A Missouri school district has ended its football coaching staff’s practice of praying with the student-athletes after FFRF got involved.
Joey Ballard, head coach for Jasper High School’s boys football team, regularly led team prayer, a concerned parent of a player had informed FFRF. During these prayers, student players gathered around Ballard on bended knee, with additional coaching staff surrounding the students while Ballard delivered a Christian prayer and then led the students in reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Jasper R-5 School District Superintendent Christina Hess, reminding the district that it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer.
FFRF’s constitutional advice has been heeded.
“In response to your letter dated Oct. 6, 2020, we write to advise you about the actions the district,” the district’s legal counsel stated. “Employees of the district were reminded of the district’s board policy regarding religion at school and were also instructed not to lead students in, or promote, prayer. This matter has therefore been resolved.”
In Missouri, a coach in the Jasper R-5 School District has been advised to cease proselytizing students.
FFRF was informed that Jasper High School’s head football coach was regularly leading his team in prayer. During these prayers, student athletes knelt around the coach, with additional coaching staff surrounding the students as he gave a Christian prayer and then led the students in reciting the Lord’s prayer.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Christina Hess, reminding the district that it is illegal for public school staff to lead students in prayer.
The district’s attorney alerted FFRF in a letter of response that the district has investigated the incidences of staff-led prayer and that “employees of the district were reminded of the district’s board policy regarding religion at school and were also instructed not to lead students in, or promote, prayer.”
The Orangefield Independent School District in Texas has removed scheduled prayer from its graduation ceremony.
A community member informed FFRF that the Orangefield High School graduation program included an invocation and benediction, during which students lead the audience in a prayer through the microphone on the graduation stage. This practice occurred at the May 2019 graduation ceremony and remained in place, traditionally enforced by the superintendent.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Kevin Weldon, informing the district of the unconstitutionality of prayer, invocation and benediction at school-sponsored events.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF in a letter of response that the district “changed all references to invocation and/or benediction to opening and closing remarks, respectively, in its 2020 graduation programs. Additionally, the Orangefield High School Yearbook for the 2019-2020 year did not refer to invocation or benediction.”
A Capistrano Unified School District school in California has ceased playing a religious song after the Pledge of Allegiance.
A district parent alerted FFRF that during distance learning at Reilly Elementary Schools, teachers were playing an audio recording of “God Bless America.” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Kirsten Vital, asking the district to immediately stop this divisive practice.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF in a letter of response that the district will no longer play “God Bless America” at events.
In West Virginia, Morgantown police officers will no longer participate in prayer events in uniform.
A local Morgantown resident reported that a local police officer and pastor at New Life Ministries appeared in uniform and delivered a prayer at a National Day of Prayer event. Several other uniformed officers reportedly also participated in this prayer event, including joining in a prayer circle with citizens while in uniform.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Interim Police Chief Ed Preston to ensure that no department members participate in religious events in their official capacities as public servants.
Powell sent FFRF an email response with assurances that he has addressed the matter with the officer and “advised him to not participate in any further activities while in uniform.”
U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo has stopped including prayer requests in constituent emails in Palo Alto, Calif.
A constituent from California’s 18th congressional district reported that her office regularly sent out prayer requests. One communication said, “Let’s pray for each other, all the firefighters, and all those who have had to evacuate their families.” For a few weeks, her office was also sending a weekly newsletter that also ended with a prayer request.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Eshoo’s office noting that, while the California wildfire crisis is putting immense pressure on leaders to respond to and comfort constituents, as a U.S. representative she represents a diverse population including atheists, agnostics and other nonbelievers. FFRF encouraged Eshoo to stand up for the precious constitutional principle of separation between state and church by refraining from sending prayer requests through official government channels.
FFRF was informed by the complainant that Rep. Eshoo’s more recent weekly newsletters did not include a call for prayer by constituents.
A video containing religious messages has been removed by the Marion (Ark.) School District.
A district parent reported that the district recently produced and distributed a video titled “Welcome Back, MSD Faculty and Staff” that included several prayers and a bible reading. The video begins with messages from the mayor and a state representative and then features two preachers who deliver prayers.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Glen Fenter with a reminder that it is unlawful for the district to promote religion by including prayer in an official school-sponsored video that was shared with staff, students and parents.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF in a letter of response that the video has been removed.
In Kenansville, N.C., Duplin County Schools teachers and staff will be reminded of their obligation not to proselytize students.
FFRF received reports that Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) Area Director Ken Lovell had been repeatedly granted access to the district’s student-athletes, particularly the football team, during school-sponsored events.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the district’s attorney, reminding the district that coaches may not grant outside adults access to school-sponsored activities to preach religious messages to students.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF in an email response that he has discussed the issue with the Duplin County Schools superintendent. “He has, and will again, emphasize to principals and athletic directors that outside groups like FCA may not proselytize to students,” the attorney writes.
In California, the San Bernardino County Clerk’s Office has addressed a complaint about an impermissible religious display on county property.
A San Bernardino County citizen alerted FFRF that there is a sign stating “Jesus Christ is Lord of All” displayed in the customer service window on the first floor of the county clerk’s office.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to County Clerk Bob Dutton asking that the sign be removed and that employees be reminded of their obligation to remain neutral toward religion while serving in their official capacity as public employees.
Dutton sent a letter of response informing FFRF “[these] concerns had been addressed.”
Pasadena Independent School District in Texas will be considering its legal obligations with regard to student speeches at graduation ceremonies.
A concerned citizen informed FFRF that the Pasadena Independent School District high schools have been including prayers at their graduation ceremonies. Video shows that multiple district graduation ceremonies began and ended with prayer. This had apparently been an established practice at several schools for years.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the district’s attorney, urging the district to refrain from endorsing, promoting or otherwise encouraging prayer at their graduation ceremonies.
FFRF was informed in a letter of response that the attorney is “advising the district on its legal obligations” and that the district “is committed to following the requirements of the First Amendment when it comes to student speech, both at graduation ceremonies and elsewhere.”
A Kentucky school district will no longer subject graduation attendees to prayer.
FFRF was informed that the July 2020 Pikeville High School graduation program included three student-led prayers. These prayers were explicitly Christian in nature, including language such as “Oh Heavenly Father,” “In your son’s name, we pray,” and thanks to the “Lord and savior, Jesus Christ,” as well as warnings of the “war on the Christian faith.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent David Trimble, informing him that this inclusion of prayer at a public school graduation ceremony is impermissible and encouraged the district to ensure that future ceremonies remain secular.
The school district’s attorney informed FFRF in an email response that he has advised the school’s principal to “refrain from religious prayer at future graduations.”
The Myrtle Beach mayor’s office in South Carolina has agreed to avoid language that shows endorsement of a specific religion and make sure social media posts are free of such religious bias.
A Horry County citizen alerted FFRF that Myrtle Beach’s Facebook page was periodically promoting events for religious worship. Last summer, one post urged citizens not to miss out on Sunday Celebrations, “a free concert series” with “good music and a great message.” This promotion lacked any information or disclaimer about the organization putting on the event, Ground Zero Ministries, which has a self-professed strategy to utilize “high-energy events and unforgettable experiences to capture the attention of teenagers and introduce them to Christ.” The city continued to promote several other religious events.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Mayor Brenda Bethune, asking the city government to refrain from promoting events for religious worship, as these promotions venture into the “perilous ground of mingling state and religion.”
Bethune informed FFRF in a letter of response that the city will be more careful in the future to “avoid language which might tend to imply support or endorsement for a religious belief.”
Religious displays were removed from Eastside Union School District property in Lancaster, Calif., after a resident contacted FFRF.
A community member alerted FFRF that there were religious displays in several locations throughout the district, including in classrooms, staff lounges and the district office.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Joshua Lightle, pointing out the impermissibility of such religious displays on public school property.
Lightle responded to FFRF’s letter with assurances that the district has addressed these concerns.
A Seminole County Public Schools employee in Ovideo, Fla., will no longer be using a religious email signature.
A district community member reported that an administrative secretary at Paul J. Hagerty High School was sending emails from her official district account with a religious message included in the signature line. One email she sent included the message, “Believe. When a believing person Prays, Great things happen. James 5:16.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the school’s attorney, requesting that the email signature be removed so as not to create the impression of school endorsement of religion.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF the religious signature has been removed from the staff member’s email.
A religious message has been removed from a Wayne County Schools (W.Va.) sign.
A local resident reported that the electronic notice board outside of Buffalo Middle School had featured the message “God will carry us” for much of the summer.
This message was accompanied by several footprints on the digital notice board, presumably in reference to the popular Christian poem “Footprints in the Sand.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Todd Alexander, pointing out the constitutional impermissibility of projecting this overtly religious message on public school grounds.
Alexander assured FFRF in an email response that the message has been removed from the sign.
In Tennessee, a religious post has been removed from Alamo City School District’s social media page.
FFRF was alerted that the district had posted a graphic on its official Facebook page encouraging students and parents to “Park & Pray Everyday.” The graphic read: “Driving past a school? Pull in, park and pray for our children, teachers and staff! Driving past an administration building? Pull in, park and pray for our leaders! Driving past a bus lot? Pull in, park and pray for our bus drivers!”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Director of Schools Reecha Black, requesting that the district cease posting religious content on its official social media pages and that this and any related posts be taken down.
Black informed FFRF that the post has been removed.
Future Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employee meetings will not include an opening prayer.
FFRF was informed that, earlier this year, several Wisconsin DNR employees were required to attend an awards ceremony sponsored by the department. During the event, official DNR chaplains led prayers and invoked Jesus Christ.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to DNR Secretary Preston Cole, informing the department that, as a government entity, it has a legal obligation to remain neutral toward religion. Federal courts have held that mandatory meetings for government employees cannot promote religion.
The department’s legal counsel informed FFRF in a thorough response that the DNR agrees such prayer was inappropriate. “In the future, if a member of our Chaplain Program asks to give an opening prayer at a mandatory training meeting, we will deny the request,” the response read.
A “prayer locker” has been removed from Prairiland Junior High School property.
A local resident alerted FFRF that the school had designated a locker to be used as a “prayer locker” for its students, marked with a Latin cross and a sign that reads: “Drop Prayer Here. Prayer Locker.” The purpose of this locker was apparently to encourage students to submit prayer requests to an outside religious group — Youth for Christ.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Jeff Ballard, informing the district that the First Amendment prohibits government entities like Prairiland Independent School District from promoting religion.
Johnson encouraged the district to remove all prayer boxes from district property. Ballard informed FFRF via email that the prayer locker has been removed.
No proselytizing took place at Allen Parish Schools’ (Kinder, La.) back-to-school meeting after last year’s mandatory meeting subjected attendees to prayer.
FFRF was informed that at last year’s mandatory teachers’ meeting at Kinder Middle School, a Catholic priest was allowed to speak to the group and recite a prayer before the meeting. The result was that the school created a public platform for a religious leader to spread his religious views to a captive audience of school employees.
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent Kent Reed to ensure that no prayers were scheduled for this year’s meeting, out of respect for the religious and nonreligious diversity of the district’s staff.
Reed informed FFRF in an email response that no prayers took place at the meeting this year.
Morgan County Schools has discontinued prayers at its school board meetings.
A concerned local resident reported to FFRF that the Morgan County School Board had been opening its meetings with Christian prayer.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Board Chairman Wade Summers, requesting that the board refrain from engaging in prayer at its meetings, as it violates the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Summer responded to FFRF via email with assurances that the request would be met and the board will no longer include prayer at its meetings.
LaBrae Local School District meetings in Leavittsburg will no longer begin with prayer.
A district community member alerted FFRF that the May 11 school board meeting opened with a Christian prayer. FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to School Board President Russell Sewell informing him that it is unconstitutional for the board to institute prayers at its meetings and requesting that it immediately refrain from including prayer at board meetings.
Sewell informed FFRF in a letter of response: “Effective with the June 8, 2020, meeting and all subsequent meetings, the LaBrae Local School Board will refrain from including a prayer at the openings of the Board meetings.”
A religious event has been removed from a Community Unit School District #200 summer activity handout in Wheaton.
A district parent informed FFRF that the district sent out a “Summer Choice Board” handout to parents via email which provided various summer activities for students to participate in. One of these activities, “Summerfest Goes Wild,” was a Christian worship event presented by Highpoint Church. The event began with a woman explaining, “We are here for one reason, and that’s to get to know who God is and his great love for each of us.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Jeff Schuler reminding him that the district may not encourage students to attend a Christian worship event. Schuler informed FFRF in a letter of response that the event has been removed from the handout.
A local church will no longer advertise on Salem-Keizer Public Schools property.
A local community member contacted FFRF to report that signs advertising Way of Life Fellowship’s Sunday service have been placed on the grounds of Battle Creek Elementary School. These signs had apparently been on school grounds for over six months, even during times when Way of Life Fellowship is not renting the property.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Christy Perry to ensure that, moving forward, Way of Life Fellowship is only using or displaying messages at times when it is actually renting the property.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF that the sign had been left up inadvertently, has since been removed and the church was notified that it cannot let a sign remain on district property.
The Ashland Police Department is doing an audit of its social media page to redress inappropriate religious content.
It was reported that the department was regularly promoting Christianity on its official Facebook page. In March, the department posted an image that depicted fictionalized quotes from Satan and Jesus. Satan said, “I will cause anxiety, fear and panic. I will shut down business, schools, places of worship and sports events. I will cause economic turmoil.” Jesus said: “I will bring together neighbors, restore the family unit, I will bring dinner back to the kitchen table. I will help people slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters. I will teach my children to rely on me and not the world. I will teach my children to trust me and not their money and material resources. AMEN!”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Police Chief Joseph Baudler pointing out the constitutional issue with this post and others like it. FFRF urged the department to remove all social media posts promoting religion and refrain from posting such content in the future.
Baudler informed FFRF via email that the department will be conducting an audit of its Facebook content and has removed the religious posts.
A Long Beach Unified School District teacher will no longer be promoting the religious “Good News Club.”
A teacher at Colin Powell Elementary School reportedly founded and was running a Good News Club for first- and second-grade students that met in her classroom. Other adults, at least some of whom are district employees, reportedly also helped to organize the club and “bring the gospel message” to students.
Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Chris Steinhauser asking that he inform staff that school-sponsored religious activity, like this club, violates the Constitution as well as the rights of conscience of students.
The district’s attorney has informed FFRF that the teacher leading the Good New Club has been told to stop while in her role as a public school teacher.
FFRF has persuaded a Massachusetts town into removing a religious display from a library playground.
A concerned community member contacted FFRF to report that the Ashburnham Library playground featured a turning picture game describing the biblical tale of Noah and the Ark. Each section of the turning game contained a passage from the genocidal tale, which was paraphrased from the book of Genesis in order to be more easily understood by young children. For instance, one section read: “Once there was a man named Noah who was warned by God of a great flood. Noah began to build an ark that was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high.”
Federal courts have held displays of religious symbols on public property to be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, FFRF stressed.
“It is settled that permanent displays on public land are government speech,” FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote to Ashburnham Board of Selectmen Chair Leo Janssens. “It makes no difference whether this part of the playground was donated to the city. As a permanent fixture, observers understand that the display is sanctioned and approved by the city.”
The display of this vengeful biblical tale on public property conferred government endorsement of religion, FFRF added. It was especially troublesome that this display was aimed squarely at young children using the public library. The government should not be using public grounds to promote bible stories to the most impressionable members of society, FFRF emphasized.
The town must remove this Noah’s Ark display from the playground and refrain from approving any such displays in the future, FFRF insisted.
City officials read FFRF’s message loud and clear.
“Thank you for bringing this matter to the town’s attention,” Ashburnham Town Administrator Brian Doheny recently emailed the state/church watchdog. “In response to your letter, the town has painted over both sides of the display with white paint so that no symbolism is shown (see attached pictures).”
FFRF appreciates the city’s prompt action.
“We’re pleased the town realized that allowing biblical preaching to children at a public institution isn’t in keeping with our nation’s secular ideals,” says Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
The city of Truth or Consequences has pledged to more closely scrutinize any public recognition of churches after a recent anniversary proclamation crossed the line into religious endorsement.
Earlier this year, the city proclaimed April 26 to be “First Baptist Church 100th Anniversary Celebration Day.” In its proclamation, the city explicitly endorsed the religious mission and views of the First Baptist Church.
The proclamation reads, in part: “Whereas for the past one hundred years the First Baptist Church of Truth or Consequences has faithfully demonstrated the love of God, communicated the Word of God and developed the Family of God.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Mayor Sandy Whitehead pointing out the constitutional issues with the city issuing such a proclamation. While FFRF recognizes the city may acknowledge and honor local organizations for their history and contributions to the community, it cannot explicitly endorse the religious views and mission of the church, presenting the doctrine as true thereby indicating the city’s endorsement of that religious mission.
The city’s attorney sent a letter of response informing FFRF that, while it was not the city’s intention to endorse the church’s religious message, it understands the present constitutional concerns and will exercise further caution in the future.
Rapides Parish Schools in Alexandria has addressed several church/state issues raised by FFRF.
A concerned community member reported that Brame Middle School has begun each school year by inviting a local church to its faculty meetings to pray with and preach to teachers and staff. Teachers have reportedly been told they cannot leave during this portion of the meetings. Additionally, teachers and staff at the school had been regularly participating in student Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) meetings, often by signing praise songs with students. Finally, many classrooms throughout the school featured religious displays, including crosses and bible verses.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the district, pointing out the constitutional concerns with each of these reported violations and urging it to immediately cease prayer at faculty meetings, staff participation in student religious practices and display of religious symbols and messages in the classrooms.
The district’s attorney responded to FFRF’s letter with assurances that these complaints were addressed by the school principal.
Coaches in Muskegon Public Schools will no longer be leading their athletic teams in prayer.
A district community member reported that the Muskegon High School’s head football coach was leading the team in prayer after games and practices.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Matthew Cortez reminding the district that it is illegal for public school coaches to lead their players in prayer and that this practice must cease.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF that Cortez will be directing all coaches to cease prayers with team members. “All coaches will be educated on the constitutional limitations of prayer in public schools,” the attorney noted.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is celebrating a victory for taxpayers near its home.
The city of Monona (adjacent to FFRF’s headquarters in Madison, Wis.) had incorrectly classified a nearly 10-acre property on Lake Monona as being exempt from property taxes. Even though the property is generally referred to as the “San Damiano Friary,” it reportedly hadn’t been used for tax-exempt purposes since at least 2015. FFRF had protested this misclassification in December.
“Property that is exempt under Wis. Stat. § 70.11(4) must actually be used by the entity seeking an exemption,” FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott had written to Monona City Administrator Bryan Gadow and the official appraisers. “It is not enough for a religious organization to own the property, it must be ‘used exclusively’ by the organization.”
Wisconsin case law backed FFRF’s argument. In Dominican Nuns v. City of La Crosse, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled that a church property that was being maintained but had been vacated by a religious order was taxable. Any claim to an exemption by the owner here was even worse than in the Dominican Nuns case, since the property was reportedly being rented to tenants, FFRF had added.
The city of Monona seems to have come around to FFRF’s perspective. The latest documents from the city’s assessing agency show that it is being appraised at just under $4 million, and the property owners could end up paying more than $80,000 in taxes annually.
“We’re glad we were able to help end yet another case of religious privilege,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Monona residents will no longer have to compensate for this entity not paying its taxes.”
School officials in the Logan-Magnolia Community School District will no longer send out religious messages to district families.
In April, the district sent a mass email to parents that endorsed Easter and religion. The email read, in part: “Easter is normally a time of rebirth and bringing together of family. Unfortunately, the coronavirus has thrown our entire world upside down.” The email concluded: “And, in the end, take time to thank God for all your blessings. Your children are a blessing, and now more than ever, you need them to give you hope for the future.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Tom Ridder to ensure that future communications do not include religious messages or endorse religious holidays. Ridder confirmed in a reply email that the district will comply.
Thomas County Schools events will no longer contain school-sponsored prayer.
A Thomas County Central High School student alerted FFRF that the school’s 2020 graduation ceremony opened with a scheduled invocation. Everyone in attendance was instructed to rise for the prayer and it was delivered “in Jesus’ name.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district reminding it that the Supreme Court has continually struck down prayers at school-sponsored events and that, in order to protect the rights of all its students, the district must no longer allow invocations at official events.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF in a letter of response that the district has reviewed the relevant legal requirements and will adhere to them in the future. “The district takes very seriously its responsibility to protect the rights of all students,” the letter reads.
Booneville School District has addressed concerns over an overtly religious flyer that was sent home with students before Christmas last year.
A Booneville community member reported that Anderson Elementary School’s kindergarten teachers sent a letter home with students asking children and parents to “remember the true ‘REASON FOR THE SEASON’” next to a drawing of a Christian nativity scene.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the district’s attorney urging officials to ensure that district employees refrain from spreading messages that promote religious practices in accordance with their First Amendment obligations.
The district informed FFRF has addressed the matter internally.
County bus drivers in Duplin County have ceased playing proselytizing radio stations on the public bus.
A local resident informed FFRF that many of the drivers for the Duplin County Transportation Department had been playing Christian radio stations that included religious music as well as sermons while riders were present. Several of the drivers reportedly also attempted to discuss God and Jesus with their riders.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the department of transportation informing the county that bus drivers may not continue to proselytize to bus riders while working in their official capacity as government employees.
Director of Duplin County Public Transportation Angel Venecia responded to FFRF with assurances that the county would promptly investigate and remedy the issue.
Prayer at Norfolk City Council meetings will be replaced with a moment of silence. A local religious leader representing Satanic Norfolk reportedly had their offer to give an invocation at a Norfolk City Council meeting rescinded after the city clerk learned the leader’s religious beliefs did not include belief in the bible. Every invocation at Norfolk’s city council meetings since at least 2017 has been a Christian one.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Cooper, pointing out that singling out a religious denomination by denying them a chance to give an invocation, despite allowing similarly situated Christian leaders to offer invocations, amounts to a clear violation of the First Amendment. If a government entity like the City of Norfolk chooses to engage in prayer before its legislative meetings, FFRF pointed out, it may not constitutionally restrict opportunities to give invocations at faith traditions of which the city approves.
City Deputy Attorney Jack Cloud sent a letter of response, informing FFRF:
“After much thought and careful consideration, the city has suspended its practice of inviting community members to give legislative prayers or to engage in the practice of legislative prayer at all. The city now holds a moment of silence instead.”
District officials in Henderson County Public schools will address a religious club run by teachers at Hendersonville Elementary School.
A community member alerted FFRF that elementary school teachers were hosting a Good New Club, a self-proclaimed child evangelism fellowship whose mission is to “evangelize boys and girls with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Bo Caldwell, requesting that the district cease allowing any Good News Clubs in its elementary schools, as such clubs violate the First Amendment.
The district’s attorney responded to FFRF with assurances that he will address the legal issues involved with this club with the district.
Independent School District 728 will make certain that staff are no longer involved in planning, organizing, supervising or carrying out a baccalaureate service in their capacity as district employees.
A district student reported that Rogers High School sponsored and promoted a baccalaureate ceremony that took place online last month. The ceremony was promoted on the school’s official Facebook page and an assistant principal and three teachers participated. The program for the ceremony clearly indicated that these staff members participated in their official capacity as representatives of the school.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Daniel Bittman, informing him that the Establishment Clause prohibits public schools from sponsoring any type of religious practices, including baccalaureate services.
Bittman informed FFRF in a response email that the school district does not permit staff to have any involvement in programs like this one and that “no public resources may be used in planning, organizing, supervising or carrying out such a service.” Bittman added that this information will be part of the district’s back-to-school orientation with school administrators.
The town of Callahan, Fla. will no longer sponsor a National Day of Prayer.
The town reportedly had been sponsoring and organizing a National Day of Prayer event annually. This year’s event was held virtually and posted on the city of Callahan’s official website. The video was also recorded in the Town Council meeting room.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Callahan Mayor Marty Fontes informing him to refrain from further organization and promotion of religious events, stop having government employees organize the event and stop advertising the event on the official Callahan website.
The town of Callahan’s attorney sent a letter of response informing FFRF that it does not plan to sponsor the National Day of Prayer going forward.
Religious content will be removed from a video on the Hutto (Texas) Independent School District website.
A local resident informed FFRF that the school posted a video of its Teacher of the Year award on its official Facebook account, which featured a district principal speaking to the awardee: “Scripture tells us that we all have different gifts according to the grace given to each of us,” the principal said. “Your gifts are the gifts of service and the gifts of teaching.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the district, informing it that in order to avoid Establishment Clause concerns, district personnel must not post religious messages to public social media pages on which they represent themselves using their job titles.
The district informed FFRF it is in the process of editing the video to remove the religious content.
A bible verse was removed from the DeWitt Township Police Department website.
The department had been displaying a verse from the bible, John 15:13, on a page memorializing a fallen officer. The verse read, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
Former FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to the department requesting that the verse be removed, which the sheriff’s office has since done.
A religious post has been removed from Hinton Public Schools’ official social media page.
FFRF was informed that a Hinton High School coach recently posted a religious message on the football team’s official Facebook page. In this post, he explained that “in the Hinton Football Program, we want to live by a simple biblical principle ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” He continued, “We don’t all have the same life experiences but the bible doesn’t call us to love only those like us. It calls us to love everyone.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Marcy Derryberry pointing out that, while FFRF agrees with the sentiments of unity and togetherness that the coach promoted in his post, it is in violation of the Establishment Clause for teachers and coaches to endorse a religious message to students.
Derryberry sent a letter of response informing FFRF that the post has been deleted and that employees will be provided training to ensure that such behavior is not repeated. “Our coaching staff and employees have been directed not to utilize school resources or property to engage in religious lessons with students during athletics or at any time they are performing services for Hinton Public School District.”
A staff member at the Protected Species Division of NOAA Fisheries, a federal wildlife conservation organization, has removed a religious reference from its email signature.
FFRF was informed that a government employee in the division was including two bible verses in her email signature on emails sent through her official government email address to members of the public.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Acting Division Director David Bernhart urging him to direct employees to remove religious references from official emails, so as not to create the impression of official endorsement of Christianity.
Bernhart informed FFRF in an email response that the division has established a standardized template for employees to use for their email signatures, free of religious references.
A teacher in Fairview Area Schools has been instructed to cease reading religious stories to her class.
A district parent informed FFRF that an elementary school music teacher read her class a story in which a man causes a blind girl to see again by praying and which ends with a moral that “all God’s children should love one another.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to the district superintendent, asking that Fairview remove this story from its curriculum and remind staff of their obligations under the Establishment Clause to remain neutral on matters of religion.
Superintendent Bill Lake assured FFRF in a letter of response that he met with the teacher involved and that this story is not a part of district curriculum. This story or any with similarly religious messages will no longer be given to students in the future.
A Georgia school district has stopped the Gideons from distributing bibles in a number of schools after FFRF raised several objections.
Many parents reported to FFRF that Ebenezer Elementary School and Marlow Elementary School in the Effingham County Schools system allowed Gideons to enter classrooms, preach to students about the significance of the bible, and distribute bibles to young students, including our complainants’ children. Every child was reportedly given a bible (although they were told that they could return it to the teacher if they didn’t want it).
Gideons International is an association of Christian business and professional men who are members of Protestant/evangelical churches “dedicated to telling people about Jesus . . . by providing Bibles and New Testaments.” Their website openly refers to “students in the fifth grade and above” as prime targets.
It is unconstitutional for public school districts to permit the Gideon Society to distribute bibles as part of the public school day, FFRF Attorney Chris Line emphasized to Effingham County Schools officials.
FFRF’s admonitions had their effect.
“The Board of Education has authorized me to assure that outside adults, including the Gideons, will not be allowed into the classrooms of any of the schools in the school district to proselytize or distribute religious materials,” the school system’s legal counsel recently responded.
A video featuring a Fergus Falls Public Schools teacher at a religious service has been removed from the district’s online learning platform.
A district parent reported that after a student posted a video of the teacher leading a religious worship at a church service, he encouraged students via the online learning platform to watch the video and to share the video with their friends outside of the class.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Jeff Drake, reminding the district of its duty to “ensure that ‘subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion’ or use their positions of authority to promote a particular religious viewpoint.”
A response from Drake explained that the video has been removed and, while it was originally posted by a student, the teacher involved understands the content should not have been allowed to remain viewable on the district’s online learning portal.
St. Mary’s Parish Sheriff’s Department has removed a religious post from its official Facebook page.
A Franklin, La. resident informed FFRF that St. Mary’s Parish Sheriff’s Office posted a “special Easter message from Sheriff Blaise Smith,” including a video over 2 minutes in length that largely amounted to a sermon by a government official. In this video, Smith stated:
“Jesus Christ has risen. Hallelujah. That’s what we need to be thinking about. The one thing we need to be thinking about is that we’re in a relationship with God . . . What a better time to come to the Father than today on Easter Sunday?” Below the video, the post stated that the sheriff’s office “prays that you will find hope and comfort in these words.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Smith requesting that the sheriff’s office refrain from posting messages and videos that proselytize or endorse religion.
Smith has informed FFRF via email that the post has been removed and no such messages will be posted in the future.
No future Gresham-Barlow School District student performances will take place in the churches.
A concerned district parent reported that the Deep Creek Damascus Middle School choir once again performed at a church that contained graphic religious iconography and required parents to pay the venue in order to see their children perform.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent A. Katrise Perera, informing the district that the use of churches for public school programming is inappropriate and unconstitutional. A school’s use of a church for school functions is problematic, FFRF points out, because it sends a message of approval of the church to impressionable students.
Executive Director of K-12 Education John Koch informed FFRF that no future performances will take place in churches.
Preston County Schools has removed a “prayer locker” from school property.
A concerned citizen alerted FFRF that Terra Alta/East Preston School had established a “prayer locker” for its students, marked with a Latin cross and sign that read: “Prayer Locker. Write your prayer request on an index card and slip it into the locker. We will be happy to pray for you! All prayer requests remain confidential.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Steve Wotring, informing him that the district has a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion.
Wotring sent assurances via email that school administration has assured him that the “prayer locker” has been removed and that he discussed the incident with them “to ensure that no such designation would occur in the future.”
Guthrie Public Schools officials have taken measures to ensure school-sponsored prayer will not continue in its schools.
A district parent alerted FFRF that an official Guthrie Junior High event opened with a prayer that was scheduled as part of the event and appeared on the program.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district’s attorney and asked that the district make certain scheduled prayer is not a part of future events.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF in a letter of response that “this matter has been addressed by the highest levels of district administration and that the district will redouble its efforts not to allow prayers to be a scheduled part of any school-sponsored event. Further, the superintendent will address this issue with administrative personnel at an upcoming administrative staff meeting.”
Public funds will no longer be spent on erecting religious displays in Val Verde County, Texas.
A local resident informed FFRF that the Val Verde County Commissioners Court approved allocation of $4,000 of county money to purchase rebar in order to build crosses to be placed over approximately 200 unmarked graves in Val Verde County.
Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the court, urging it to refrain from using taxpayer money to purchase materials to put up crosses, and instead choose a more inclusive method of memorializing unmarked graves.
Judge Lewis Owens responded via email to inform FFRF that public money will not be spent on building these crosses.
Juveniles who appear before the Grove Municipal Court will no longer be coerced into praying and memorizing bible quotes by Judge Richard James.
A local resident who was recently in James’ courtroom informed FFRF that during a regular session of his court, James hosted a panel of religious leaders in the courtroom. He reportedly had a table set up at the front of the room with several Christian chaplains seated at it. After entering the courtroom, James introduced each chaplain by name and said they were there so people could live correctly based on “what the Lord says.” He told those present that “we use them instead of fines, if the offenders choose them.”
The complainant reported that as juvenile offenders came before James, he would conduct a normal judicial hearing that he concluded by giving them a choice: pay civil fines and do community service or learn chapters from the bible and the Ten Commandments. If the juvenile offender chose the latter, James directed them to the panel of Christian chaplains who gave them religious materials for memorization.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line filed an ethics complaint on James, pointing out that coercing juvenile offenders to support or participate in any religious exercise is a serious violation of their civil liberties.
“Giving juvenile offenders the option to study the bible and Ten Commandments rather than civil fines or community service appears to any reasonable observer an endorsement of Christianity,” Line wrote. “This is exactly the type of government endorsement of, and entanglement with, religion that is prohibited by our Constitution.”
The Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints informed FFRF in a letter of response that, going forward, “any option for offenders to select memorization over another form of punishment will exclusively feature secular texts for such memorization.”
A preaching Townsend School District #1 teacher has been reined in after routinely proselytizing to her elementary school students.
A district parent reported that a music teacher at Townsend Elementary School had been initiating conversations with her second-grade students about God by asking them to each name “one good thing about God” and used those answers as a launching pad for larger discussions about God and her religion, including discussions about bad people burning in hell. Many of these discussions apparently happened during practices for school concerts.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Erik Wilkerson, urging the district to make certain that none of its employees are unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters by leading impressionable elementary students in discussions about God and religion.
Wilkerson responded via email with assurances that the situation was addressed with the teacher and that the district takes the letter and the separation of state and church seriously.
A bible verse will be removed from Wood County Schools property.
A local resident reported that the Parkersburg South High School prominently features a bible verse, Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”), painted above one of the doors in its gymnasium. This display is apparently quite visible during school hours as well as during school athletic events.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent William Hosaflook requesting that the religious display, and any others like it, be removed from district property.
Hosaflook confirmed that the display will be removed once custodians are permitted to re-enter the building under COVID-19 quarantine protocol.
In Virginia, bibles have been removed from “emergency blessing buckets” in Danville Public Schools.
A Danville community member reported to FFRF that the district had partnered with God’s Pit Crew, a Christian organization, to stock its classrooms with “blessing buckets.” Each “blessing bucket” is filled with various emergency supplies and each bucket contains a bible.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Stanley Jones, urging the district to cease allowing its schools to be used for recruiting grounds for churches or as a conduit for spreading religious literature.
The school’s attorney informed FFRF that Danville Public Schools removed all bibles from the “blessing buckets” after receiving the letter of complaint.
FFRF has seen to it that Franklin County Schools will no longer advertise religious events on its social media page.
Franklin County Schools had been advertising a community-wide prayer event that takes place each Friday morning on Facebook. The event had been shared on the district’s official Facebook page, featuring the district superintendent.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Chris Forrer, urging him to discontinue this practice immediately. Using his position as superintendent to promote his personal religious beliefs to students and the community is an egregious violation of the Establishment Clause, Line pointed out.
Forrer clarified in a response post that this weekly program was not an official district event and the district will no longer be promoting the event.
A religious social media post has been removed from the Valliant (Okla.) Public Schools social media page after FFRF contacted it.
An area resident reported that Valliant High School’s baseball coach posted a message on the team’s Facebook page informing the team that this year’s season would be cancelled because of the coronavirus. In the post, he explained that he teaches his players that sports should not be in their top three priorities but that their priorities should be “1. God and Faith. 2. Family. 3. Education. 4. Activities and Hobbies.” He went on to instruct all his students to spend this time “praying and educating yourself about God.” He also said that he hopes the community will grow to be more “God like.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Craig Wall, urging the district to ensure that religion is no longer being promoted in any district athletic programs.
The school’s attorney informed FFRF in a letter of response that the superintendent reviewed the post and spoke with the coach concerning the problems with this post and revised the post to remove all references to God.
The Gilmer County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has deleted a religious social media post after receiving a letter from FFRF.
A local citizen reported that the department, in a Facebook post on March 24, stated that “tomorrow is national day of prayer . . . we need to pray really hard for our state and our nation!”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Director Eric Squires, requesting that the department refrain from issuing such statements in the future. By appearing to be neutral on matters of religion, FFRF pointed out, the department ensures the citizens from which the government derives its power that the department will be evenhanded regardless of their faith tradition or lack thereof.
Squires informed FFRF via email that the post has been removed and that similar messages will not be posted in the future.
Coaches in the Hartselle City School District are no longer leading prayers with students after FFRF got involved.
A district parent alerted FFRF that Hartselle High School’s football coach had been leading his team in prayer. At the end of each team workout, the coach reportedly directed the team to get on their knees and then led them in a Christian prayer. After the prayer, players were allowed to leave.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Danna Jones, asking the district to investigate this routine and take immediate action to stop any and all school-led prayer at district athletic events.
In a letter of response, the district’s attorney informed FFRF that he has discussed the coach-led prayers with the superintendent and school officials and that staff has been “advised to discontinue any such practice.”
In Prattville, concerns regarding staff involvement in an Autauga County School District religious event have been addressed by administration.
A local resident reported that Daniel Pratt Elementary School organized and promoted a “See You at the Pole” event last fall. The school’s principal reportedly led students in prayer.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line alerted the school’s attorney to this violation and urged the district to ensure that no staff member plans, promotes or participates in any future “See You at the Pole” events.
The principal involved “acknowledges she was caught off guard” when asked to pray by the students and “should not have been a participant in the event.” The school’s attorney further informs FFRF the principal “has been counseled on her role as principal and board employee at ‘See You at the Pole’ and similar events.”
The Morgan County School District has indicated it is not moving forward with a planned bible class partnership, thanks to FFRF’s intervention.
FFRF was alerted to a potential partnership between Morgan County Schools and Piedmont International University, which would establish a bible class for the district.
FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to the district’s attorney, pointing out several constitutional concerns with this pending arrangement. First, Jayne wrote, Piedmont University professors are experts in training Christian ministers, not teaching secular history. Additionally, Piedmont discriminates in its hiring based on religion and is flagrantly anti-LGBTQ. The university’s handbook states that homosexuality is a “sinful perversion” and that “God disapproves of and forbids any attempt to alter one’s gender by surgery or appearance.”
FFRF was informed that the district has no plans to move forward with this dual enrollment program.
Gideons International — the infamous evangelical association — will no longer be distributing bibles in Autauga County Schools in Prattville.
A concerned district parent reported that a teacher at Daniel Pratt Elementary School used the school’s official communication channels to send a message to all parents: “The Gideons come every year to distribute bibles to any fifth-grade student who wants to have one.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district, urging it to take immediate action to ensure that it no longer facilitates the distribution of bibles to students.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF in a letter of response that the superintendent was made aware of the issue and will “address the inappropriate use of Autauga County Board of Education’s communication’s channels for non-school-related matters, including but not limited to, the distribution of Gideon bibles with all board personnel.”
Delano Joint Union High School District will no longer recruit teachers as bell ringers for The Salvation Army after FFRF got involved.
A concerned community member informed FFRF that the district sent out a mass email seeking volunteers for The Salvation Army, an overtly Christian ministry. The stated mission of the Salvation Army is “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination.”
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote to Superintendent Jason Garcia, pointing out that the Salvation Army’s religious mission makes it a poor choice for a public school charity drive. Garcia informed FFRF that the district will no longer be disseminating volunteer opportunities to staff in the future.
Religious reading materials have been removed from Arlington National Cemetery’s Administrative Building.
A local resident reported that Arlington National Cemetery had a kiosk displaying Christian material in its administration building where families meet prior to burial. According to the complainant, the administration building only displayed books from the American Bible Society, and did not contain secular grief guides.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian asked Arlington National Cemetery Chairman Lt. Gen. James Peake to respect and honor the wishes of our nation’s minority religious and nonreligious military personnel and veterans by removing the Christian literature from displaying in the ANC administrative building.
A free concealed-carry permit program has been extended to include all nonprofits rather than just churches in Butler County.
A Hamilton citizen reported to FFRF that the Butler County Sheriff’s Office was offering free concealed-carry weapons training to churches. The classes were reportedly only intended to be open to church security teams in Butler County.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones, pointing out that extending a free government benefit only to churches, or even solely to houses of worship, is unconstitutional.
The department, along with local media reports, confirmed these classes will now be offered free to all nonprofit organizations.
The Libby School District’s Veteran’s Day assembly will no longer include religious language as part of a flag folding ceremony.
A district community member reported that during last year’s ceremony, student participants were provided with a script that claimed to explain the meaning of each of the 13 folds in the flag. According to the complainant, the script attributed religious meaning to the majority of the folds. This includes assertions that Americans rely on God and his guidance, “glorify the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit” and that one fold “in the eyes of a Hebrew citizen represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Craig Barringer, asking the district to end promotion of religion at official school events. Barringer responded to FFRF’s complaint with assurances that the script would not be used again in the future.
FFRF has prompted Hogan Preparatory Academy in Kansas City to address complaints of a teacher handing out rosaries as “prizes” to students.
A concerned Hogan Academy parent reported to FFRF that, after handing out rosaries, this teacher told students that, if they carry the rosary, nothing bad will ever happen to them. He also reportedly told students a story about two students who were shot while walking home from school. The student not wearing a rosary was killed, while the student who had a rosary survived. Our complainant also reports that he told students that he is followed by “spirits,” and that he has a device that will beep when spirits are near.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Jayson Strickland that he should no longer be allowed to distribute religious items or promote his personal religious beliefs to students.
Strickland sent a letter of response, assuring FFRF that the issue has been addressed.
A Sparta Area Schools coach has been instructed to cease religious proselytizing to his team.
A district parent reported that a Sparta High School football coach used his position to promote a religious event to students and their families. According to the parent, this coach sent a mass Remind App message encouraging students and families to attend a worship event called “FAITH…FIGHT…FINISH!”
This event was listed as taking place at Sparta High School and organized by “The Big Idea — Sparta Elementary School.” The district’s website also had a section entitled “Sparta area churches” that lists the names, addresses, phone numbers, worship times and Sunday school times for several local Christian churches.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian informed Superintendent Pete Bush that the district cannot allow its schools to be used as recruiting grounds for churches.
Bush informed FFRF in a phone call that the football coach has been instructed to refrain from promoting religion and that the church directory on the school’s website was removed.
Ludlow Independent Schools has deleted religious posts on its official district social media pages.
A district parent informed FFRF that a teacher at Mary A. Goetz Elementary School had been using her official position as a district employee to promote her Christian youth group to students. According to the complainant, the teacher invited students to her youth group on a daily basis, included information on the youth group in a newsletter to parents, and posted flyers promoting this group around the school. The teacher also reportedly organized a prayer walk on school property which the school promoted on its official Facebook page. The Christian youth group and the prayer walk appeared to be affiliated with a local church.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian asked the district to make certain that none of its employees are unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters by encouraging them to pray, recruiting them for religious organizations or activities or otherwise using the district to promote religion.
In a response letter, the district’s attorney informed FFRF that the administration has addressed these matters with the teacher involved and deleted the social media posts corresponding to the event.
Religious posts have been removed from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office official social media page.
A concerned area resident reported that a recent post on the office’s Facebook page concluded with the bible verse Galatians 6:9 — “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian asked the office to remove all social media posts promoting religion and refrain from uploading such posts in the future. Sheriff Mark Moore informed FFRF in a letter of response that this post has been removed.
A constitutionally inappropriate partnership within the Lakeland School Corporation in LaGrange will not continue.
A community member reported that Lakeland Middle School organized a field trip to pack meals for Feed My Starving Children, an overtly Christian charitable organization. During the trip, the group’s staff asked students to pray over the meals they packed, and overtly Christian music was played over the loudspeakers for the duration of the trip.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian alerted the district that this proselytizing partnership is not acceptable for a public school district. Lakeland Superintendent Eva G. Merkel informed FFRF via email that the district’s partnership with this Christian organization will “simply have to cease.”
Outside adults, including religious leaders, will no longer be allowed to attend student club meetings in Arcola School District #56.
A student contacted FFRF to report that the Arcola High School Students with a Testimony club’s Tuesday meetings were regularly attended by an outside pastor who came in to spread his religious beliefs to students, promising pizza and soda to attendees. These meetings apparently take place during the school day.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian informed the district that public schools are not an appropriate place for outside adults to proselytize to children. FFRF asked that the district ensure this club is truly student-led, and not facilitated by religious leaders.
FFRF received a letter of response from the district, assuring that only school staff will be allowed to attend student meetings in the future, and that staff will “be present only in a non-participatory capacity.”
An annual winter concert program in the Merced City School District will be moved to a non-church location in future years.
A district parent reported that last year, Burbank Elementary School held a Christmas concert at a nearby church. According to the parent, the church contained religious iconography including a large cross and a nativity scene, as well as a banner outside the building advertising worship services.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran, pointing out that the use of a church for public school programming is inappropriate and unconstitutional because it sends the message of approval of the church to impressionable students.
In a response letter, the district’s attorney informed FFRF that in consideration of the complaint, the district will “seek out alternative, non-church venues to host such events in the future in order to avoid any misinterpretation that the district is endorsing or promoting any particular religion, or religion in general.”
Yuma Union High School District has taken exemplary action to address a state/church violation in its school.
A Kofa High School student contacted FFRF to report that the 2019 Kofa High School graduation ceremony included an invocation. This invocation was scheduled in advance by the school and listed in the graduation program.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Gina Thompson, asking that the district take action to ensure that religious rituals are not part of graduation ceremonies or any other school-sponsored events. Thompson sent a very positive letter of response to FFRF outlining the district’s commitment to remedying this violation.
“First, I will meet with individual employees who may have been responsible for the inclusion of an invocation in the Kofa High School graduation ceremony to educate them about the importance of separating church and state and preventing school sponsored prayer in school activities,” Thompson wrote. “Second, I will be distributing a statement of policy to all district employees, which will refer in part to the prohibition of the use of district resources for the promotion of religion in school activities. Third, we plan to add a component to our training for new employees reminding them of the importance of separating religious matters from state public school functions.”
After hearing from FFRF, administrators in the Lackawanna Trail School District have taken several affirmative steps to ensure that students are no longer subject to religious promotion during athletic events.
FFRF was informed that before each Lackawanna Trail High School football game, the team gathered in a prayer circle in which team coaches participated.
FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote to Superintendent Matthew Rakauskas, reminding the district that it is illegal for public school coaches to sponsor prayers, as doing so constitutes a government endorsement of religion.
The district’s attorney sent a letter of response assuring FFRF that the football coach was directed to cease leading the team in prayers. Rakauskas also issued a directive to all coaches that school-led prayer is not permitted at any school event and held a district-wide training earlier this year, where he specifically instructed staff not to lead or take part in prayer with students.
FFRF’s legal team was successful in getting four Alabama school districts to end state/church violations recently.
In the Jefferson County School District, a concerned parent reported that Gideons were allowed inside McAdory Elementary School to hand out bibles to students. The complainant’s child was given a bible as the children left P.E. class by men who had set up a table in the hallway. Another parent reported that Grantswood Community School had put up a religious display in one of its classrooms. The display read, “He is the reason,” an obvious reference to Jesus given the context of a holiday display. This religious message was also posted on the school’s Facebook page.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district’s attorney, asking the district to cease allowing outside adults into its schools to distribute bibles to students and to remove the religious display from its property and social media page. The Jefferson County Schools’ attorney informed FFRF in a letter of response that both of these requests have been met by the district.
The Daviess County Sheriff’s Office told FFRF it will ensure that it no longer holds fundraisers entangled with religion.
A county resident alerted FFRF to a fundraiser hosted by the sheriff’s office, which raised money for the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. According to local news, Major Barry Smith said the donations were a “thank you” to the church for hosting a sheriff’s office banquet. The sheriff’s office had also been promoting Christianity on its official Facebook page, including posts that quote the bible and instruct readers to “remember the greatest gift ever given to mankind, the birth of the Christ child.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Sheriff Keith Cain, asking the office to redirect its fundraising efforts to a secular charity, avoid organizing official events in houses of worship and remove all religious posts from its official Facebook page.
Daviess County Attorney Claud Porter informed FFRF in a letter of response that these concerns were addressed and that the office will “ensure all its future fundraising activities, advertisements and acknowledgments meet all constitutional requirements.”
A menorah has been removed from Chandler Unified School District property.
An area resident reported that Perry High School had been displaying a 7-foot-tall menorah in its front office. This menorah was apparently built by a local club for Jewish teenagers who received permission from the district to display it at Perry High School. The club was also reportedly encouraging more schools in the district to erect religious displays during the next holiday season.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Camille Casteel, informing the district that it is unlawful for public schools to host religious holiday displays, thus endorsing the religious message behind the displays.
Casteel informed FFRF via email that the menorah was removed.
Several violations have been remedied in the Ottoville Local School District, thanks to FFRF.
An Ottoville community member reported that the district was holding Catholic religious classes for students each morning. According to the complainant, these religious classes were taught by public school teachers in public school classrooms during the school day. A letter was reportedly sent out to district parents at the beginning of the year encouraging all students to sign up for these Catholic classes so that they do not feel left out by not being with their peers. Additionally, the complainant reported that, on Wednesdays, students were bused to the local church for Mass and that religious packets were distributed to students on school grounds in relation to these events. Finally, the local priest apparently was invited to offer a prayer every year at the graduation ceremony.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Scott Mangas, pointing out that this promotion of Christian dogma is patently unconstitutional and cannot continue in any capacity.
Mangas informed FFRF in a letter of response that the district has investigated the reported violations and “taken corrective measures.” He wrote: “Please be advised that currently, the district does not hold any Catholic religious classes, distribute religious packets, encourage students to sign up for Catholic classes, or bus students to Mass. It is the district’s intention that none of these activities will occur in the future.”
A religious sign has been removed from the Orange County Tax Collector’s office inside the West Oaks Mall, which was previously on display to the public.
This sign read, “Faith — it does not make things easy it makes them possible — Luke 1:37.” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line asked the county to remove this sign from county property in recognition that it represents an unconstitutional endorsement of religion over nonreligion.
Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph confirmed the sign was removed in response to FFRF’s complaint.
Holland Patent Central School District has remedied a serious state-church violation.
A concerned district parent recently reported to FFRF that a Holland Patent High School biology teacher began a lesson on evolution by undermining the theory of evolution, denigrating those who understand and accept the fact of evolution.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line sent a letter to Holland Patent Central School District Superintendent Jason Evangelist, pointing out that this teacher’s anti-scientific rant was both unconstitutional and pedagogically deplorable.
The district has taken swift action to address FFRF’s concerns and ensure that Holland Patent students are no longer subject to religious proselytization in its schools.
Numerous religious displays have been removed from Letcher County Public Schools property after the school district received letters of complaint from FFRF.
A concerned Whitesburg resident reported to FFRF that Letcher Central High School had a bible verse on display in its locker room. The display said: “But the Lord is with me like a Mighty Warrior. Jeremiah 20:11.” FFRF wrote a letter of complaint to the district, pointing out that this display violated the constitutional principle of state/church separation.
FFRF had first contacted the district after an area resident reported multiple instances of the district promoting and endorsing religious messages. The complainant reported that Fleming Neon Middle School had a display in its hallway that said, “Jesus is my savior. You can’t scare me!” and that Martha Jane Potter Elementary School posted a prayer on its official Facebook page.
In both letters of complaint, FFRF asked the district to remove all religious messaging and iconography from public school property in recognition of its constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion.
Letcher County School District has removed each of these religious displays.
“The bulletin board has been replaced, the Facebook post has been removed, and the locker room has been repainted,” Superintendent Denise Yonts informed FFRF in a response letter.
FFRF scored a constitutional win against the Missouri attorney general after a school district ignored his advice about football team prayers.
FFRF had sent a letter in October to Cameron R-1 School District Superintendent Matt Robinson about Cameron High School’s head football coach, Jeff Wallace, and assistant coach, David Stucky, holding religious “chapel” services for players before and after football games. The coaches prayed with players and read and discussed bible verses.
In reaction to FFRF’s complaint, Attorney General Eric Schmitt dispatched a missive to the district urging it to disregard FFRF’s concerns, mischaracterizing FFRF’s arguments, even advising the district that the coach’s actions are lawful.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line urged Cameron R-1 School District to take immediate action to stop school-sponsored prayers or religious worship occurring within the district’s athletic programs. The school district recently sent FFRF a note indicating that it is heeding FFRF’s counsel.
“Employees of the district were reminded of the district’s board policy regarding prayer at school or at school-sponsored events and were also instructed not to lead students in prayer, initiate a prayer with students or cause a student to initiate prayer,” stated Robinson. “This matter has therefore been resolved.”
A “See You At The Pole” event will not recur in the Coffeyville Public Schools.
A concerned district staff member reported that other staff organized and endorsed a “See You at the Pole” event. The complainant reports that an email was sent from two district staff members to the rest of the staff promoting the event.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line reminded Superintendent Craig Correll that public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion. Furthermore, Line points out, it is unconstitutional for the district staff to plan, promote or participate in “See You At The Pole” events because doing so alienates non-Christian students, teachers and parents whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school staff.
Craig informed FFRF that “this was an obvious oversight from the teacher and is against board policy.” He has notified the principal to instruct the employee that this cannot happen again in the future.
Prayers at public works employee meetings in the city of Provo have been stopped.
A city employee alerted FFRF that government meetings routinely featured a prayer before meals, always on city property and always at the request of management, who are all Mormons.
FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote to Provo City Attorney Robert West, urging the city to discontinue the practice of impermissibly subjecting employees to prayer at government meetings. West informed FFRF that these prayers will stop.
“Having had your complainant’s concerns called to his attention, the director does not want your complainant to feel unwelcome at department lunches and has decided not to make prayer at these lunches a routine practice,” West wrote in a letter of response.
The Fort Gibson Police Department has removed several religious posts, including a bible verse on a department recruitment poster, following a response by FFRF.
The Fort Gibson Police Department Facebook page was promoting Christianity, namely, the cover photo on the page quoted from the book of Isaiah: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom Shall I send? And who will go for us?’ and I said, ‘Here am I. Send me.’” As a result, the department displayed the bible quote on a post advertising a job opening at the Fort Gibson Police Department.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the chief of police pointing out that a recruitment post endorsing Christianity is not only unconstitutional, but could also potentially discourage members of non-Christian faith, or no faith at all, from applying to work at the department. Line urged the department to remove any religious promotion from its social media pages or other promotional materials.
In a letter of response, Fort Gibson Town Attorney Larry D. Moore informed FFRF that religious references have been removed from the department’s pages and the new chief of police assures us it will not happen again in the future.
Staff at Frederick County Public Schools have been reminded of district policy and their legal obligation to refrain from impermissibly endorsing religion.
A district community member informed FFRF of on-field prayer after an October football game between Walkersville High and Catoctin High and what appeared to be the coaches leading and participating in prayer.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the school’s attorney, informing the district that public school coaches must refrain not only from leading prayers themselves, but also from participating in students’ prayers. He urged the district to stop any and all school-sponsored prayers occurring at any district athletic programs.
The district’s attorney has directed principals and the supervisor of athletics and extracurricular activities to remind coaches that, as the board policy states, “school employees, when acting in their official capacities, are representatives of the state and are prohibited by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment from soliciting or encouraging religious activity and from participating in such activity with students.”
The Vanguard School, a charter school in the Cheyenne Mountain School District in Colorado Springs, will refrain from advertising for and affiliating itself with religious organizations in the future.
A district parent reported that each year, the school holds a “Thanksgiving Baskets” fundraiser for St. Joseph Catholic Church and a “Christmas Blessings Store” in partnership with the Calvary Baptist Church.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter of complaint to the district pointing out that, while it is laudable for the district to encourage students to become active, charitable and involved in their community by volunteering and donating, the school cannot use that goal as an avenue to support churches or religious organizations.
Superintendent Walter C. Cooper sent FFRF a response letter which noted that “Vanguard understands the optics and perception that advertising the events in this manner could be construed as a message of religious endorsement, and will refrain from doing so in the future.”
Washington Park School District has taken steps to make sure that school-sponsored events no longer start with prayer.
A local resident alerted FFRF that multiple recent Washington Park District-sponsored events had begun with prayer. According to the complainant, the district promotes, schedules and staffs local monthly lunch events for seniors at Five Points, a facility operated jointly by several local government agencies, including the Washington Park District. FFRF was informed that the Park District partners with local senior living facilities and other similar organizations to provide food for the events. At least some of the organizations that the district have partnered with to provide food for these events have taken advantage of this partnership to pray over attendees. On at least one occasion an attendee who protested was told they would either sit down and be quiet during the prayer or leave the event.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote Washington Park District Executive Director Brian Tibbs, asking that the district refrain from partnering with organizations that will use their status as co-hosts of a government-sponsored event to require attendees to sit through their prayers.
Tibbs informed FFRF via email that the district has “taken the necessary steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Staff in the Goldthwaite Independent School District have been reminded of their obligation not to use school resources to promote religion.
A community member reported that the Goldthwaite Lady Eagle Basketball Facebook page was used to promote two religious events — See You at the Pole and Field of Faith. Additionally, the Fields of Faith promotional material listed a school coach as the event contact, suggesting that she was involved in coordination of the event.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Ronny Wright, informing the district that district staff may not plan, promote or participate in events like See You at the Pole or Fields of Faith.
Wright informed FFRF that he has “spoken with the employee referenced in [FFRF’s] letter and both district athletic directors, in order to remind them that school resources cannot be used to advertise such events and the appropriate role for school employees in such events.”
Brevard County, Fla., must pay nearly half a million dollars in legal fees and damages after losing a case to FFRF and others.
The Brevard County Commission refused to allow atheists, including FFRF Member David Williamson, to give an invocation at the start of commission meetings, but two federal courts found that the policy violated the First Amendment by discriminating in favor of Christianity. To settle the case, the county agreed to pay damages and legal fees totaling $490,000.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on July 8, 2019, unanimously ruled in Williamson v. Brevard County that the commissioners’ policy of using religious beliefs to determine who can offer invocations at public meetings is unconstitutional, discriminatory and a violation of religious freedom. The case was brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Florida on behalf of several nontheists whom commissioners have barred from offering invocations. (Williamson is founder of FFRF’s chapter, Central Florida Freethought Community.)
The settlement includes paying the groups and individuals who sued the county $60,000 in compensatory damages and paying the plaintiffs $430,000 to cover their attorney and litigation expenses. Brevard County has an insurance trust which will likely handle the bulk payment. Brevard County Communications Director Don Walker said the county will pay a $50,000 deductible from its insurance coverage and must also pay $76,961 for outside attorneys the county used on this case, which was not covered by insurance.
The Springdale School District has committed to working with local partners to ensure that community events are not promoting religion.
A district staff member informed FFRF that each year the district requires staff members to attend a back-to-school event sponsored by local businesses and held on school property. This event apparently begins annually with an invocation given in the name of Jesus and including proclamations exclusive to Christianity.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Jim Rollins, asking the district to ensure that future events do not unconstitutionally endorse religion. Rollins said in a letter of response that the district has discussed FFRF’s concerns with Chamber of Commerce staff and “will continue to work with them to ensure that Chamber of Commerce-sponsored district staff meetings are both inclusive and constitutional.”
As of Feb. 10, the Clark County School District in Las Vegas has discontinued the practice of beginning school board meetings with prayer after receiving an official complaint from FFRF.
FFRF was made aware that the Clark County School District Board of Trustees meetings began with prayer. For instance, one meeting in December began with students saying the Pledge of Allegiance, which was immediately followed by an invocation. The board asked everyone present, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof, to “remain standing,” and introduced a preacher from the Messages of Faith Ministry to say the invocation. The prayer asked that the “children be trained up righteously,” meaning that they be trained as Christians.
It is beyond the scope of public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings, FFRF reminded the district. This practice violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
“Board members are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way,” FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote in a letter to Clark County School District General Counsel Eleissa C. Lavelle. “The school board, however, cannot lend its power and prestige to religion, amounting to a governmental endorsement of religion which excludes the 24 percent of Americans who are nonreligious, including 38 percent of Americans born after 1987.”
FFRF litigated the most recent case striking down a school board prayer practice, in which the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed that Establishment Clause concerns are heightened in the context of public schools “because children and adolescents are just beginning to develop their own belief systems, and because they absorb the lessons of adults as to what beliefs are appropriate or right.” In the end, Chino Valley (Calif.) School District’s board paid out more than $280,000 in fees and costs. The 9th Circuit opinion is also binding on the Clark County School District.
The district’s legal counsel sent a letter of reply informing FFRF that the board of school trustees will no longer begin its meetings with an invocation. FFRF praises the district on its decision to cease official board prayers.
Multiple signs for church parking have been removed from Matawan city property.
FFRF Staff Attorney Maddy Ziegler wrote to Mayor Joseph Altomonte, after FFRF received a local complaint that three signs, reading “Second Baptist Church Parking Only, 9 a.m.–2 p.m. Sun. & Religious Holidays,” were placed along a public road. FFRF requested that the city remove the signs and ensure that parking enforcement is in compliance with constitutional requirements going forward.
Matawan’s attorney responded to FFRF’s letter with assurances that the signs have been removed and that they had been “posted by entities other than the municipality.”
Bible-distributing Gideons will no longer be allowed in Mountain View School District schools.
A concerned parent reported to FFRF that members of Gideons International were allowed into Mountain View Middle School to pass out bibles to students during class. FFRF’s complainant reported that their child’s teacher welcomed the Gideons into the class, thanked them for being there, and took a bible before letting them distribute bibles to students. The complainant’s child reportedly felt very uncomfortable and felt pressured to take a bible because everyone else in the class did.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Brent Howard informing him that it is unconstitutional for school districts to permit the Gideon Society to distribute bibles as part of the public school day. Howard responded to FFRF’s letter by email, informing FFRF that the district’s attorney was made aware of the issue and the matter has been handled.
Prayer before government-sponsored training sessions has been stopped in Martinsburg.
A local community member reported that the poll worker training class led by Berkeley County Council began with the Lord’s Prayer. FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson alerted Doug Copenhaver, the council’s president, of this unconstitutional government-endorsed prayer.
Copenhaver informed FFRF in a letter of response that the council was unaware this meeting began with prayer, but has since dealt with the issue.
The Mountain View School District administration has addressed a complaint that Gideons passed out bibles to students in the district.
A concerned parent reported that Gideons were allowed into Mountain View Middle School to pass out bibles to students during class. The teacher apparently welcomed the Gideons into the class, thanked them for being there, and took a bible before letting them distribute bibles to students. The complainant reported that their child felt very uncomfortable and felt pressured to take a bible because everyone else in the class did.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Mountain View School District Brent Howard, informing him about the Gideons’ insidious operation, and reminding the district that it is unconstitutional for public school districts to permit the Gideon Society to distribute bibles as part of the public school day. Courts have uniformly held that the distribution of bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited.
Howard responded to FFRF’s complaint via email with assurances that the situation has been handled.
The San Antonio International Airport has removed scheduled prayer from its volunteer event schedules.
A member of the airport’s Ambassador Program reported to FFRF that Christian prayer had continually preceded volunteer appreciation luncheons at the airport. The airport apparently regularly scheduled an invocation before these luncheons began. On at least one occasion, this was reportedly led by a Catholic priest who gave a prayer and requested a response from attendees.
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to the program’s coordinator, pointing out that these prayers unfairly alienated non-Christian and nonreligious volunteers and urged the program to continue without such prayers in the future.
Chief Customer Experience Officer Karen W. Ellis responded to FFRF’s complaint with assurances that scheduled prayer had been canceled and would not occur in the future.
The Mesquite Independent School District has conscientiously redressed a serious state/church violation.
A community member reported that Frasier Middle School football players were required to attend a religious meeting in the gym after practice. The meeting was led by an outside group, Men of Honor. Speakers encouraged students to read the bible, pray and join their overtly Christian organization. The meeting then ended with an outside pastor who came in to lead the students in prayer.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson asked the district to refrain from sponsoring inappropriate and unconstitutional religious meetings in the future, and ensure no future assemblies from outside groups contain a proselytizing message or agenda.
Assistant Superintendent Karyn Cummings responded to FFRF with assurances that the district “fully investigated” this matter and that “the employees in question have accepted full responsibility and completely understand that their actions were not acceptable.”
Prayers before the annual homecoming parade have been stopped in the Conroe School District.
A Conroe community member reported that last year’s homecoming parade began with a prayer being read over the loudspeaker in Moorhead Stadium. This prayer was reportedly overtly Christian as it involved multiple invocations of the Lord. Some students were apparently required to attend this event.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the district’s general counsel and reminded the district that prayer at school-sponsored events is against the law. In a letter of response, the school’s attorney assured FFRF that it will forgo prayer at future parades, which historically had been held off campus by the parent booster club.
“Next year there will be no prayer at the Homecoming Parade, regardless of whether it occurs on or off school property,” the letter says. “If the booster club wants to solemnize the event, they can begin the event with a moment of silence.”
Mineral County Schools in Ridgeley has committed to addressing complaints of coach-led prayer in the district.
A concerned district parent contacted FFRF to report that Frankfort High School Football coaches prayed with their players on the field after a game. FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Troy Ravenscroft reminding him that this conduct is unconstitutional and that the district has an obligation to remain neutral on religion.
Ravenscroft sent a letter of response, thanking FFRF for informing him of this violation and alerting FFRF that the district views this “as an opportunity to work with staff and athletic coaches on observing and upholding the First Amendment, its boundaries and its requirements.”
Lafayette School District administrators have been reminded of district legal policies governing religion in schools after a student was scheduled to lead an invocation.
A district member reported to FFRF that Broussard Middle School scheduled a student to lead an invocation at its end-of-the-year ceremony. This student was apparently listed as the “master of ceremonies” on the event program and delivered a prayer that was Christian in nature, directed to “God” and ending with “Amen.”
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to the Interim Superintendent Irma Trosclair, urging the district to discontinue scheduling religious invocations at any future school-sponsored events.
The district’s Chief Administrative Officer Jennifer W. Gardner sent a letter of response to FFRF with assurances that the district has taken action to address the complaints.
A religious display has been removed from Montgomery Independent School District property.
A district community member informed FFRF that the receptionist at Montgomery High School had a Christian cross and a sign reading “pray, trust, wait.” on display in the school’s front office, a space frequented by students and community members.
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent Beau Rees, requesting that the district make certain employees are not impermissibly endorsing their personal religious beliefs through religious displays on district property.
Rees informed FFRF in a letter of response that the display has been removed.
A West Virginia city council has replaced a routine prayer before meetings with a secular alternative following a complaint from FFRF.
A concerned Wheeling citizen reported to FFRF that each Wheeling City Council meeting began with a prayer. These prayers were reportedly led by City Council members, except one led by an outside minister.
FFRF wrote to Wheeling City Council drawing attention to the unconstitutionality of these invocations, since this amounts to an illegal endorsement of religion. Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals precedent prohibits government-led prayer of the sort that was practiced at Wheeling City Council meetings, FFRF pointed out.
“Prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive and the best solution is to discontinue invocations altogether,” FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Wheeling Mayor Glenn F. Elliott Jr. “Council members are, of course, free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way, but they should not worship on taxpayers’ time. The prayers exclude the 26 percent of Americans who are not religious.”
FFRF urged the City Council to refrain from starting meetings with prayer in order to demonstrate its respect for the diverse range of religious and nonreligious citizens living in Wheeling.
“We urge you to concentrate on civil matters and leave religion to the private conscience of each individual by ending the practice of hosting prayers at your meetings,” Johnson concluded.
On Jan. 30, the council heeded FFRF’s suggestion and removed the religious references in the invocation.
According to local news, “Wheeling City Council will shift to secular prayers before opening meetings.” At a recent meeting, one council member read a secular reflection before the meeting was called to order. Johnson also received confirmation from the city solicitor that the language of the invocation would not reference God moving forward.
“We commend the city council for taking seriously this recommendation,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor comments. “A local city body ought not to lend its taxpayer-funded time to religion by starting meetings with a sectarian prayer.”
A Texas public school district will properly charge a religious ministry for the use of its property per FFRF’s recent advice.
A concerned community member reported to FFRF that an event called “Fields of Faith” has been repeatedly held at the Sulphur Springs High School football stadium. This event is reportedly sponsored by a group called Illuminate Student Ministry.
FFRF submitted an open records request to probe this ministry’s entanglement with Sulphur Springs public schools. District policy seems to mandate that any outside group be charged a fee of $250 per use and that the group be required to sign a written agreement with the district. But since the district’s response included no applications, contracts or payment history between the ministry and the district, it appears that the Illuminate Ministry had been using district facilities free of charge without any written agreement, in violation of district policy.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the district urging it to address this violation. It is well-settled law that public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion. When a district allows a group special treatment on account of its religious leanings, it amounts to a clear statement of government endorsement of religion, FFRF pointed out.
“Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion,” Johnson wrote. “Preferential treatment of faith groups unconstitutionally entangles the district with a religious message — here, a Christian message. This alienates those non-Christian students, teachers and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the religious messages being promoted by the church.”
If a public school district allows a religious group to use its property outside of official school time, it must require the ministry to pay to use the property as it would any other group. FFRF recommended that the district charge Illuminate Student Ministry the policy-mandated $250 per event and that it collect rental fees from the group for any instance it has used the property without paying.
In a letter of response, the district indicated to FFRF that it would follow its recommendations.
“We will retroactively charge Sulphur Springs First Baptist Church the appropriate fee, $250, for the 2019 Fields of Faith Event,” Superintendent Michael Lamb responded. “Furthermore, if the church or any other entity chooses to use our facilities to host this or any other event in 2020 or thereafter, we will execute a proper facility use agreement and charge the appropriate fee as listed in our schedule.”
FFRF commends Sulphur Springs Independent School District for swiftly taking action to remedy this issue.
A high school in the Wythe County Public School District in Max Meadows has removed a large prayer display from its lunchroom.
A concerned community member reported that Fort Chiswell High School was displaying a religious prayer on a large placard in its cafeteria that read: “Our Father: We thank thee for this food. Bless it to the nourishment of our bodies and our lives to thy service. Amen.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Wythe County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Jeffries, urging him to remove this sign. The school’s general counsel informed FFRF the placard had been removed in response to the complaint.
A poster advertising a religious camp has been removed from public school property in Fergus Falls, Minn.
A district parent reported that a teacher at Fergus Falls Middle School had been promoting and endorsing a Christian camp to his students. The camp is called Camp Castaway and is run by a Christian youth ministry called Young Life. According to the complainant, the teacher had a poster promoting the camp hanging in his classroom, and regularly mentioned to students that he is a leader at the camp.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter to Superintendent Jeff Drake, pointing out that displaying a poster for Young Life camp in a district classroom and promoting a Christian camp to students impermissibly creates the impression that the district is encouraging students to participate in this religious camp and gives the appearance that the district prefers religion over nonreligion and Christianity over other faiths.
Drake responded by email, informing FFRF that the district met with the teacher regarding the issue and that the poster has been “permanently removed from his classroom.”
The Lovejoy school district in Allen, Texas, has reaffirmed the need for employees to remain neutral on religious matters after a district parent reported that a school board members opened an official event with a prayer.
A district parent reported to FFRF that the Board of Trustees hosted a celebration and award ceremony for students from three of the district’s elementary schools. To open the event, then-Vice President Robbin Wells led the assembled students and their families in prayer. Attendees were reportedly instructed to bow their heads, before directing a prayer to Wells’ personal god — who, she made a point of clarifying, is Jesus.
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to Lovejoy Superintendent Michael Goddard and Board of Trustees President Chad Collins, reminding the district that it is unlawful for a school district to schedule prayer at school-sponsored events like this ceremony.
The district’s attorney responded in January to FFRF’s letters with assurances that the district “is committed to ensuring that any potentially inappropriate religious prayer sponsorship by Lovejoy ISD employees does not happen in the future.”
A religious display has been removed recently from public high school property in Montgomery, Texas.
A district community member reported to FFRF that the receptionist at Montgomery High School had religious iconography on display at the school’s front office. Students and community members reportedly had business requiring them to approach the display, where they saw a Christian cross and a sign reading “pray, trust, wait.”
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to Montgomery ISD Superintendent Beau Rees, urging the district to cease impermissibly endorsing their personal religious beliefs through religious displays on district property.
The district sent a letter of response informing FFRF that the religious display has been removed.
“We want to assure you that the Montgomery Independent School District is committed to following the requirements of the First Amendment when it comes to the separation of church and state,” Rees wrote.
A sign advertising a bible release time program is no longer displayed on Bethel School District property.
A district parent reported that last year Malabon Elementary School allowed a sign promoting a bible release time program to be erected on school property.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Bethel Superintendent Chris Parra reminding the district that allowing bible release time programs to advertise to students in a public elementary school violates the Constitution. Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools.
Parra responded by email informing FFRF that the district did not provide permission for the signage to be placed on public property and was not aware of its placement. There is no sign currently advertising the bible study placed on district property.
A Bay County School District teacher has removed a religious reference from his email signature as it constituted an inappropriate endorsement of religion.
A district parent reported that a music teacher at Deane Bozeman School in Panama City was sending emails from his school account with a religious message in the signature line. Every email received by the complainant included the message, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6.”
FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district’s attorney asking that the signature be removed so as not to create the impression of school endorsement of religion. The district’s attorney responded to the complaint, informing FFRF that the religious reference has been removed from the teacher’s district email signature.
District administrators in Willard Public Schools have taken corrective action to ensure that inappropriate religious references will not occur in presentations in their classes.
A district parent reported that Willard High School’s choir director invited a former student to talk to his class and then posted on social media about how the guest had spoken about “following God’s plan.”
FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to the school’s attorney pointing out the constitutional issues with allowing an outside adult access to impressionable public school students to preach to about “God’s plan.” The attorney informs FFRF that the superintendent and the principal reviewed the issue and discussed the inappropriateness with the choir teacher. The teacher was “directed to refrain from similar presentations in the future” and he “readily agreed.” The social media post has since been removed.
Teacher-led prayer has been stopped in North Lyon County USD 251 in Americus.
A district parent reported to FFRF that their child’s music teacher recently prayed with students before a concert at North Lyon County Elementary School. The teacher reportedly told students who don’t believe that they can bow their heads and close their eyes or just stare off into space. The teacher then reportedly read verses from the bible as part of the performance.
FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Mike Mathes, urging him to make certain that none of its employees were unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters.
Mathes responded to FFRF with assurances that the teacher was “instructed to stop leading prayer, encouraging students to pray, or reading the bible during the school day or as part of a school event.”
FFRF has secured two victories for state-church separation in the Maroa-Forsyth School District.
A concerned district parent contacted FFRF to report that a local religious ministry and New Life Pregnancy Center were teaching sex education at Maroa-Forsyth Middle School. New Life describes itself as “a Christ-centered ministry committed to upholding the sanctity of human life by demonstrating the love of Christ.”
New Life’s “Sexsanity” curriculum is based on encouraging abstinence largely through shame and fear, rather than providing educational information.
FFRF sent a letter to President Lindsey Wise, urging the district to replace this sex education curriculum with an appropriate, comprehensive and science-based alternative. The district has assured FFRF that it “will not teach that curriculum again. Period.”
FFRF was later informed by the complainant of a trend of Maroa-Forsyth High School promoting religion on social media. The school’s attorney has committed to addressing all state-church issues with district leadership and will ensure these violations do not recur.
Edmond Public Schools has made changes to an annual holiday program after complaints that including religious elements violated the constitutional principle of state-church separation.
An Edmond Public Schools community member reported that each year, third-grade teachers at Chisholm Elementary had students rehearse a live nativity scene, which the students then went on to perform at the school’s holiday concert in December. Students who participated apparently played various roles, including Mary, Joseph, etc.
FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to the school’s attorney, pointing out that teaching students the biblical story of the birth of Jesus and having them regularly rehearse a performance of that story impermissibly entangles the school with the bible’s devotional message. The school’s attorney replied via email, informing FFRF that “changes were made to the program.”
A Russellville School District teacher has been reminded of his obligation to refrain from proselytizing to students.
A district parent reported that a sixth-grade science teacher at Russellville Middle School has made several claims to his class that are based on his personal religious beliefs, not scientific fact. The complainant reported that this teacher told students that dinosaurs lived only a few thousand years ago, and that humans and dinosaurs coexisted. He also reportedly told students that Earth is only a few thousand years old and that it cannot be as old as the “atheist scientists” claim that it is.
FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Mark Gotcher urging the district to take appropriate disciplinary and corrective action regarding this unconstitutional conduct. Gotcher responded via phone and assured FFRF that he has spoken with the teacher and this should not be an issue again.
A coach in the Glasgow Independent School District has been advised not to lead the team in prayer, organize or otherwise advocate for students to lead team prayer.
A community member contacted FFRF to report that after every practice and game, Jeff Hughes, an assistant coach at Glasgow Middle School, led his team in a prayer session when he discussed his Christian faith. Hughes had described his job as teaching “young men about football and more importantly about Jesus!” Hughes is apparently also involved with the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) club.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Keith Hale, urging the district to take immediate action to stop any and all prayers occurring in district athletic programs.
Hale sent a letter of response, informing FFRF that “Hughes has been advised not to lead the team in prayer, organize or otherwise advocate for students to lead team prayer.”
Impermissible religious advertisements have been removed from Douglas County School District property after the district heard from FFRF.
A concerned area resident reported that Douglas County High School in Castle Rock rents space to the Front Range Church each Sunday and was allowing the church to park a large trailer with an advertisement for the church service in the parking lot throughout the week. The trailer was apparently easily visible to students or parents in the parking lot.
FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Thomas S. Tucker, asking the district to ensure that Front Range Church is only using and displaying messages on school property during times when it is actually renting the property.
The district’s attorney responded via email, informing FFRF that school staff removed all signage/advertising on the trailer. “The trailer now includes no reference to Front Range Church or any church services,” the attorney writes.
District leadership in Lone Grove School District No. I-32 has taken action to address a serious state-church violation.
A district parent reported that a first-grade teacher at Lone Grove Primary School led students in prayer before a Thanksgiving meal. The complainant reported that before the meal, the teacher boasted that all of the first-grade classes lead children in prayer every day before snack time. This practice has apparently been taking place at the school for years.
FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Meri Jayne Miller, urging the district to 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.
The district’s attorney responded to the letter of complaint, informing FFRF that neither the superintendent nor the school principal was aware this was taking place and that “the administration investigated and has taken affirmative steps to ensure that this does not happen again.”
Administration officials in Blanchard Public Schools have “taken affirmative steps” to address a serious state-church violation in one of its schools.
A district parent reported that a science teacher at Blanchard Middle School had been attempting to discredit evolution. The complainant reported that their child was supposed to learn about evolution through an educational video. Before the lesson, the teacher told students that she is Christian and would be fast forwarding through parts of the video that she found offensive as a Christian, and that she felt would be offensive to others. She then proceeded to fast forward through large portions of the video explaining evolution. The teacher showed a second video because the first was “too offensive.” At one point during the second video, the narrator stated that evolution was a fact, at which point the teacher told students that was not true.
FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Jim Beckman, pointing out that the teacher’s attempt to undermine what she was teaching is both unconstitutional and pedagogically deplorable. Line urged the district to take appropriate disciplinary and corrective action regarding this unconstitutional conduct.
The district’s attorney responded to FFRF’s letter with assurances that administration is taking action to ensure this does not happen again.
Humboldt USD 258 has taken action to address a complaint of coach prayer within its district.
A local resident reported to FFRF that Logan Wyrick, head coach of the Humboldt High School football team, had been leading his team in prayer after games. FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Kay Lewis, urging the district to investigate the alleged complaint and take immediate action to stop any illegal school-sponsored prayer.
In response to FFRF’s letter, Lewis spoke with Wyrick about the district policies and well-established legal precedent that preclude coach-led prayer in the district. The coach agreed this would not happen again. Additionally, the district athletic director will speak with all district coaches and sponsors in regard to this violation at an upcoming in-service.
District staff members in Berkeley County Schools in Martinsburg were instructed to honor their constitutional obligation to remain neutral on religion when acting in their official capacity.
FFRF was informed that Spring Mills High School football coaches prayed with their players midfield after a football game in September. Pastor Mayor Dale Myers was reportedly brought in to lead the football prayer after the football game.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Patrick K. Murphy urging the district to stop any and all school-sponsored prayers occurring in any district programs.
The district responded via e-mail, alerting FFRF of the actions it took to investigate the claims and has addressed the legal issues relevant to this situation at its Athletic Council Meeting. “Athletic directors and principals were instructed on what law requires of district employees who are acting in their official capacity when it comes to prayer at athletic events.”
A church’s banner has been removed from Miami-Dade Public Schools property.
A local resident reported that Lake Stevens Middle Schools in Miami had been displaying a banner for World Church International on its fence at all times. FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho, reminding the district that the school may not display religious advertisements. If the church rents the property, it may only put up the signs no earlier than when the rental time begins and must take them down when the rental time ends.
The district’s attorney responded via phone call to alert FFRF that the banners had been removed. Per school policy, they must only be up when the church is renting the school.
After numerous violations, staff in Volusia County Schools in DeLand have been reminded of their obligation to not endorse religion when acting in their official capacity as public school employees.
Multiple complainants, including a Volusia County parent, reported instances of religious promotion occurring within the district. The district’s director of transportation was regularly posting religious content on his Twitter page, where his bio read: “Volusia County Schools Director of Transportation. Follower and Ambassador of Jesus Christ.”
Additionally, a University High School teacher and student government association president posted an endorsement of a “See You at the Pole” gathering on Twitter. It read: “Amazing prayer circle this morning! Thank U to all who had the STRENGTH to show the COURAGE to share HIS word and RESPECT HIS KNOWLEDGE. . . . I felt HIS presence in the energy generated by our praying hearts and was humbled to hear the voices of young people living in HIS grace!”
In response to FFRF Attorney Chris Line’s letter of complaint, any religious content has been removed from the director of transportation’s twitter page and Superintendent Timothy Egnor has reminded the school staff “that they must remain neutral toward religion and must refrain from actively participating, promoting or endorsing religious activities.”
Coaches in Greenville County Schools have been reminded of their constitutional duty to remain neutral on matters of religion.
A concerned district parent reported that Woodmont High School football coaches prayed with their players on the field after a football game in October. FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the district’s attorney Doug Webb to ensure that Greenville County Schools takes immediate action to stop any and all school-sponsored prayer.
Webb informed FFRF in his response letter that district coaches have “been instructed not to participate in any student-initiated prayer but to instead respectfully observe that prayer so that their actions do not show either endorsement or hostility toward that student expression.”
FFRF has persuaded the city of Fitchburg, Wis., to not give away thousands of taxpayer dollars to a church project with stealth religious goals.
A concerned Fitchburg resident had contacted FFRF to report that the city granted $10,000 to Chapel Valley Church for four local events as part of the Healthy Neighborhood Initiative. In its application, the church explicitly assured the city that these events, called the Daniel Project, were “NOT for religious purposes.” However, the church’s subsequent discussions of the Daniel Project showed that the events were, in fact, designed specifically for church members to promote their religious beliefs to members of the community, particularly “people that would never step foot in a church.” The church emphasized that the purpose of these events was not merely secular, but was a “strategic” attempt to “pray and minister” to those in attendance.
It is unconstitutional for Fitchburg taxpayers to be forced to support religious events of this sort, FFRF had reminded the city. In a letter to Mayor Aaron Richardson, FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne had requested assurances that the city would terminate any existing contracts related to this project with the church, would not provide reimbursements for these religious events that have not already been paid and would not award any taxpayer funds to this church in the future. Additionally, FFRF’s letter noted, the city leadership should have flagged this policy violation on its own.
FFRF’s diligent sleuthing paid dividends for Fitchburg taxpayers.
“The city has not issued a reimbursement to Chapel Valley Church for their Healthy Neighborhoods grant and does not plan to,” the Fitchburg mayor recently emailed FFRF.
The Alachua County Public School District’s attorney has reminded district employees that they may not promote religion at school meetings.
A district employee in Gainesville reported that at a working dinner involving many school personnel, Buchholz High School Principal James TenBieg asked an employee to deliver a religious blessing. The complainant felt coerced into bowing their head and participating in this religious exercise because it was at the direction of the principal and they did not want to risk potential backlash.
FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to Brian Moore, the district’s attorney, to ensure that the district is no longer including prayer as part of employee meetings or events. Moore responded via email, assuring FFRF that district principals will be reminded this is inappropriate.
A Texas public school district has addressed unconstitutional religious promotion by its basketball coaches.
A concerned community member reported to FFRF that basketball coaches at Connally High School in Pflugerville had been leading their teams in prayer. One of the coaches, Bradley Washington, had also established the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) program at the high school. In an online FCA video, Washington stated that “there was no FCA here, and I’m not gonna apologize for trying to pour it into the young kids’ life. Basketball won’t be a part of your life forever, but Jesus will.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote a letter to Pflugerville Independent School District Superintendent Douglas Killian, urging the district to take immediate steps to end these illegal practices.
The superintendent responded by email to assure FFRF that the district is taking action to correct these violations. Killian reports he has “reached out to the athletic director and deputy superintendent to investigate and correct and shared to get some training in place with our attorney for the coaches and sponsors.”
The state of Maryland has expanded eligibility requirements for its Protecting Religious Institution Grants to include secular nonprofits.
The state of Maryland had allocated up to $3 million in state funds to be paid directly to religious nonprofit organizations to the exclusion of secular nonprofits.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to the Maryland Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention Deputy Director of Grants Mary Abraham pointing out that this program impermissibly excludes nonreligious nonprofits and risks funding religious activities. FFRF requested that the program be opened to all eligible nonprofits — not just religious entities — and that the funding be limited to entirely secular purposes.
The office’s legal counsel sent a letter of response recognizing the validity of FFRF’s state/church concerns.
“We agree that [secular entities] should have the opportunity to demonstrate the risks they face and the need for state assistance in protecting the facilities they use,” Deputy Legal Counsel Christopher Mincher wrote to FFRF. “We have therefore expanded the eligibility for the grants, now named ‘Protection Against Hate Crimes,’ to include all nonprofit organizations and communities at risk of such violence.”
A Chino Valley Unified public school will no longer hold an event inside a local church following an intervention by FFRF.
A concerned parent reported to FFRF that each year Chino Hills High School holds its Senior Awards Night at Inland Hills Church. The district had apparently contracted with Inland Hills Church for this purpose and was paying to use this space.
The use of churches for public school programming is inappropriate and unconstitutional, FFRF Attorney Chris Line pointed out to the district.
FFRF asked the district to no longer host school events at churches and instead select public facilities for all future events. The district’s attorney sent a response to FFRF with assurances that the event has been moved.
“Be advised that Chino Hills High School will not hold its 2019-2020 senior awards night at the Inland Hills Church,” wrote Margaret A. Chidester, the district’s attorney.
The Clinton County School District in Albany has addressed problematic endorsement of religion within its schools after receiving a complaint from FFRF.
FFRF was alerted to the fact that both Clinton County High School and Clinton County Middle School promoted a recent “Bring Your Bible to School Day” on official district social media pages.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Tim Parson urging the district to avoid further Establishment Clause concerns by removing these posts from its social media pages and refrain from posting further religious messages to official school social media pages.
Parson sent a letter of response informing FFRF that the posts have been removed and that “a training has been scheduled on Nov. 26, 2019, to train administrators and staff on First Amendment rights and schools.”
The Northwestern School Corporation in Kokomo took immediate action to ensure that students’ rights of conscience were being honored in its district following an FFRF letter of complaint.
A community member reported to FFRF that coaches from Northwestern Middle School led a prayer circle of students from Tipton Middle School and Northwestern Middle School during a football game between the two schools. According to the complainant, all players were required to be a part of it.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian pointed out to the district that it’s illegal for public schools to lead their teams in prayer, and urged the district to stop all coach involvement in prayers occurring within any district athletic programs.
Superintendent Kristen Bilkey responded to FFRF, outlining actions the district has taken to address the complaint. The director of athletics organized a meeting of all Northwestern School Corporation coaches “to inform and educate about the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
North Central Area Schools in Powers will no longer allow graduating classes to include an invocation or benediction in their graduation programs.
North Central Area Junior/Senior High School reportedly scheduled two prayers at the class of 2019 graduation ceremony which were both listed in the official program for the event. Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to Superintendent Bruce Tapio, requesting that the district immediately cease scheduling prayer at graduation ceremonies and any other school-sponsored events.
“North Central Area Schools will no longer allow the graduating classes of our high school to include an invocation or benediction,” Wendy Granquist, the school’s business manager, wrote in a letter of response to FFRF. “Our middle/high school principal will meet with the advisors for the class of 2020 to inform them of the letter and the constitutional violation that happened during graduation 2019.”
Any future performers invited to Guthrie Public Schools will be specifically instructed to refrain from proselytizing messages, after getting a warning from FFRF.
A Guthrie Junior High parent reported that the school required students to attend an assembly where they listened to a bluegrass band called Pearlgrace & Co. The group reportedly played several religious songs and spoke to students about spreading Christianity.
FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Michael Simpson, requesting that Guthrie Public Schools refrain from sponsoring inappropriate and unconstitutional assemblies in the future, and that the district ensures no future assemblies from outside groups contain an underlying proselytizing message or agenda.
The district’s attorney informed FFRF that the district will warn performers about any songs or statements that contain proselytizing messages, and that they must only choose songs that are purely secular in nature.
St. Vrain Valley School District in Longmont has been directed to investigate a serious pattern of state/church violations at Flagstaff Academy, a charter school in the district.
A Flagstaff Academy parent reported that youth pastors or representatives from area churches had regularly been granted unsupervised access to Flagstaff Academy students during their lunch break. The pastors appeared to be operating in association with Young Life, a Christian organization whose mission is “introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith.” FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district’s attorney, urging it to discontinue the practice.
The attorney wrote in an email response to FFRF that “if the allegations in the letter are true, the district agrees that they are not acceptable for any school within the district, including a charter school. As such, the district has directed Flagstaff Academy to investigate the allegations, cease allowing such practices if they have occurred, not permit any such practice now or in the future, and update any policies to be consistent with the law, so much so that such activities are not permitted at the school.”
After FFRF intervened, religious leaders will no longer be allowed to use a mandatory school event in the Fort Payne School District to proselytize to students.
A Fort Payne High School parent reported that the school hosted a mandatory camp for marching band members. The school solicited volunteers from the community to provide dinner for the students. The complainant reported that the first group to provide a meal for students was a local church. Church members were allowed to speak with students during the meal about the church and its facilities in an effort to recruit students to attend.
FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district to ensure that future school-sponsored events do not include church members recruiting, proselytizing or praying with students.
The district’s attorney sent a response, informing FFRF that Fort Payne City Schools and the band director recognize that the church leader should not have been allowed to speak to students at the event and “no further similar statements by religious leaders were made throughout the remainder of the band camp, nor at any other school-sponsored event since that time.”
Multiple instances of unconstitutional proselytization have been resolved in Jackson County Public Schools in McKee.
A district parent reported that Jackson County High School contained at least two displays of the Ten Commandments. The parent also reported that the high school allowed Jon Isaacs, a pastor with a local Baptist church, special access to the football team to lead players in a pre-scrimmage devotional.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote a letter of complaint to the district’s attorney Larry Bryson urging it to promptly correct these violations.
Bryson has informed FFRF in a letter that the superintendent has discussed the complaints with the administration. The Ten Commandments displayed have been removed and the local pastor will no longer have access to pray with the football team.
A religious video has been removed from the driver’s education curriculum in the Johnston County School District in Four Oaks.
A district parent reported that a teacher at South Johnston High School played a video that included religious content for students taking a school-sponsored driver’s education class. The video apparently involved another teacher in the district discussing Christianity and Jesus while telling the tragic story of her daughter’s death in an automobile accident.
FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district’s attorney asking the district to remedy this constitutional violation. The attorney sent a response assuring he had looked into the complaint and talked with the school principal. The video is subsequently no longer being used in class.
Campbell County Schools in Jacksboro has discontinued promotion of a bible study release time program.
A district resident informed FFRF that Jacksboro Middle School has been impermissibly promoting a bible study release time program. According to the complainant, the school provided all students with permission slips for their parents to sign allowing them to participate in the program, and promoted the program on the school’s official Facebook page.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Campbell County Director of Schools Jennifer Fields, informing the district it must cease its involvement with the bible study release program, as it constitutes an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.
Fields responded to FFRF’s concerns with an email assuring that the school that posted the permission slip and release time reminder on its Facebook page “has been asked to remove the post.
A proselytizing retired teacher is no longer volunteering with students in the East Valley School District No. 90 in Yakima.
A district community member reported that East Valley High School was allowing a retired teacher to proselytize to students and act as an FCA representative, even though the school has no student FCA club. The complainant reported that the FCA representative organized monthly coach breakfasts and meetings with student-athletes after practice ends. The coaches at the school had apparently encouraged students to meet with the volunteer after practice.
FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent John Schieche, urging the district to ensure that outside adults are no longer being given access to students during school activities.
Schieche informed FFRF that he “met with the retired teacher last spring and informed him that the meetings with students were not permissible.” The retired teacher is no longer volunteering in the school or meeting with students.
After hearing from FFRF, Santa Clara County has plans to remove a cross from the O’Connor Hospital building.
A Santa Clara County resident informed FFRF that the county recently purchased the hospital building and that it still retains a large Latin cross affixed to the front of the building. The Latin cross is apparently left over from when the building was a Catholic hospital.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Santa Clara County’s Counsel James Williams informing him that, now that the building is government-owned, the religious display must come down.
Williams wrote in a letter of response that the county “has plans to implement a number of updates to the hospital to reflect the change in ownership, one of which includes removal of the Latin cross on the front of the building.”
Auburn City Schools will not allow a teacher to continue promoting bible study in her capacity as a school employee, after hearing from FFRF.
A concerned parent reported that a teacher at Wrights Mill Road Elementary School was advertising a “Fifth Grade Bible Study” to students, distributing flyers about the bible study and using her school email account to manage communications regarding the bible study.
FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district’s attorney urging leadership to ensure that its staff no longer use their position to promote religious events like bible studies.
The district’s attorney wrote in response, “It is the policy of Auburn City School to ensure the adherence to Establishment Clause jurisprudence, including the refrain of a school or teacher from endorsing religious organizations or groups.”
Students in Wabaunsee USD 329 will no longer be required to wear school-distributed clothing that features religious iconography, thanks to FFRF.
A parent reported that Maple Hill Elementary in Alma was donating T-shirts depicting a version of the Latin cross by a Christian organization called Thrivent. The complainant reported that students were instructed to wear these T-shirts on a field trip the next day. The district then posted a photo of its students wearing these shirts, promoting Christianity and a Christian organization on its official Facebook page.
FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district to ensure that the district will no longer allow its staff to promote and endorse religion by asking students to wear religious imagery a part of school-sponsored activities.
District Superintendent Brad Starnes sent a response letter, informing FFRF that the photo of students wearing the T-shirts had been taken off social media and that district staff were notified of their duty to remain neutral toward religion.
A Florida school district has taken action to address unconstitutional prayer at official staff events following a complaint from FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line.
A district employee reported to FFRF that Jill Kolasa, director of student services at Hernando County Schools, regularly led staff members in prayer at official district meetings and functions. She apparently had acknowledged that she doesn’t know what everyone’s beliefs are, but that she nonetheless asked everyone to bow their heads while she and other staff members led a prayer. The complainant reported that they feared they would be discriminated against if they had left during the prayers or reported this violation themselves. The district’s attorney sent a letter of response to FFRF, assuring that the district has taken appropriate action to address these concerns.
A Harrison Schools District Two parent reported to FFRF that during a back-to-school event, Sand Creek International Elementary in Colorado Springs handed out packets that depicted students who were wearing various Christian symbols, including a fish with the word “Jesus” and several Latin crosses.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district urging it to refrain from handing out materials that include religious messages or iconography, pointing out the district’s constitutional obligation to protect the rights of conscience of impressionable students. The district responded by email informing FFRF that the issue has been rectified and will not occur again.
FFRF has persuaded Cumberland County Schools in Tennessee to hold a district-wide training event regarding the permissibility of religious displays in schools after getting several complaints from community members.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line has written to the district multiple times about religious displays in schools, most recently regarding bible quotes on a classroom wall at Stone Memorial High School. A student reported to FFRF that a teacher has “Fight the good fight of FAITH — 1 Timothy 6:12,” “I press on toward the goal — Phil. 3:14,” and “Pray, because you are not the center of the universe.”
The district’s attorney sent a response informing FFRF that Principal Scott Maddux instructed the teacher to remove the posters that contained the biblical verses from his room. Additionally, the attorney noted plans to have conducted a training on these issues before the start of this school year.
A Christian ministry, FutureNow, will not be asked back to Nassau County Public School District after it invited students to an event that featured proselytizing and an altar call.
All students at Fernandina Beach High School were instructed to report to the gym during the school day, where FutureNow led an hour-long assembly. FutureNow representatives reportedly discussed drug and alcohol use, bullying and abstinence and repeatedly urged students to “come back tonight” to the evening event to “make plans for their lives.” Students were further enticed to attend the evening event by promises of prize giveaways.
In partnership with the ACLU of Florida, FFRF Associate Counsel Elizabeth Cavell sent a letter to the district urging it to discontinue allowing a self-proclaimed group of evangelists even one-time access during school hours to recruit students for a religious conversion event.
District Superintendent Kathy Burns responded that district leaders, along with principals, are reviewing and revising procedures for future assemblies and that the district has no plans for FutureNow assemblies.
The school district in Harper Woods has reaffirmed its district policy regarding religious promotion at staff meetings after intervention from FFRF.
A Chandler Park Academy School District employee reported that district leadership had impermissibly organized and led prayers during staff meetings. The complainant reported that during the first week of the school year, Chandler Park Academy Middle School principal Charles Rencher instructed everyone in attendance to bow their heads and pray to “whichever god we choose” at a mandatory staff breakfast.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Board of Directors President Barbara Wyndler, reminding her of the district’s obligation to remain neutral toward religion.
Wyndler informed FFRF that district employees have been reminded they must adhere to the district’s policy explicitly forbidding proselytizing at staff meetings and events. “Staff members shall not use prayer, religious readings, or religious symbols as a devotional exercise or in an act of worship or celebration,” the policy reads. “The Academy shall not function as a disseminating agent for any person or outside agency for any religious or anti-religious document, book or article.”
An Arkansas school district will cease promoting a religious event after receiving a letter from FFRF.
A concerned Greenwood School District parent reported that Westwood Elementary School had been promoting religious events and speakers on its official Facebook page, including a “See You at the Pole” event. Photos indicated that outside religious leaders were participating in this event, as well.
FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent John Ciesla, informing him that “See You at the Pole” is a Christian-oriented prayer rally organized each year around a bible verse and that for the public school to endorse involvement is unconstitutional.
The district’s attorney responded, informing FFRF that district staff will take appropriate measures to ensure that “neither district personnel nor any third parties other than its students will plan, initiate, organize, promote or participate in such events in the future.”
A religious assignment will not be used again in a Barry school following a complaint from the FFRF.
A concerned Western Community School District #12 parent reported to FFRF that their child was assigned to read and respond to “10 Truths Middle Schoolers Should Know.” This list of “truths” includes advice, such as “base your identity on the one thing you’ll never lose — God’s love,” “God made you different for a reason, and what sets you apart plays into His plan for you,” and “Jesus Christ has 12 followers. Adolph Hitler has millions.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Jessica Funk, requesting that these materials be pulled from the curriculum, as it demonstrates an unconstitutional endorsement of religion in a public school.
Funk sent a letter of response assuring FFRF that “the usage of ‘10 Truths Middle Schoolers Should Know’ was inadvertent, a one-time occurrence, was not approved by the district and the material will not be used in the future.” The book has been removed from the classroom.
Claymont City Schools in Dennison, Ohio, will implement a new policy regarding student speeches at graduation after attendees were subjected to a Christian prayer at this year’s commencement.
An area resident and former Claymont student reported that each year Claymont High School includes a prayer as an official part of the graduation ceremony. This year, it was titled “Farewell to Seniors Speech,” but was clearly a Christian prayer with blatantly religious content.
The school’s attorneys informed FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line that while this year’s speech was solely initiated and led by the student speaker, with no previous approval from the district, in the future the content of speeches will need to be submitted and approved by district officials.