each meeting.
“The Supreme Court has consistently struck down prayers offered at school-sponsored events,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote in a letter to Board of Education President DeAnna Whipkey in April. “It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings.”
After following up with the school district in early December, FFRF received a reply from the new Board President Evelyn Post. Post confirmed that three new members were admitted to the board in July, as well as the inclusion of a new superintendent. Additionally, “[a]fter receipt of your communication last spring, our Board of Education never placed our nondenominational prayer on our meeting agendas.”
FFRF was able to ensure that guest speakers will no longer conduct public prayers at an Ohio middle school.
FFRF was informed by a concerned school district member that on Nov. 10, 2022, Wilson Middle School students attended a mandatory assembly in which a guest speaker instructed students and staff to bow their heads in prayer. The incident occurred at two separate assemblies to the 7th and 8th grade students.
“If guest speakers engage in inappropriate conduct at a school event, then school administrators must intervene,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote in a letter to Superintendent Mike Holbrook.
FFRF received a written response from Bricker and Eckler Attorneys at Law, representing the Hamilton City School District. The letter stated that administration had not pre-approved nor were they aware of the guest speaker’s plan. “In addition, the School District plans to review the events of Nov. 10 with district-wide building administration as part of regularly occurring professional development. This will include conveying administration’s expectation that guest speakers refrain from leading students in prayer at future school- sponsored events.”
FFRF stopped a teacher from punishing a student based on private religious beliefs.
On Nov. 9, a student at Lakewood Middle School in Salina, Kan., reportedly said “god damn” in front of their teacher. The teacher responded harshly by demanding the student to come forward. When the student explained that they did not believe in God, the teacher carried out a discussion about religious beliefs, before singling out the student by removing them from class.
“While teachers can, of course, enforce rules related to cursing or inappropriate language, they cannot impose the rules of their personal religion onto students or argue with students regarding their personal religious beliefs,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Salina USD 305 Superintendent Linn M. Exline.
A response from Exline stated that “I can assure you that the parent’s concerns were taken seriously, were investigated, and that the teacher was reminded that she must refrain from engaging in the business of the district in a way that could be construed as an attempt to impose her own personal religious beliefs on her students.”
Additionally, the district took the position that any discussion of religion is to be strictly limited to serving an academic purpose and must be consistent with approved school curriculum.
A mandatory assembly containing a prayer will not occur again, thanks to FFRF.
On Nov. 11, students at Knox High School in Knox, Ind., were reportedly required to attend an assembly in which a pastor quoted scripture and led the audience in prayer toward the beginning and end of the assembly. The prayers were reportedly overtly religious and delivered in Jesus’ name, leading secular students and family members of the community to feel uncomfortable.
“It is well settled that public schools may not violate the First Amendment rights of students by showing favoritism toward or coercing belief or participation in religion,” FFRF Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote in a letter to Superintendent William Reichhart.”
The district responded to FFRF, writing, “After careful consideration, we will abandon the past practice and tradition of having a prayer and benediction as part of our Community Veteran’s Day Program at Knox High School.”
FFRF commends the Chico Unified School District in Chico, Calif., for painting over an inappropriate religious text on a mural at a public school.
A concerned parent reported seeing a mural with the words, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” in Pleasant Valley High School. The parent became aware of the mural through their child’s information, as well as through a first-hand account on back-to-school night.
FFRF received a written response through Kingsley Bogard Attorneys, representing Chico Unified School District. The reply stated that, “The district has determined that it is able to remove the reference to a deity from the display without altering the art piece,” as well as confirming that work on the piece would be conducted shortly after the response was sent.
FFRF took action against frequent unconstitutional religious proselytization at Richards Middle School in Suwanee, Ga.
A concerned resident of Gwinnett County contacted FFRF in regard to a teacher abusing their position to attempt to convert students to their personal religion.
“[The teacher] cannot be allowed to lead or participate in any religious clubs in the district, and must immediately cease [their] efforts to convert students,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote in a letter to Superintendent Calvin Watts.
FFRF received a written response from the law offices of Thompson, Sweeny, Kinsinger & Pereira P.C., representing the Gwinnett County Board of Education and Gwinnett County School District. The law offices confirmed that action had been taken, stating, “My client investigated the allegations and took corrective action to ensure compliance with Gwinnett County Board of Education policy, applicable federal statutes, and constitutional principles.”
FFRF was able to put an end to a prayer during the commencement ceremony at an Ohio school.
A parent contacted FFRF in regard to a prayer delivered at the 2022 Amanda-Clearcreek High School graduation ceremony. Although the program listed “Words of Inspiration” to be delivered by a student, it was reported that it was well-known to the school that this was a prayer. Reportedly, the prayer had been planned and rehearsed at the graduation practice. Additionally, it was reported that a school staff member handed out a congratulatory message to students at the graduation practice, which included three bible quotes and references to God and praying.
“The Supreme Court has settled this matter — public school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students,” FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote to Amanda-Clearcreek Local Schools Superintendent J.B. Dick. “Additionally, public school employees may not urge religious points of view on students. The district has a duty to regulate religious proselytizing and messaging during school-sponsored activities, such as graduation practices.”
A response from the district’s legal counsel assured FFRF that appropriate steps will be taken to prevent these violations from recurring at future ceremonies. Attorney Susan L. Oppenheimer stated the district administration will “instruct students selected to give remarks at a graduation ceremony that they may not invite the audience to join in prayer.” Additionally, the district will require administrators to attend future graduation ceremony rehearsals to prevent speakers from invoking prayer.
FFRF’s complaint to a Jackson, Miss., judge resulted in corrective action.
On July 5, 2022, a judge reportedly invited a chaplain to give a prayer before the court in regard to Mississippi’s controversial abortion “trigger” laws. The prayer asked the court to “seek [God’s] truth, not our own,” and encouraged members of the court to be “blessed and inspired” by the Christian God’s wisdom. The prayer itself is highly unusual, and appears to have violated sections 2A and 3B of the Mississippi Code of Judicial Conduct, stating that a judge should act in a way that promotes public confidence in integrity and impartiality as well as performing duties without bias, respectively.
“The prayer calls for God’s ‘truth,’ not the secular truth of a neutral arbiter,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne in a letter to the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance. “It calls on lawyers to address the court ‘with a sense of [God’s] presence,’ implying that God will look disfavorably on those who advocate for abortion.”
In a response to FFRF from Rachel L. Wilson, executive director of the commission, the judge has reportedly been informed of the potential violations, and a corrective resolution occurred. She stated, “As a result of your complaint, the commission has communicated with the respondent judge and has resolved the complaint through informal action.”
FFRF persuaded a high school to change a Christian themed display in Harlingen, Texas.
On Aug. 24, 2022, FFRF received information about Harlingen High School, where a room displayed the word “Commitment” painted on the wall with the first “t” represented by the Christian cross. Photographic evidence was provided, showing staff members and students in front of the display.
“The district violates the Constitution when it allows its schools to display religious symbols or messages,” FFRF Equal Justice Works Legal Fellow Kat Grant wrote in a letter to Superintendent Alicia Noyola. “It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism towards or coerce belief or participation in religion.”
FFRF received an emailed response from Noyola: “In response to your letter dated Sept. 21, 2022, we have responded by adjusting the design of the letter “t” so that it does not resemble a Christian cross.”
After hearing from FFRF, an Alabama school district has stopped allowing school assemblies that feature religious speakers.
A concerned parent reported to FFRF that a teacher at Tallassee High School took students into the gym for a religious sermon delivered by a guest speaker. Reportedly, this guest speaker preached to students and attempted to convert them to Christianity, making statements such as, “The bible says you surrender your life. You throw yourself at the mercy of Jesus Christ with your life. Christ paid for my sins. I was on my way to hell. I owe him my life. Hands down.” The guest speaker ended his sermon by leading students in prayer.
“It is unconstitutional to take away instructional time from students to expose them to a Christian proselytizing preacher,” FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to Tallassee City Schools Superintendent Brock Nolin. “It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism toward or coerce belief or participation in religion.”
A response from the superintendent assured FFRF that this violation will not recur. “This issue has been addressed with the faculty member and administration of the school,” Nolin wrote. “They fully understand the issue at hand and it has been resolved.”
After hearing from FFRF, a California school has removed a Latin cross and bible verse from the wall of a classroom.
A parent reported to FFRF that a teacher at Rocklin High School had been prominently displaying a cross and a bible verse — “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” Micah 6:8 — in the classroom.
FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to Rocklin Unified School District Superintendent Roger Stock to request the immediate removal of these religious displays. “The district violates the Constitution when it allows its schools to display religious symbols or messages. It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism towards or coerce belief or participation in religion. . . This display violates this basic constitutional prohibition by creating the appearance that the district prefers religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all other faiths.”
A response from Rocklin USD’s legal counsel confirmed that the religious displays have been removed. “Thank you for bringing this matter to the attention of the district. The district has reviewed your letter and inspected the classroom displays. The district directed the items be removed and the teacher has complied.”
FFRF was able to get a North Carolina school district to recast and rename what had been referred to as a “prayer walk” into a secular event.
A district parent reported to FFRF that Booneville Elementary School had organized and promoted a religious “prayer walk.” Reportedly, the annual event had been promoted to parents and students through official school communication channels. In a “back to school” message, families and community members were invited to visit classrooms and “leave positive notes of support, prayer and good wishes for the school year.” It was also promoted on the school’s official Facebook page.
“Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion. . . Yadkin County Schools serves a diverse population that consists of not only Christians, but also atheists and agnostics who do not believe in prayer,” FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to Yadkin County Schools Superintendent Todd Martin. “Holding a district-sponsored religious event each year sends an official message that excludes the nearly 30 percent of the American population who are nonreligious.”
A response from the district’s legal counsel assured FFRF that the issue has been addressed.
“After discussing this matter with [the superintendent], we are advising the principal of Boonville Elementary School to change the name of this event to ‘Annual Community Walk’ and to exclude the word ‘prayer’ from any description or advertisement of the event.”
After FFRF contacted a Texas school district over the unconstitutional use of a Christian chaplain as a “mental health interventionist,” the chaplain was placed on leave before resigning.
It was reported to FFRF by multiple members of the Trinity Independent School District that the chaplain had been spreading his personal religious beliefs to students. He reportedly told students who were depressed or suicidal that it was because they do not have a good relationship with God. It was also reported that he told LGBT students that they were going to hell. In addition to these remarks, the chaplain reportedly distributed Christian literature to students that presented the “absolute truth” about issues that young people are confronted with, including “sexual purity,” “evolution,” “abortion,” and “homosexuality.”
“The district cannot employ an official chaplain, and it must make certain that none of its employees are unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters by handing out religious materials or promoting their personal religious beliefs,” FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to Superintendent John Kaufman. “We ask that the district immediately investigate this situation and ensure that [the chaplain] either fully complies with the Establishment Clause and stops violating the rights of students and their parents, or is removed from his position within the district.”
A response from Kaufman confirmed that the chaplain is no longer employed by the district. “[The chaplain] was placed on administrative leave effective Jan. 14 and remained on administrative leave until his resignation from the district on July 28,” Kaufman wrote.
FFRF was able to put an end to prayers at an Ohio high school graduation ceremony after being alerted to the constitutional violation by a concerned citizen.
During the 2021 graduation ceremony, the principal of Barnesville High School reportedly invited a student to the stage “to lead us in prayer.” The student, who identified himself as the class president, started the Christian prayer with “Let us pray. Dear Lord, thank you for this day.” The prayer ended with “May they always turn to you for direction. We ask this in your name. Amen.”
During the 2022 graduation ceremony, the principal reportedly asked the audience to “please rise” and to “remain standing for the invocation.” He then called up a student “who will lead us in prayer.” The prayer began with “Heavenly Father” and ended with the wish to “Please keep us safe . . . as we continue our destinies. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
“Requiring nonreligious students and attendees to make a public showing of their nonbelief by not participating in a prayer or else to display deference toward a religious sentiment in which they do not believe is coercive, embarrassing, and intimidating,” FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote to Barnesville Schools Superintendent Angie Hannahs. “Barnesville Schools students and families have the right to a prayer-free celebration . . . The district has a duty to remain neutral toward religion. By scheduling prayers at graduation, the district abridges that duty and alienates non-Christians, including the almost 30 percent of the population who are not religious.”
A response from Hannahs assured FFRF that this issue has been addressed. “I have investigated the matter,” Hannahs wrote. “[T]he Barnesville School District will not schedule prayers at school graduations in the future.”
FFRF put a stop to a sectarian prayer in a Texas school district’s in-service training for faculty and staff.
A concerned Frenship Independent School District employee contacted FFRF about the religious invocation. Reportedly, a state legislator also spoke during the in-service training, who claimed that a history teacher in the district must “inform students that their rights come from God, their creator, not the government,” and that “the government serves only to uphold what God put in place.”
“Prayers and religious messages at employee meetings inappropriately alienate district faculty, staff and students who practice a minority religion, as well as those who are part of the almost thirty percent of the American population who are not religious,” FFRF Legal Fellow Samantha Lawrence wrote to Superintendent Michelle McCord. “Their participation in employee meetings is adversely affected by these prayers and religious messages, which turn them into outsiders in their workplace. Additionally, the mandatory nature of in-service training and many other District meetings means that District employees essentially have no choice but to subject themselves to a coercive and offensive religious exercise that violates their right of conscience.”
A response from the district’s legal counsel, David P. Backus, assured FFRF that this violation will not occur in the future.
“Although it was not the superintendent who introduced the invocation, she has reviewed its in-service practice of allowing an invocation during its in-service and determined to cease such activities in the future,” Backus wrote. “The congressman’s remarks were not previously reviewed or approved by the district or its administration. Consequently, the remarks that the congressman made to the teachers were not endorsed in any way by the district.”
A concerned parent reported to FFRF that a sixth-grade math teacher at Oakridge Elementary was regularly playing Christian music during the class period while students were working. Reportedly, this teacher also told students that “everyone needs a little Jesus in their life.”
“No public school employee may urge religious points of view on students. Elementary school children are especially susceptible to the coercive influence of religious messaging. When teachers promote their own religious beliefs to their students, they usurp parental authority,” FFRF Legal Fellow Samantha Lawrence wrote to Moore Public Schools’ legal counsel Phyllis L. Walta. “Students feel immense pressure to act like their instructors and peers and do as their teachers tell them. Public school staff and administrators should be aware of these concerns and ensure that all students are made to feel welcome in all classrooms.”
A response from Walta acknowledged the district’s violation and assured FFRF that it will not recur. “The teacher has reported that she did, in fact, let the students listen to a Christian station during class but that it will not continue in the future,” Walta wrote.
A concerned district parent contacted FFRF regarding prayer at the fifth-grade “promotion ceremony” at Ooltewah Elementary School in Tennessee. Reportedly, the school’s principal introduced a pastor to “lead us in our invocation.” The Christian prayer invoked “the Heavenly Father and God.” The pastor asked that God “be honored here tonight as we honor these graduates.”
“Scheduling prayer at Hamilton County School District graduations is unconstitutional and a violation of school policy,” FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote to the district’s legal counsel D. Scott Bennett. “Please take the necessary steps to ensure that the rights of conscience of all participants and attendees will be respected at future district events.”
A response from Bennett acknowledged the district’s violation and assured FFRF that prayer will not be a part of future ceremonies.
“We have discussed your concerns with the principal, and we have confirmed that someone did offer a prayer,” Bennett responded. “The principal understands that federal law and board policy prohibit these prayers, and she has assured us that this same oversight will not recur.”
A concerned employee contacted FFRF regarding the religious nature of a graduation ceremony at Jellico High School in Tennessee. The employee reported that the commencement seemed to be a religious ceremony more than a graduation. In a video recording of the ceremony, the podium is shown emblazoned with a Latin cross. Reportedly, the program included a scheduled scripture reading, and the Christian god was referenced throughout the ceremony by many speakers, including the principal.
“The school district has a duty to remain neutral toward religion,” Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote to Campbell County Public Schools Director Jennifer Fields. “Commencements are for celebrating the accomplishments of all students, not for excluding some on the unconstitutional basis of religious belief and suggesting that their accomplishments and futures are actually the result of supernatural intervention, not hard work.”
A response from legal counsel assured FFRF that the issue has been addressed with the director of schools. Attorney Dail R. Cantrell responded, “We will make sure to correct for future graduations.”
A concerned Rutherford County (Tenn.) resident contacted FFRF regarding religious messaging on display in the county clerk’s office. The resident reported seeing the phrase “He is Risen” displayed on an employee’s glass partition. Additionally, behind the counter, there was a sign displayed on the wall facing customers that read, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”
“By displaying religious messages in the County Clerk’s office, you send an exclusionary message to non-Christians, including the almost 30 percent of the population who are not religious,” FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote to Rutherford County Clerk Lisa Duke Crowell. “It is inappropriate and needlessly divisive to send a message that alienates a significant portion of your constituency, effectively turning them into political outsiders.”
A response from legal counsel notified FFRF that the issue has been resolved. Attorney Nick C. Christiansen wrote, “Please be advised that the items described in your letter have been removed.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has obtained a victory for free speech in Kansas.
Get rid of your discriminatory clothing policy, we urged a Kansas school district after a parent complained.
“I raise my children according to the seven tenets of Satanism, and while children of other faiths can wear clothing that declares their family’s religion, my family’s faith is specifically called out and banned in the school handbook dress code,” Mary Turner, a mother of three students in Hays USD 489 and a member of the Satanic Temple, appealed during the public comment period of a school board meeting on July 18. The school board disregarded her plea, however, and instead voted 5-2 on Aug. 5 to expand its prohibition of clothing promoting Satanism from elementary and middle schools to all schools in the district.
Such a dress code discriminated against minority religions, FFRF pointed out in a letter written to the board in support of Turner, her children and all nonreligious and minority religious students and families in Hays USD 489. “Satanism is a religion, and students cannot be singled out for punishment or ridicule for expressing religious or nonreligious viewpoints in their public schools,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Hays USD 489 Board of Education President Craig Pallister.
The dress code’s ban on references to Satanism acted as a prior restraint on student speech, we added. Changing this policy would cost the district nothing, while continuing to have it on the books exposed the district to significant legal liability from any district student or parent who chose to take legal action, we advised the district.
FFRF’s communique worked its desired magic.
The school board has voted to revoke the dress code, as “Friendly Atheist” Hemant Mehta reports. “Perhaps the threat of legal action finally got to them,” he remarks in a piece headlined, “After legal threats, Kansas school board repeals ‘Satanism’ ban in dress code.”
The parent of a child in a Wood County School District elementary school in West Virginia reported to FFRF that tables with bibles were set up next to each teacher in every 5th-grade classroom across all of the district’s elementary schools. Another parent alleged that a group of teachers at Jefferson Elementary Center set up a box of Gideon bibles during an assembly involving multiple 5th-grade classes. It was also reported that the group of teachers presented and discussed the bibles prior to offering and distributing them to students. A parent also reported that the school has allowed other religious materials to be distributed, specifically flyers from a local church inviting students and their families to an Easter egg hunt.
“Advancing, preferring and promoting religion is exactly what a school does when it distributes bibles and other religious materials to students during the school day,” FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to Wood County Schools Superintendent Christie Willis. “The actions of the district are especially egregious, as teachers not only distributed bibles, but discussed and promoted them, as well.”
A response from the district assured FFRF that the issue will be addressed.
“It is apparent upon this investigation reacclimating our administrators and teachers to policies and procedures is imperative,” Willis responded. Willis assured FFRF that the issue will be addressed at a district seminar, stating, “The guidance regarding distribution of bibles will be on the agenda and presented to administrators.”
A concerned district parent reported to FFRF that a teacher had delivered a Christian prayer during Ottawa (Ohio) Elementary School’s eighth-grade graduation ceremony.
“Requiring nonreligious students and attendees to make a public showing of their nonbelief by not participating in a prayer or else to display deference toward a religious sentiment in which they do not believe is coercive, embarrassing and intimidating,” FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote to Ottawa-Glandorf Local Schools Superintendent Don Horstman.
A response from the district assured FFRF that the issue will be taken care of.
“I want to let you know that I have informed the Board of Education and our administrative team of your email, and I informed all of them that the district has clear guidance and policies against this type of activity,” Horstman responded. “I can assure you this will not be a part of the program at Ottawa Elementary going forward.”
A concerned Mansfield (Texas) ISD community member has reported that the “Serenity Prayer” is on display on a door in the main hallway of Glenn Harmon Elementary School. It says: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote Superintendent Kimberley Cantu to ask that the school immediately take it down. “Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools.”
In a response from legal counsel for Glen Harmon Elementary, the district investigated FFRF’s complaint and removed the display.
A concerned resident contacted FFRF about a school employee in the Menomonie, Wis., district who included biblical scripture in the official district email signature. The resident reported that they recently received an email from the student service administrator with the biblical quote “Act Justly Love Mercy Walk Humbly — Micah 6:8” in the email signature.
FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote to District Administrator Joseph Zydowsky, who then responded by assuring that the signature was removed and staff members would be reminded of their duties for the new school year.
An Alabama school district has put a stop to a teacher’s blatant proselytizing after FFRF got involved.
A concerned Shelby County Schools parent had informed FFRF that their child’s teacher had been openly pushing Christianity onto his students. Alan Waring, a biology teacher at Calera High School, had sent home religious materials with students and signed a student’s yearbook with a religious message.
The handout Waring gave to students was titled, “God loves you and He has a plan for your life,” a religious screed meant to indoctrinate students into Christianity. And Waring put a similarly over-the-top religious inscription in a student’s yearbook: “…you are designed for a grand incredible purpose that has cosmic significance. The God of the Universe, your creator and mine, has made a way for men and women to commune with Him and to be found in Him. This purpose is tied up in His identity, who He is, God is triune, three persons one God.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the school district’s counsel, stating that “The district must make certain that none of its employees are unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters by discussing their personal religious beliefs, preaching, handing out religious materials, or otherwise creating a religious environment in their classrooms.”
The school district initiated a probe after FFRF’s missive — and arrived at an appropriate course of action.
“Following the investigation, they have had repeated conversations with the teacher, required him to review materials emphasizing the importance of separation of church and state, and had him put together a written reflection confirming he understood the importance of the issue,” the attorney for the district recently emailed Line.
FFRF got involved in Oregon after a concerned West Linn-Wilsonville School District community member reported that West Linn High School organized a baccalaureate service in its auditorium on June 5th.
The school advertised the event in its weekly “Roar” newsletter and mentioned the ceremony in its weekly address to the students. The service was open to all West Linn seniors and was described as “a spiritual and inspirational interfaith ceremony honoring the WLHS graduating class of 2022.” The ceremony program listed religious prayers, songs and speeches, such as “Faith and Perseverance” and “Living in Faith.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district, stating that “The District’s role in promoting the baccalaureate ceremony would cause any reasonable graduating senior or parent to conclude that the West Linn-Wilsonville School District supported the religious messages espoused at these services.”
The district responded to FFRF to report that it would look into who is responsible for advertising the event, who was sponsoring it and make sure that it wouldn’t happen in the future.
FFRF has persuaded an Illinois school district to stop allowing proselytization events on campus during the school day.
A concerned community resident reported to FFRF that Ray McElroy, a former NFL player who is now a pastor, was speaking to students at Richards High School in Oak Lawn, Ill. The posters and announcements for the lunch event enticed students to come to hear an ex-NFL player’s story and receive free Chick-Fil-A sandwiches. Students who attended said that they were told they could not take a sandwich until they listened to the speaker and took his book. The book is titled How to Find God. Reportedly, the talk was essentially a sermon by McElroy.
The religious event was reportedly organized by Doug Groters, a Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps instructor at the high school. NJROTC instructors are “employees of the school.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote to Community High School District 218 Superintendent Ty Harting. “The district cannot allow its schools to be used as recruiting grounds for religious missions,” Heineman wrote.
A response from the school assured FFRF that the issue was taken care of.
“We have investigated the matter and have addressed with our staff,” Assistant Superintendent Greg Walder responded. “We will refrain from allowing such events to occur in the future.”
The Scott County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia will no longer post religious messages on its social media pages or host churches after a concerned county resident reported that the Sheriff’s Office hosted a religious Easter event, “Eggs-stravaganza 2022,” with Calvary Bible Church on April 9.
A post by the Calvary Bible Church on its Facebook page showed that the event was planned by the Sheriff’s Office and included “shar[ing] the gospel with . . . kids.” On Easter, the Sheriff’s Office also posted an image of a cross with the words “He Has Risen!” on its official Facebook page.
“The Scott County Sheriff’s Office’s explicit endorsement of religion is a serious constitutional violation,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman to Sheriff Jeff Edds. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from hosting or endorsing religious events or activities.
Edds responded to FFRF’s letter to say that he will be taking precautionary steps to prevent any future occurrences.
A local resident reported a state-church violation to FFRF after seeing a religious flyer in a post office with the Denver (Iowa) Community School District logo. The flier invited “the entire body of Christ” to a Mile Wide Worship Night to be held once a month in the Cyclone Center. According to the flyer, the worship night is to “lift up the name of Jesus in Denver.”
“Denver Community School District cannot sponsor a worship night.” FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heinemann wrote to Brad Laures, superintendent of Denver Community School District. “The government must respect the rights of conscience of all people.”
The organizer of the event will no longer use the school’s logo in their flyers, Laures wrote to FFRF.
A concerned district parent contacted FFRF on June 2 to report that a public input session for the Madison (Wis.) Metropolitan School District was scheduled at Life Center, a Christian church.
Asking parents, who may be of varying faiths or none at all, to enter a Christian house of worship for a public session to discuss the MMSD’s “guiding document” alienates non-Christians, including the almost 50 percent of the Madison population who are not religious, insisted FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman.
Heineman wrote to Superintendent of Schools Carlton D. Jenkins that to fulfill MMSD’s obligation for religious neutrality and to recognize Madison’s diverse range of religious and nonreligious citizens, he must provide a secular setting for the Strategic Framework Recalibration public input session so that all concerned district families can feel welcome and comfortable attending.
The special assistant to the superintendent responded swiftly to FFRF’s request and confirmed that the meeting location had been changed to an area high school.
FFRF intervened after a teacher at Metro West Learning Academy in Iowa was reported to have been playing Christian music in the background of classes. The music had lyrics such as “I put my faith in Jesus” and “my savior.”
“No public school employee may urge religious points of view on students. Students are especially susceptible to the coercive influence of messages from authority figures, such as teachers,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman to Mike Moran, director of Metro West Learning. “Parents, not teachers, have the right to direct the religious, or nonreligious, upbringing of their children.”
The Metro West Learning Academy reassured FFRF that action had been taken to make sure staff is aware of their constitutional obligations to religious neutrality and to refrain from promoting religion in the classroom.
“It has been resolved. [The teacher] now has local news as her background noise,” the school’s response stated.
A Colorado school district will not include religious songs in its concerts after a Thompson Valley High School parent reported that their child had participated in an event that contained overwhelmingly Christian language.
One song, performed on March 23, was “Worthy to Be Praised,” and is very clearly a Christian worship song:
Holy holy holy.
Praise our God, Almighty.
Worthy and holy.
Praise the Lord in the highest, praise His holy name.
Let all things that haveth the breath, just praise the Lord.
I believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
Performing Christian worship songs at public schools is wholly inappropriate, FFRF insisted. FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter to the superintendent of Thompson School District, reminding him that “Teaching students Christian worship music in a public school violates the First Amendment. It is well settled that public schools may not advance or endorse religion.”
The district responded to inform FFRF that religious music will no longer be a part of the concert.
FFRF’s objection to daily intercom prayer in a Louisiana elementary school has quickly had the desired effect.
A concerned parent had informed FFRF that Riverbend Elementary School in West Monroe, La., required its students to recite a prayer each day following the Pledge of Allegiance. A different child was reportedly selected every morning to deliver the pledge and then the prayer over the intercom. The prayer was described as “Student Expression,” but was clearly a prayer and was delivered to “Father God.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the legal counsel for Ouachita Parish Schools demanding that the school cease its daily prayer.
“Ouachita Parish Superintendent Don Coker said the situation has been addressed,” states a story in the local newspaper about FFRF’s intervention.
“The principal knows that we won’t be reading prayers over the intercom,” the article quotes Coker as saying. “It has actually been handled and dealt with. Now I think they do a moment of silence.”
A concerned parent in the Victor Valley Union High School District in California contacted FFRF to report that the head coach of the Silverado High School football team opened its awards dinner with a Christian prayer. The event was held at the school to honor members of the football team, and the prayer was delivered “in Jesus’ name.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line sent a letter to Ron Williams, superintendent of Victor Valley Union High School District, reminding him that it is illegal for athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer.
“Coach Jones’ conduct at this event was unconstitutional because he endorsed and promoted his religion while acting in his official capacity as a school district employee,” Line insisted. “Certainly, he represents the school and the team when he acts in his official role as head coach of the Silverado High School football team. Therefore, he cannot lead prayer at school events, lead his team in prayer, or advocate for students to lead team prayer either.”
Assistant Superintendent Ramiro Rubalcaba responded to FFRF’s letter assuring that it was a mistake and would not happen again. “Having educated the coach concerning this issue, he has agreed that, moving forward, he will ensure that neither he nor any members of his staff will conduct prayer during any school activities or even engage in religiously related discussions at work so as to avoid any perceived endorsement of religious issues.”
FFRF was alerted by a concerned Coulee Hartline School District resident in Washington that the high school had displayed a photo of coaches praying with students at a football game on one of its walls.
FFRF wrote to Superintendent James Evans advising the district to remove the religious endorsement from its property and ensure that its coaches are not leading or participating in prayers with students.
“It is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line in a letter to the school district. “The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools.”
In a response from the school district, FFRF was informed that the photos had been removed and the district spoke with the staff.
A Texas school district has stopped letting its staff endorse religion after a community member reported multiple instances of religious promotion by staff members.
Andrews Middle School football team was selling shirts that featured a bible quote on the back: “Trust in the Lord, Our God, forever, for He is our everlasting rock. — Isaiah 264:4.” The shirts had been promoted on the official Andrews ISD Facebook page.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line, in a letter to the district, wrote that the staff “send a message on behalf of the district to non-Christian and nonreligious students that they are outsiders in their school community.” Superintendent Bobby Azam wrote back to reassure FFRF that he will work to ensure that the district will no longer allow its staff to promote or endorse religion by selling T-shirts with religious messages as part of school-sponsored activities, or by including religious messages on official calendars for school-sponsored events.
A local citizen contacted FFRF regarding the endorsement of religion on the Cookeville (Tenn.) Regional Medical Center’s official Facebook page.
The post included a prayer for frontline workers that said, “Heavenly and Almighty God, who has all power and might to heal and protect.”
“CRMC must refrain from endorsing religion,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman. “It cannot suggest that it cannot treat patients without God’s help or that patients must say prayers while in its facility.”
Chief legal counsel for the Cookeville Medical Center informed FFRF that both of the postings were removed shortly after the medical center received the letter.
A Georgia school will no longer allow employees to pray with students or force students to pray at events after it was reported that David Turpin, an employee at Stephens County High School, had been praying with students as part of the high school’s JROTC events. It was also reported that Turpin required multiple cadets to pray before a school-sponsored meet that took place at the school. Turpin is a district employee who is listed on the school’s website as part of the JROTC program.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line insisted that the district must make certain that school programs and activities do not include prayer and 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.
Counsel for the Stephens County School system informed FFRF that the administration is convinced that “Mr. Turpin understands the issues concerning the First Amendment as it relates to the freedom of religion and the Establishment Clause.”
An Alabama public school district has stopped opening its football games with prayer after FFRF called a penalty.
Several high schools in Jefferson County School District, including Gardendale High School and Pinson Valley High School, had been starting their football games with prayers broadcast over the loudspeaker.
It is unconstitutional for a public school to sponsor religious messages at school athletic events, wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line in a letter to the district.
FFRF’s advice fell on receptive ears. The legal counsel for the district sent a letter informing FFRF that “the superintendent met with school principals and the administration will not allow prayer at school-sponsored events.”
A North Carolina sheriff has listened to FFRF and made secular a summer camp that his department operates.
Several county residents had reported to FFRF that the Dare County Sheriff’s Office was planning to hold a “faith-based” camp (as the Sheriff’s Office’s official Facebook page had been declaring it) for children during the summer. The camp, which has been run by the Sheriff’s Office for many years, included religious worship.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie. “By hosting a ‘faith based’ camp that includes religious worship, the Sheriff’s Office creates the appearance that it endorses religion,” Line wrote.
The sheriff took heed of FFRF’s exhortation. “Friendly Atheist” Hemant Mehta writes that Doughtie posted a message on Facebook explaining why his camp would drop the faith aspect: “A statement from one of the people who posted on our Facebook account was ‘There are many in our community who are not Christian or not religious at all and the Sheriff’s Office should be well attuned to that. Why would these children be made to feel “other” at a county camp?’ When I read that statement, I realized that it shouldn’t make any child feel that way.”
The Kingsport (Tenn.) Police Department has taken down a post on its official Facebook page thanking the “Rock of Ages” prison ministry for providing the department with 160 bibles.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the police department saying that the Kingsport P.D. must refrain from endorsing religion on social media.
In a letter from Chief of Police Dave Phipps, FFRF was informed of the post being removed. “To my knowledge, no resident voiced any concern over the post; only 1 out of 56,000+. Regardless, we have removed the post,” Phipps wrote.
The city of Orlando, Fla., has reassured FFRF that it takes the separation of church and state seriously after it was reported that the city was officially sponsoring “40 Days of Prayer and Fasting” from March 6 to April 14.
The event invitations said, “The city of Orlando invites you to ‘40 Days of Prayer and Fasting.’” Invitations were sent out through official city communication channels and noted that the invitation for this religious event was on behalf of “Mayor Buddy Dyer and District Two City Commissioner Tony Ortiz.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter to Dyer. Doug Richards, director of community engagement and outreach for Orlando, responded, saying that the invitation was sent in error, as the event was not being hosted or sponsored by the city.
An Alabama elementary school is no longer letting proselytization happen during music class.
A district parent reported to FFRF that their child, a first-grade student at Montevallo Elementary School in the Shelby County School District, came home singing a “Thanksgiving song” that they learned in music class. The lyrics to the song included: “Thank you God for the friends we keep, thank you God for the food we eat.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the counsel for the school district. “This ‘Thanksgiving song’ is essentially a prayer and thus would be appropriate in a church setting, but not in a public school.”
After the school received FFRF’s letters, the district counseled staff about the importance of selecting programming that does not highlight a particular religion, and it is incorporating additional refresher training on those issues.
A concerned parent contacted FFRF to report that their child received a bag of toys and candy from Eugene Field Elementary School in Oklahoma City that also contained religious messages.
The gifts were accompanied by a note, which explained, “Have a wonderful Christmas! We pray that your weeks are filled with joy and love! And, we hope you enjoy these gifts.” The note included a bible verse.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line requested that Superintendent Sean McDaniel take corrective action and train district staff on their constitutional duties as public school employees.
In response to the FFRF’s letter, the general counsel for Oklahoma City Public Schools wrote that it was determined that a volunteer family placed the note in the backpack “unbeknownst to the community partner and the school.” The principal was then counseled on the religious parameters and told that this could not happen again and such a message violates students’ religious freedoms.
FFRF was alerted by a Putnam County Schools parent that a first-grade teacher at the West Virginia school assigned students a “Jesus is Born!” informational booklet coloring assignment. The booklet recounted religious stories from the bible. FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent John G. Hudson advising the district to take immediate action to stop teachers from giving religious assignments to students.
Hudson responded and said that Putnam County Schools is aware of its obligations and that the incident was an isolated one and will not recur.
FFRF was alerted that the Lebanon Community School Corporation Board in Indiana was beginning its meetings with a prayer. The agenda, found on the corporation’s website, showed that the Oct. 19, 2021, meeting listed the Pledge of Allegiance as the first item of business with no mention of prayer.
A video of the Oct. 19, 2021, meeting confirmed (even though any mention was missing from the agenda) that “as is our custom, we begin our time with a word of prayer.”
In a letter from FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman to the school board president, it was emphasized that prayer alienates nonreligious Americans, who make up the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population by religious identification. Thirty-five percent of Americans are non-Christians, including more than one in four Americans who now identify as religiously unaffiliated.
“After consultation with its counsel, the board has decided to open the meeting with a moment of silence instead of a prayer,” the school district’s law firm wrote back. “That practice has been followed since receipt of your letter.”
A Pennsylvania resident reported to FFRF that a speaker with a history of talking about his faith would be putting on an event at Downington Area School District.
A letter from FFRF Staff Attorney Maddy Ziegler reminded the school district that it is well settled that schools may not advance or promote religion. “Please note that the fact that this event takes place after school and participation is voluntary is not a valid safeguard,” Ziegler wrote. “Courts have summarily rejected arguments that voluntariness excuses a constitutional violation.”
The solicitor for the Pennsylvania school district has reassured FFRF that its intention is and will not be to endorse any religion.
FFRF intervened after a report from a Palm Beach County, Fla., resident showed that the local post office contained a lengthy Christian prayer posted for public view. The resident also reported that when the issue was brought up to management, the response allegedly was, “No Jews have ever complained, so it’s OK.”
In a letter to West Palm Beach Tax Collector Anne Gannon, FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote, “We write to ask that the county remove this religious sign from county property in recognition that it represents an unconstitutional endorsement of religion over nonreligion.”
FFRF also noted that the Palm Beach County Tax Collector serves all citizens regardless of belief or nonbelief, and such a posted prayer turns non-Christians into outsiders.
The general counsel for Gannon let FFRF know that the posted prayer had been removed.
A concerned Hudsonville, Mich., resident reported to FFRF that the city had endorsed religion through its official mission statement.
“While the city of Hudsonville should work to strengthen family and community life, and should be committed to excellence in providing quality municipal services, it is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the City Commission and administration of the city of Hudsonville to officially ‘strive to serve God,’ and to proclaim this misuse of public office on the city’s official website,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line in a letter to Mayor Mark Northrup. “This mission statement should be changed immediately.”
FFRF then received a response from Northrup in which he assured the state/church watchdog that the city would adopt a new mission statement.
An Ohio School district has ceased sending its high school students to a church to perform after FFRF got involved.
When a concerned community member reported that the Logan High School Chamber Singers performed during a religious worship service at First Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, FFRF Attorney Chris Line sent a letter to Superintendent Monte Bainter insisting that the school no longer hold school-sponsored events in churches and instead select public facilities for all future events.
“The use of churches for public school programming is inappropriate and unconstitutional. It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that a public school may not advance, or appear to endorse religion,” Line explained. “Even if attendance and participation in this event were voluntary, church performances are still impermissible.”
Legal counsel responded by assuring FFRF that the district has no scheduled performances at any church venue and all future venue selections will be approved by the superintendent.
The city of Morris, Ill., has agreed to stop a discriminatory parking policy favoring churchgoers after the Freedom From Religion Foundation stepped in.
The presence of four “church parking only” signs prohibiting area residents from parking on a public street near a church created a discriminatory privilege for churchgoers, FFRF told Morris Mayor Chris Brown.
“This not only confers endorsement and advancement of religion but also fosters excessive entanglement between the city and a church,” FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote. “The Supreme Court has struck down such entanglements between government and religious actors.”
The subsidy for church parking is significant because the church, unlike a secular counterpart, does not pay taxes to contribute to public streets and public parking options. By providing church parking, the entire city is subsidizing free parking for churchgoers. If parking is limited immediately in front of a church, it is not for the city to resolve by granting special treatment.
These signs allowed a religious organization to control the enforcement of parking on a public street in Morris. The city’s treatment of parking was preferential toward churchgoers and exclusionary toward residents and neighbors who do not attend the church. The city’s bestowal of special parking benefits to a select church couldn’t be reconciled with the Constitution, FFRF insisted.
FFRF’s constitutional parking lessons fell on receptive ears.
In an email from the city of Morris’ counsel Garrett Wheeler, FFRF was reassured: “The city looked at the issue once it was brought to the city’s attention and determined the signs were erected without city council approval, so they were removed by the church.”
A school district in Georgia has stopped basketball coaches at Northwest Whitfield High School from letting outside adults proselytize students.
After a community member raised concerns with FFRF about this promotion of religion in the high school’s girls’ basketball program, FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter to Superintendent Mike Ewton, informing him that “This conduct raises serious concerns that Northwest Whitfield High School coaches are proselytizing and promoting their religion to students, both through outside religious leaders and directly to students.”
Newton was asked to investigate the complaint and take immediate action to ensure that its athletic programs are not being used to proselytize and promote religion in violation of students’ constitutional rights
Ewton responded to FFRF’s request and said the school has addressed the situation with the employees involved. The principal also met with all other coaches at the school as well as the FCA coordinator and reminded them of appropriate procedures.
FFRF and its members in Michigan have persuaded a county board to reverse its prayer policy and halt governmental prayer.
After multiple concerned area residents reported the Leelanau County Board was starting to implement prayers to open its meetings, FFRF contacted the board in September, urging it to honor the constitutional principle of separation between religion and government.
“Prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote Leelanau County Board of Commission Chair William J. Bunek.
Although FFRF received an initially discouraging response from the county, local activists attended meetings to voice their objections and changed the board’s mind. On Jan 18, the county board voted 5 to 2 to change the prayer to a moment of silence.
Children at a Texas elementary school are no longer being proselytized by their music teacher after FFRF intervened.
A parent had reported that a music teacher at Frostwood Elementary in Spring Branch ISD taught a religious prayer song in sign language to first-grade students. The parent’s child signed and sung a prayer before dinner after which our complainant learned that she was taught the prayer at school by the school’s music teacher.
FFRF let Superintendent Jennifer Blaine know that “Thank You For The World So Sweet” is an incontrovertible prayer.
FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote in a letter to the school district that “No public school employee may urge religious points of view on students.”
General counsel for the school district responded to Line by saying “Though the song is in a state-approved textbook, the textbook is outdated (from 2006), so the teacher agreed to discontinue the use of the outdated textbook.”
After a student contacted FFRF to report that an Oklahoma science teacher was showing students a Christian propaganda film during class, FFRF Attorney Chris Line sent a letter to Superintendent Brian Beagles of Sperry Public Schools.
Beagles was informed that playing Christian music in class and requiring students to watch a Christian film entangled the district with a religious message.
FFRF also informed Beagles that “Facing the Giants” is a Christian propaganda film about a struggling high school football coach who inspires his team to believe in the Christian god and to use religious faith to succeed.
Counsel for the school responded to FFRF and reassured it that the issue had been addressed and will not happen again.
The city of Port Aransas, Tex., has stopped having prayers during holiday parties.
FFRF was told that the city was holding mandatory holiday parties that all city employees were required to attend. At the events, David Parsons, the city manager, was leading employees in sectarian Christian prayers.
“Prayer and proselytizing as part of government-sponsored events is unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive,” wrote FFRF Attorney Chris Line in a letter to Mayor Charles Bujan. The mayor was then asked to stop the prayer.
FFRF has since been informed that the prayers have ended.
A South Carolina school district has stopped teachers from leading prayers during school hours.
After a concerned parent reported to FFRF that multiple teachers within the Cherokee County School District had been leading their classes in prayer during lunch, including teachers at Northwest Elementary School, FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter to the district.
“Public school teachers may not promote religion by leading students in prayer, encouraging students to pray, participating in student-initiated prayer, or otherwise endorsing religion to students,” he wrote. “The district must 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 or religious instruction.”
The Cherokee County School District responded by stopping the offensive practice and reminded all of its administrators of the need to maintain a distance between state and church.
Georgia Southern University has agreed to stop promoting and endorsing Christianity at its football games.
An area resident previously reported that Georgia Southern University was promoting and endorsing Christianity and that GSU appeared to be sponsoring a religious event called “Sermon on the Court,” and that the university allows an outside religious leader to act as an official chaplain for its football team.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Kyle Marrero, president of GSU, regarding the matter.
In a response from the university’s legal counsel, FFRF was assured that “the institution has taken appropriate follow-up action . . . to ensure that this type of unauthorized activity does not take place again.”
A lunchtime proselytization has stopped after FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote a letter to the Racine School District in Wisconsin.
A concerned parent of a student at Starbuck Middle School contacted FFRF to report that an adult, believed to be a teacher, was recruiting for a school religious club during lunchtime in the school cafeteria.
The superintendent assured FFRF that appropriate follow-up steps will be taken to ensure that the volunteer has a clear understanding that he cannot continue proselytizing.
A concerned Midwood High School (N.Y.) community member reported that Principal Michael McDonnell had been using a religious email signature in his official communications. McDonell included a bible verse that read, “The truth shall set you free, John 8:32” in his official email signature.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris line asked that the school take the appropriate steps to ensure that employees, including McDonnell, are aware of their constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion while acting in their official capacity.
McDonnell had immediately removed the quote from his signature upon receiving FFRF’s letter.
A Georgia Elementary school is no longer holding any “See You at the Pole” events after receiving a letter from FFRF educating them as to why it goes against the Establishment Clause.
A concerned Walker County District parent has reported that Cherokee Ridge Elementary School hosted and promoted a “See You at the Pole” event in September 2021.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote in a letter to the district that it cannot organize, promote or endorse religious events like See You at the Pole and that any such events held at a public school must be entirely student-initiated and student-run with no participation from staff members or outside adults.
Superintendent Damon Raines said the situation was immediately addressed with the administration.
Church trailers have been removed from a Virginia public high school after FFRF intervened.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter to Loudoun County Public Schools legal counsel after a concerned community member reported that the district allows Terraforma Church, a church currently operating out of Independence High School, to store multiple trailers in the school’s parking lot at all times.
In a response from the school’s legal counsel, FFRF was informed that the trailers were planned to be removed from the Independence High School parking lot.
A concerned local community member reported to FFRF that cadets from the JROTC program at Sonora High School in California participated in a religious flag-folding ceremony as part of a Veterans Day event held in La Habra. The community member reported that as the cadets folded the flag, their JROTC instructor narrated using strong religious language: “The flag-folding ceremony represents the same religious principles on which our great country was originally founded.”
After FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Steve McLaughlin, the district agreed to inform staff members that religious rituals are not to be included as part of school activities.
A Willard (Mo.) High School choir director has stopped posting religious material on a Facebook group page he administers for Willard High School Choirs and can no longer use it.
“To avoid further Establishment Clause concerns, school employees must understand the limits of what they may post on social media when they do so in their official capacities,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman.
The choir director was instructed that school messages cannot be posted on his private social media account and that it should not be an issue going forward.
School district employees in Socorro, Texas, are no longer able to promote their religion through emails to staff, students and families after receiving a letter from FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald.
A concerned district employee informed FFRF that several district employees have promoted religion in emails that have been sent by representatives of the HR department.
Superintendent Marta Carmona responded by saying that the district will address the employees and direct that they refrain from using district-provided email systems to promote religion.
FFRF has stopped an Iowa public school coach from propagating a Christian message to his football players.
FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote to the school district informing Pella Community School District that religious promotion by the Pella Middle School football coach violates the school’s obligation to remain neutral while acting in official capacities.
In a response from the school district, FFRF was informed that the principal met with the coach to ensure that he will no longer be encouraging or promoting religion. The school district will also consider staff training, if needed, in the future.
An Ohio school district has stopped giving out religious materials after FFRF’s intervention.
The school had originally sent out emails to parents at Hazelwood Junior High School that turkey dinners were provided by Graceland Baptist Church. The email listed the items to be included in the giveaway, including “religious materials.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote a letter to the distinct asking it to ensure that the turkey dinner giveaway is completely secular.
The school’s legal representative responded by ensuring FFRF that the religious materials would be removed before getting handed out in the giveaway.
A Tennessee school has stopped a Christian fellowship group from proselytizing its baseball players after receiving a letter from FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heinema.
Upper Cumberland Fellowship of Christian Athletes was being given special access to Warren County Schools baseball team, handing out bibles and talking with the players.
In response from the legal counsel for the school district, FFRF was notified that the school had taken the necessary steps to stop all constitutional violations.
Ouachita Parish School District in Louisiana has stopped a head coach from giving a pregame devotional after a letter was sent by FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line.
A concerned district community member informed FFRF that Richwood High School’s head football coach had offered a “pregame devotional at Richwood High School,” and that “an invitation to know Jesus as Lord and Savior,” appeared on the Northeast Louisana’s FCA’s Facebook page.
In a response from the school’s legal counsel, the school board will seek to comply with its obligations under the First Amendment, while at the same time acknowledging the individual religious freedoms of its students.
A Texas school district is no longer employing a Christian pastor for its annual convocation after FFRF got involved.
In a letter to Venus (Texas) ISD, FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line explained to Superintendent James Hopper that while individuals are certainly free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their way, calling upon district employees to participate in prayer is coercive and beyond the scope of a secular employer.
In a call from Hopper, he informed FFRF that the prayers from the Christian pastor will not happen again.
After receiving a letter from FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line, the Harrison County School District in West Virginia has stopped playing Christian worship music in its hallways.
A concerned district employee reported that Robert C. Byrd High School played Christian worship music in its main hallway at all times. The letter to Superintendent Dora Stutler reminded the district that allowing such a practice is a violation of the Establishment Clause.
In a response to FFRF’s letter, Stutler reported that radio has been removed and the issue had been resolved.
Athletic and staff meetings at Lafourche Parish School District in Louisiana will no longer include prayer after a parent reported that the district regularly opened school-sponsored events with Christian prayer, including athletic events and staff meetings.
On Aug. 4, the district invited a Catholic priest to pray over a staff meeting at Central Lafourche High School. The school then posted about this prayer on its official Facebook page.
In a letter to the district, FFRF explained that a prayer taking place at a “regularly scheduled school-sponsored function conducted on school property” would lead an objective observer to perceive it as state endorsement of religion.
Superintendent Jarod W. Martin responded and assured FFRF that the issue had been addressed and resolved.
Conroe Independent School District in Texas has stopped proselytizing students after FFRF wrote a letter to the school district. Teachers and staff members were participating in a “See You at the Pole” event at Birnham Woods Elementary School on Sept 22.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line reminded the district that “it cannot organize, promote, or endorse religious events like See You at the Pole.”
In a response from the general counsel for the district, it was reported to FFRF that training has been provided to all new administrators regarding “See you at the Pole” and other similar situations in which they could encounter religious activities in the school setting.
An annual student-led prayer has ended in Roane County, W.Va., after the school received a letter from FFRF.
Roane County High School used to have student-led prayers each year at the graduation. The prayers were a planned part of graduation ceremonies and were included in the official graduation program.
Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district to let them know that by “scheduling prayers at graduation, the district abridges that duty and alienates the 38 percent of younger Americans who are not religious.”
The director of the school, LaDonna McFall, received the letter, had a conference with the principal and assured FFRF that the prayers would no longer be included in the graduation ceremonies.
A Tennessee university removed a bible verse from a football locker room after FFRF’s intervention.
It was reported that the Tennessee Tech University football locker room displayed the bible verse, “Let us not be weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap a great reward. Galatians 6:9.”
In a letter sent to the president of Tennessee Tech University, Philip Oldham, FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line made it clear that it was “inappropriate for the university to display this religious message because it conveyed government support for religion.”
General counsel for Oldham responded by saying that the bible verse had been removed from the locker room.
A high school in Tecumseh, Okla., is no longer proselytizing football players and students after FFRF intervened.
A concerned community member reported that on Aug. 29, Tecumseh High School football players were required to attend a team prayer meeting on the football field while district coaches organized and led prayer at the school-sponsored event. A post on the Tecumseh Savage Football Facebook page confirmed that there was an official team prayer event held to “say a prayer over our players, cheerleaders, band members, students, coaches, and fans.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter to Tecumseh Public Schools asking that it investigate and take action to make sure coaches and employees no longer lead students in prayer, participate in prayer with students or organize team prayer events.
Tecumseh Superintendent Robert Kinsey instructed the removal of the religious message on the school’s Facebook page, and spoke with coaches to ensure that prayers are student-led, voluntary and held off district property.
A Virginia school is no longer scheduling prayers during meetings after hearing from FFRF.
A letter was sent to Russell County Public Schools to inform the chairman that it is unconstitutional for the board to institute prayers at its meetings. FFRF requested that the board immediately refrain from scheduling prayers as part of future school board meetings to uphold the rights of Russell County residents under the First Amendment.
The school board later let FFRF know that it no longer includes prayer on its meeting agenda and no longer leads or orchestrates a public prayer as part of its meeting.
An Alabama school district revised its discriminatory dress code after receiving a letter from FFRF. A parent reported that the latest edition of Shelby County Schools’ Student Code of Conduct prohibited students from wearing “any sign, symbol, logo or garment, which has become synonymous with any gang, cult, Satanism, or unauthorized club or activity.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote that “A school policy that targets a particular form of religious belief, in this case, ‘Satanism,’ violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The prohibition on any sign, symbol, logo, or garment that has become synonymous with Satanism must be removed immediately.”
The school district responded to the letter saying that they are revising the Code of Conduct to address FFRF’s concerns and expect the revisions to be approved at the district’s next board meeting.
A Minnesota city has stopped including religious promotions in their bills to residents after FFRF intervened.
A concerned Saint Clair resident reported that in July 2021, the city included an insert with a sign-up for a summer bible school in its June/July 2021 monthly newsletter and utility bill. The insert promoted “Divine Nature Camp,” a vacation bible school program.
After hearing from FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line, the city agreed that it will only include inserts appropriate for a government entity.
After hearing from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Michigan school district has gotten rid of unconstitutional religious iconography from its schools.
A concerned Pewamo-Westphalia Community Schools student reported to FFRF multiple instances of religious promotion by district staff members at the middle and high school. The displays ranged from a paperweight that displayed “WWJD” or “What would Jesus do” to a cross on paper displayed with a bible quote. Teachers at the school sometimes also reportedly discussed their religious beliefs with students.
“It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Jeff Wright.
FFRF’s missive led to official religion disappearing from Pewamo-Westphalia Community Schools — in keeping with constitutional precepts.
The superintendent met with staff and instructed them to remove “non-curricular religious displays from the classrooms and to discontinue any practices of promoting personal religious views during the school day,” an attorney for the school district informed FFRF. The superintendent also planned to do a walkthrough to make sure everything has been removed, FFRF was told.
An Ohio public high school football coach has stopped praying with players after the FFRF intervened.
According to a concerned community member, the head coach of the Liberty-Benton High School football team was requiring players to lead prayers at team meals, leading students in the Lord’s Prayer before games and leading students in post-game prayer.
“The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools,” FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to Liberty-Benton Local Schools Superintendent Mark Kowalski. “In each of these cases, the Supreme Court struck down school-sponsored prayer because it constitutes a government advancement and endorsement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
FFRF asked the district to take immediate action to stop any school-sponsored prayers from occurring within any district athletic programs — and that had the desired effect. Kowalski wrote back to FFRF that he will be meeting with various faculty and coaches to “discuss the sensitivities surrounding school employees being involved in prayer with students on school grounds and on school time.”
The superintendent of Glen Rose ISD in Texas has stopped using bible verses in social media posts after receiving a letter from FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line. A concerned resident reported that on Sept. 1, the superintendent posted a bible verse on the district’s official Facebook page. The post informed parents and students about the junior high campus closing but also included “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7.”
Line informed the superintendent that district employees and administrators can worship, pray or quote any religious text they wish when acting in their capacities. But they are not permitted to use their position as public school employees to promote and endorse their personal religious views.
A response from the superintendent indicated that he will not do it again.
A “God bless America” digital sign was removed from a Florida city park after a concerned Pompano, Fla., resident reported that it had been on display for several weeks in August on the entrance sign to Pompano Community Park.
FFRF explained that when this phrase is proclaimed by the government, it “amounts to a declaration of orthodoxy in religion that falsely equates patriotism with piety,” and urged the city to recognize its obligation to provide all residents with an environment free from city-sponsored religious messages.
The city assistant manager responded to report that the digital sign was removed from the park.
A teacher is no longer spreading religious messaging after a concerned citizen reported to FFRF that a Kansas City School District employee had posted her biography, which included a “Spirit Walk” section and “Wants God to receive the glory for every success and triumph,” on the district website.
In a letter written by Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald, FFRF asked that these specific posts be taken down, as they could create the impression of endorsement of religion.
McDonald went on to say “We understand, of course, that the district cannot monitor every statement made by employees. But we do ask that it take the appropriate steps to ensure that employees are made aware of their constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion while acting in their official capacity.”
The response came from Kelly Wachel, chief marketing and communications officer of Kansas City Public Schools, who informed FFRF that the religious language was taken down and steps had been taken to avoid it in the future.
Coaches that participate in a student-led prayer are violating the Constitution, FFRF told the superintendent of the Poyen School District in Arkansas.
After photos were posted showing the football team standing together with its coaches in prayer, FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald wrote a letter to Superintendent Ronnie Kissire, pointing out that the Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools and that the district must stop the school-sponsored prayers immediately.
Kissire responded to let FFRF know that the school no longer anticipates any further concerns.
A concerned Iberville Parish Schools (La.) community member has reported multiple instances of religious promotion through a teacher-led prayer at a graduation ceremony and a speech given by a preacher that invoked Christian scripture and called on the Christian god at White Castle High School.
These activities go against the Constitution and can alienate students, parents and teachers who are not Christian, FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to Superintendent Arthur M. Joffrion. Line urged him to no longer host baccalaureate services and discontinue scheduling prayer at future school-sponsored activities.
Joffrion responded to FFRF to report that he had spoken with White Castle High School’s principal to remind him that the school has certain obligations under the First Amendment. He also specifically let the principal know that the scheduled prayer and holding of any religious school events are unacceptable under the Constitution.
In Iowa, South Hardin Community Schools Superintendent Adam Zellmer will stop proselytizing through official district email after FFRF contacted him.
A concerned district employee reported to FFRF that the superintendent had been discussing “religious beliefs, quoting bible verses, and sermons” through emails to the school staff. Some examples include: “The pastor at my brother’s church had an amazing message on Sunday that tied in directly with the State Wrestling Tournament,” and “My faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation on which I strive to not only follow, but also lead from.”
Staff Attorney Christopher Line sent a letter to the superintendent, telling him that when a superintendent uses official channels to promote personal religious beliefs, it creates the impression in the minds of nonreligious district employees that they are “outsiders, not full members of the political community,” as well as to immediately quit preaching his beliefs to district staff members through official district channels.
Zellmer reassured FFRF that he would be more cognizant of writing to his staff and consider their rights and freedoms.
A religious display containing a Latin cross with the message “The Lord bless you and keep you” was removed from the counter where residents go to renew their auto tags at the Hardin County, Tenn., Courthouse Annex building.
A concerned Hardin County resident informed FFRF of the cross. Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote a letter to County Clerk Paula Robinson Wilhite. In it, Line informs her that many court cases have upheld that the First Amendment “mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,” and that having the cross display creates the perception that the government is endorsing Christianity.
In response, Wilhite sent a photo that showed the office without the cross and wrote, “My employee’s cross has been removed.”
A teacher in Cincinnati Public Schools is no longer passing out Buddha statues in his classroom after FFRF contacted the district. The teacher is not Buddhist, but was passing out the statues to students as “comfort” or “good luck” items.
FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote a letter to Superintendent Daniel Hoying, reporting that not only is giving out Buddha statues unconstitutional, it could be offensive to Buddhist students, parents or staff members.
The First Amendment prohibits government entities like Walnut Hills High School from promoting or denigrating religion.
In a response from Hoying, FFRF was informed that the teacher agreed to remove the Buddha statues from his classroom and assured that he would not “repeat the passing out of a Buddha before an exam.”
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.