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.
A religious sign has been removed from Bettendorf Police Department property following a complaint from FFRF.
A local resident reported that the department was permanently displaying a bible quote — “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” — Matthew 5:9” — in its patrol briefing room. This religious display was unveiled on the official Bettendorf Police Department Facebook page.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the department, pointing out the constitutional issues with branding its property with this explicitly Christian message, excluding both staff and community members who do not adhere to these religious beliefs. After receiving the letter, Chief Keith T. Kimball responded to FFRF via email with assurances that the wooden sign along with the accompanying social media post had been immediately removed.
A Harrison County Schools principal has removed a bible quote from his email signature following the advice of FFRF.
A Harrison County Middle Schools parent reported to FFRF that the school principal included the bible passage “Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor. — Psalm 15:33” in official emails he sent on behalf of Harrison County Schools.
FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote to district Superintendent Harry Burchett, reminding the district of its obligation to ensure that employees do not use their official position to proselytize to students. The school district’s attorney has since assured FFRF the bible quote has been removed from the principal’s signature.
Prayer has been permanently discontinued at a Licking, Mo., district’s staff meetings after FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line pointed out the constitutional issues with such district-sponsored religious messaging.
A district staff member reported that the district held a staff meeting at Licking High School at which one pastor in attendance was asked to stand in front of the school staff and give a Christian prayer. The school superintendent provided the pastor with a microphone and the pastor requested that staff bow their heads before reciting a prayer. Once the prayer was complete, the superintendent spoke to the staff about the role local pastors played in providing vacation bible school for district students to attend.
The district’s attorney sent a response to inform FFRF that the prayer offered at the beginning of the meeting has been “permanently discontinued.”
The Harris County School District in Georgia has addressed protocol for school visitors after FFRF took issue with a religious leader proselytizing to students during school hours.
A district parent reported that a man called “Pastor Trey” from Cascade Hills Church was regularly visiting lunchrooms in the district, sitting down with students and asking them about where they go to church and inviting them to attend his youth group. The complainant reported that Pastor Trey makes their child very uncomfortable and that they try not to be noticed by him.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to district Superintendent Roger Couch, informing him that the district cannot allow non-school persons to treat schools as a recruiting ground for their religious mission. Couch assures FFRF that “the appropriate protocols for visitors, parents and volunteers are being addressed to maintain a safe and orderly school climate free of carte blanche access to minors in public schools.”
A teacher in the La Crosse School District has been reminded of the obligation to remain neutral on matters of religion after FFRF objected to his appearance in a Fellowship of Christian Athletes promotional video.
FFRF was made aware that a Central High School employee appeared in an FCA promotional video, introducing himself as a teacher and coach at the school before discussing his “relationship with Jesus Christ” and his intent to start his own FCA club soon.
FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to District Superintendent Randy W. Nelson, reminding the district that teachers may not lead student religious groups and asked for written assurances that no employees, including this teacher, will be permitted to found or lead religious student organizations in the school district of La Crosse. Nelson sent a gracious response, thanking FFRF for informing him of the teacher’s involvement in the video.
“Please be assured, while none of our secondary schools currently have FCA clubs, we recognize any formation of such clubs would need to be student initiated and voluntary,” Nelson wrote. “We have followed up with this new employee to ensure that he understands he may not organize, direct or conduct such clubs in the district.”
A religious display has been removed from Pomona High School in Arvada after FFRF illuminated the issue.
An area resident reported that a school resource officer at the district displayed a crucifix on the wall of his office. The complainant was made aware of this violation after the Denver Post included a photo of the officer with the crucifix in his office this past June.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line sent a letter to the district urging it to ensure the crucifix is removed and that school officials are not impermissibly endorsing their personal religious beliefs to students. According to a response letter from the district’s attorney, the officer has removed the cross from his office.
A religious song will no longer be a part of graduation ceremonies at Delano Joint Union High School.
A community member reported that Cesar E. Chavez High School’s Titan Choir has performed John Rutter’s 1981 composition “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” at commencement for at least the last 10 years. The song is a prayer set to music, FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell pointed out to the district. The lyrics to this song come directly from the biblical “Priestly Blessing” (Numbers 6:24-26), a biblical benediction of sacred importance in Christian worship.
“This piece will not be a part of future graduation ceremonies,” Superintendent Jason Garcia informed FFRF in a response letter. “Additionally, staff members have been instructed not to use this piece, to select other musical works of appropriate solemnity for this portion of the graduation ceremony and to clear the selection in the future with district administration.”
Future Iberville Parish School Board staff programs will no longer include prayer, thanks to FFRF.
A district community member reported that a school-sponsored graduation ceremony was organized to include an opening prayer from the Rev.Clyde McNell Sr., a pastor at the Pilgrim Baptist Church, and a blessing of food from a district employee.
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover reminded the district that scheduling prayers at district events is unconstitutional. Superintendent Arthur Joffrion responded to FFRF’s complaint.
“The Iberville Parish School Board takes its obligations under the First Amendment seriously,” Joffrion wrote. “As a result, we have carefully reviewed the issues raised in your letter. In light of those concerns, we intend to address the permissibility of future program content with the appropriate program staff.”
A local church will no longer be allowed to pray with Alabama public school students during the school day, following an open records request from FFRF.
A concerned local resident reported that members of the Westside Baptist Church in Tuscumbia had been permitted to enter R.E. Thompson Intermediate School just prior to the start of the school day in order to “pray over” the school. FFRF probed the situation, requesting public records to discern whether the church was renting the school during this time, or whether district policies allow outside adults to enter district buildings prior to the start of the school day.
Tuscumbia City Schools Superintendent Darryl Aikerson responded, informing FFRF that members of a local church have provided breakfast for the elementary school and pray for the school and its students, but that this would not recur.
“Suffice it to say, we have notified the church that this will not be permitted in the future and, if they would like to continue prayers for the school and its students, it would have to be done at the church (or elsewhere, but not at the school.)”
Several religious displays in a Missouri school district will be removed due to a letter of complaint from FFRF.
A concerned Willard Public Schools parent reported multiple constitutional violations occurring in the district. The complainant reports that Willard Central Elementary School displayed multiple posters with religious messages, including a poster instructing students to “Trust in God,” an image of hands clasped in prayer, and a poster that directly quoted the bible and instructed students to be an example of believers through their faith. Additionally, the complainant reported that a librarian at Willard Intermediate School signs her official school emails with a bible verse, “But He said to me, my grace is sufficient for you: 2 Cor 12:9.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district’s attorney, informing it that in recognition of the district’s constitutional obligation not to promote or endorse religion, it must remove these religious displays from the elementary school and instruct district employees to refrain from including bible verses in their email signatures.
The district’s legal representation sent a letter of response to FFRF:
“In the present case, the district is willing to direct district employees to refrain from the use of scriptural passages on official district stationary. Furthermore, the display of wall hangings without context, using scriptural references will be removed.”
A flyer for a religious event has been removed from the Tyner (Ky.) Elementary School website and official Facebook page after FFRF alerted district leadership of its unconstitutionality.
A community member reported that the school was advertising a release-time program sponsored by the Elgin Foundation and Annville Baptist Church. The flyer instructed students to go to their parents to get permission to attend a bible program at a nearby church. The flyer listed Tyner Elementary School’s principal, Melanie Philpot, as a contact person for the program. The flyer also advised students that they can learn more by visiting the website of the Elgin Foundation.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line urged the district to remove itself from all involvement with the Elgin Foundation’s bible study release-time program and Tyner Elementary School to cease promoting and endorsing the program to students.
The Jackson County Public School’s Board Attorney Larry Bryson sent a response letter, informing FFRF that the superintendent was unaware of the advertisement and it has been taken down.
The Fresno Unified School District has replaced an official school chaplaincy program with a secular alternative after a complaint from FFRF.
FFRF first contacted the district in June, after it was reported that the Fresno Unified School District had been operating a chaplaincy program in partnership with the Fresno Police Department and the Fresno Police Chaplaincy. According to records obtained, Fresno Unified School District was paying $65,000 a year to the Fresno Police Chaplaincy in order to bring chaplains into district elementary schools. These chaplains were tasked with “building character” in younger students and serving as “mentors.” An advertisement for the program boasted that it reached 2,100 first-grade students each week. The program was scheduled to run through 2022.
One of these chaplains described her experience with the program on the chaplaincy’s website: “My prayer is that God will continue to use me as a beacon of His light to the kiddos at Susan B. Anthony. God is able to take our ashes and turn them into something beautiful. I’m humbled and honored to be a chaplain to these children.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Robert Nelson in June urging the district to stop allowing chaplains access to its students.
The district and the Fresno Police Department have since partnered to establish the secular Resilience in Student Education (“RISE”) Mentorship Program, which will replace the School Chaplaincy Program.
“The RISE Mentorship Program will provide age-appropriate curriculum around resiliency, coping with bullying and impulse control,” Nelson writes to FFRF. “The lessons taught by the RISE Mentorship Program are completely secular and reflect approved curriculum aligned with the state’s and district’s course framework.”
FFRF applauds the district’s action in creating an inclusive program for its students of all faiths and none at all.
A Texas district will add disclaimers of district endorsement to advertising of religious events following a complaint from FFRF.
It was reported to FFRF that, in May, Lubbock-Cooper High School advertised a baccalaureate service in its weekly newsletter. The advertisement quoted Psalm 16:8 and asked readers to “join [the school] as we worship together, thanking God for what these students have experienced and asking His blessing on that which lies ahead.” The advertisement did not include any disclaimer of district endorsement or otherwise indicate any private group responsible for the ad.
The district’s attorney responded to the letter informing FFRF that the sponsors of the baccalaureate service have the right to advertise their service in the weekly newsletter because the district allows all organizations to advertise their activities, but that a disclaimer will be added noting that the district does not sponsor the event.
A Michigan public school district has ceased all involvement with an annual religious event after FFRF pointed out the constitutional issues with such a religious endorsement.
The Mesick High School Marching Band reportedly performed the national anthem at the 18th annual “Blessing of the Jeeps” event on May 4. The “Blessing of the Jeeps” is a Christian prayer event where Jeep enthusiasts come together “to ask for a blessing from God on the off-road season of that year.” The event apparently changes from year to year, but generally includes a sermon from a Christian minister and a group prayer. The marching band’s director Craig Jones arranged for the band to perform at the event, requested that parents volunteer to chaperone and then directed the band during its performance which took place under a large Latin cross. Jones has apparently had the band perform at the “Blessing of the Jeeps” since at least 2013.
FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to Superintendent Scott Akom, asking that the district cease any involvement with the annual “Blessing of the Jeeps,” or any other religious events.
A law firm representing the district sent a response letter informing FFRF that the Board of Education discussed the issue in a closed session.
“From this point forward, the district will cease all involvement with the annual ‘Blessing of the Jeeps’ event,” the letter reads. “The district’s band will no longer perform the national anthem at the event or handle parking for the event.”
A religious decoration has been removed from a Springdale Public Schools cafeteria, thanks to a complaint from FFRF.
A member of the Springdale community reported that a decorative Latin cross is displayed in the lunchroom at Linda Childers Knapp Elementary School, and apparently displayed in full view of students.
FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to Superintendent Jim Rollins, requesting that the district direct its schools to cease displaying religious iconography in recognition of the district’s constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion.
The district sent a response letter to FFRF with assurances that the cross has been removed.
A Christian organization will no longer be given access to students in a North Carolina district during the school day following intervention from FFRF.
A Pitt County Schools parent reported that adults from WyldLife, a branch of Young Life, an organization whose goal is to “personally impact area teenagers and to point them to a relationship with a God,” was regularly recruiting students during the lunch hour at Hope Middle School. The school reportedly gave permission to adults from WyldLife to talk to students at lunchtime every Monday. One of these representatives apparently collected contact information from middle school students and attempted to contact the complainant’s child after school hours. The adults from WyldLife seemingly seek to recruit for their religious events.
FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott wrote to the district urging it to immediately stop allowing adults from WyldLife access to young, impressionable students during the school day.
The school has since ended the lunch visits. A response letter from the district’s legal representation says, “Any outside group wishing to interact with Hope Middle School students will now be required to complete a facilities use form and come before or after the instructional day or on weekends.”
In Mississippi, several religious signs have been removed from George County Schools property following FFRF’s intervention.
A district community member reported to FFRF that signs displaying a Christian cross had appeared on several district properties. The signs feature a large cross next to the words “passion, purpose, pride” with “#gcstrong” and “George County Rebels” underneath. At the time of the complaint, these signs were reportedly on display at five district schools and at the district’s Transportation Maintenance & Child Nutrition building.
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to the district to ensure that it cease impermissibly endorsing Christianity through religious displays on school property.
“These religious displays alienate non-Christian and nonreligious students, parents, teachers, and members of the public whose beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the district,” Grover noted. “This consideration should hold substantial weight for the district, given that fully 47 percent of young Americans are non-Christian, with 21 percent of those born after 1999 — i.e., all of your current students — identifying as either atheist or agnostic.
The religious signs have been removed from district property.
Three Michigan districts will discontinue invitations to the infamous “Conquerors” after complaints that their assemblies amount to an unconstitutional endorsement of religion in public schools.
FFRF Robert G. Ingersoll Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote letters to Constantine Public Schools, Schoolcraft Community Schools and Sturgis Public Schools seeking open records pertaining to their hosting of school assemblies featuring The Conquerors Strength Team.
The Conquerors held a “week of ministry” through the Riverside Church in Three Rivers. Throughout its trip, the group performed assemblies at 11 schools in the greater Three Rivers area. In the final performance at Riverside Church on April 13, Mike Benson said that “The Conquerors International Strength Team exists for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to transform communities worldwide with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“We request that you refrain from sponsoring inappropriate and unconstitutional assemblies moving forward, and that the district ensures that assemblies from outside groups or speakers do not contain an underlying proselytizing message or agenda,” McNamara wrote to the districts.
All three districts committed to refraining from inviting the Conquerors to any future events and to ensuring that outside groups are not invited to proselytize to students.
A religious photo has been removed from an Illinois public school classroom following FFRF intervention.
A Freeburg Community High School District 77 community member reported that a teacher at Freeburg High displayed a photo in her classroom that urged students to “Seek the Lord,” along with a biblical reference to Isaiah 55:6. The picture was located in a prominent spot on the teacher’s desk in full view of students.
FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne sent a letter to the district, pointing out that it is wholly inappropriate for a public school to display a message that most students would understand to be a suggestion to convert to Christianity.
The photo has been taken down, the district’s legal representation informed FFRF in a response letter.
An annual benediction did not occur at a North Carolina public school graduation ceremony this year, due to a complaint from FFRF.
An Elkin High School student reported that every year Elkin High School directs students to deliver an invocation and benediction as part of its graduation ceremony. The complainant reported that school officials assign students to deliver the invocation and benediction and that the students’ prayers are then reviewed by the school’s guidance counselor for approval. During the 2018 Elkin High graduation ceremony, the invocation was explicitly Christian and ended with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.
FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Myra Cox, insisting that the district cancel the religious programs at the 2019 ceremony. The district’s legal counsel responded to FFRF’s complaint with assurances that the 2019 ceremony did not include any prayer and that the issues raised by FFRF’s letter were addressed with administrative personnel.
An Indiana school district has discontinued scheduling prayer at graduation ceremonies after a letter from FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne.
A district community member reported that the South Vermillion High School graduation ceremony on May 25 featured a pre-scheduled Christian prayer. The ceremony’s written program included a “class prayer.”
Including religious rituals, such as prayer, in school-sponsored events is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, FFRF reminded the district. The Supreme Court has routinely struck down prayers at such district-backed events, including graduations.
The district’s attorney responded to FFRF with assurances that prayer would not be a part of the official graduation program in the future.
After receiving a complaint letter from FFRF, a Michigan public school coach has pledged to cease including prayer at official school events.
An Okemos Public Schools parent reported that a cheerleader awards banquet sponsored by the district began with a student delivering a prayer after being introduced by the coach. FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district urging it to discontinue scheduling prayer at official district programs.
Okemos Public Schools Superintendent John Hood responded to FFRF’s letter of complaint with assurances that the situation had been investigated. “The athletic director spoke with the cheer coach, who was not aware of the impact of these actions,” Hood wrote. “The cheer coach stated that she would discontinue the practice. I fully anticipate that the complained-of situation has been addressed.”
Scheduled trips to the Ark Encounter and other religious venues have been called off by an Illinois township following a letter of complaint from FFRF.
A local resident reported that Frankfort Township recently sponsored a religiously themed trip that included visits to the Ark Encounter Creation Museum in Kentucky. A flier for the event is titled “The Frankfort Township Board Presents Ark Encounter & Creation Museum.”
Another flier advertised a similar religious trip in June, with the Township Board sponsoring a trip to Lancaster County, Pa., to see a performance of “Jesus” at the Millennium Theatre, which describes itself as “Where the bible comes to life on stage.” The Christian theatre group’s stated purpose is “to present the gospel of Jesus Christ and sow the word of God into the lives of customers.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to Township Supervisor Jim Moustis, pointing out that “sponsoring regular Christian-themed trips shows an endorsement of Christianity on behalf of the township.” This endorsement, of course, “is unconstitutional and excludes the township’s residents, who are being told that they are not part of the township’s favored religious groups,” Jayne adds.
The township’s attorney contacted FFRF and confirmed over the phone that these events were cancelled.
A Missouri community college has reaffirmed its responsibility to uphold First Amendment rights after FFRF intervened.
A concerned Metropolitan Community College of Kansas City employee reported to FFRF that Chancellor Kimberly Beatty’s inauguration ceremony, held on Aug. 24, was rife with preaching and prayer. Attendance at this event was apparently mandatory for all staff. The complainant reported that several speeches were highly religiously charged, including two long sermons delivered by Southern Baptist preachers. One of these preachers reportedly instructed the audience to join in prayer. Additionally, Betty also reportedly stated that she’d been selected as chancellor by “divine providence.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to the college’s legal representation detailing the liability associated with injecting staff events with religion.
Metropolitan Community College Chief Legal Officer Sandra Garcia responded with assurances that the “office is working with institutional leadership to assure that future events include prayer only to the limited extent that such prayer is constitutionally permissible.”
A California school district has taken steps to ensure scheduled prayer does not persist at school athletic events following intervention from FFRF.
A concerned San Ramon Valley Unified School District parent reported that the two most recent California High men’s lacrosse banquets opened with a prayer led by a parent. The school’s principal and athletic director were reportedly first notified about this issue via email after the spring 2018 men’s lacrosse banquet, and the current athletic director indicated that the issue would be addressed prior to this year’s banquet. Despite this assurance, a prayer was again led by a parent at the 2019 banquet, and the banquet program specifically listed a “blessing” as part of the event.
FFRF Associate Counsel Liz Cavell wrote to Superintendent Rick Schmitt, alerting him to the unconstitutionality of such school-sponsored prayer.
Schmitt responded to FFRF’s letter with a detailed account of the actions the district has taken to keep this prayer from continuing in the future, including explaining the legal guidelines surrounding school prayer to the athletic directors and coaches in the district.
“Please rest assured we have taken steps to ensure this does not take place again, not only at California High School, but across the district,” Schmitt wrote.
Loudspeaker prayers at sporting events have been interrupted in Colorado by a letter of complaint from FFRF.
A concerned resident reported that a Colorado High School Activities Association baseball game between Monarch High School and Regis Jesuit High School, as part of the Colorado High School Baseball Tournament on May 18, began with an adult leading attendees in prayer over the loudspeaker.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Colorado High School Activities Association Commissioner Rhonda Blandford-Green, reminding the association that it may not include loudspeaker prayer as part of events, as it constitutes an illegal government endorsement of religion.
Blandford-Green agreed that this inclusion of prayer was inappropriate and should not have happened. She assured FFRF that she will reiterate to the athletic directors that they may not go off-script and include religious endorsements in loudspeaker announcements.
A Cedartown High School coach and an official team chaplain will cease leading prayers with the football team following a letter of complaint from FFRF.
In March, Cedartown High School football coach Doyle Kelley delivered an alarming sermon at the Georgia Statehouse, where he discussed how people who do not adhere to his particular brand of religion would be tortured in hell for eternity. Given that Kelley abused his position as “chaplain of the day” to promote his personal religion, FFRF submitted an open records request to find out if he was similarly abusing his position at Cedartown High School. The records confirmed FFRF’s concerns, indicating that Cedartown High School has an official team chaplain, the Rev. Wayne Benefield, who prays with the team.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to district Superintendent Laurie Atkins: “We further request that all coaches be reminded that they may not promote religion while acting in their official capacity, nor enlist an outside adult to do the same.”
The district has taken action to inform the coach and the school principal that the chaplaincy program is to “cease immediately.” Additionally, Atkins has ensured that “district and school personnel have a clear understanding that no staff member, nor non-school-affiliated adult, is allowed to promote or endorse religion to students.”
A city-sponsored basketball league in Charleston has been opened up to all men regardless of their religious affiliation, after FFRF complained about its exclusionary religious requirement.
A local resident reported that the city of Charleston was offering a men’s church basketball league. The posting on the city website about the league stated that the league was only open to men who were affiliated with a religious congregation or church. A stated purpose of this league was to promote “fellowship,” a term often associated with religious activity. Because of this religious requirement, our complainant felt isolated and excluded from the league.
In a letter to City Attorney Rachael Cunningham, FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne pointed out the exclusionary nature of the league.
Cunningham responded to FFRF’s letter of complaint with positive news that the basketball league “will be offered to all members of the community and not exclusively members of congregations or religious citizens.” Additionally, the league has been renamed the “Men’s Slow Break League Basketball.”
Any future Montgomery County, Md., grants will be open to all nonprofit organizations regardless of religious affiliation, after FFRF raised concerns with a recent initiative providing grant funds to faith-based facilities.
A concerned taxpayer reported that, earlier this year, the county awarded $200,000 to a variety of faith-based facilities for “security operations.” The county’s solicitation for applications for these grants left no doubt that these taxpayer funds were only available to “houses of worship” and that secular nonprofits would understand that they need not apply, even if they faced plausible threat of hate crimes.
FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to Montgomery Chief Executive Marc Elrich, noting that while it is laudable for the county to work with at-risk organizations in the community to improve security and safety, offering funds only to houses of worship attaches an unconstitutional religious criterion to the grant program. Jayne requested assurances that future county grant programs will not be offered only to houses of worship.
Montgomery County responded and informed FFRF that any future funding, should it exist, would be made open to all nonprofits with a demonstrated need, “irrespective of any religious affiliation.”
New Philadelphia City Schools has removed a 92-year-old Ten Commandments plaque from Welty Middle School after the FFRF lodged a complaint against the unconstitutional religious display.
A concerned district parent had reported to FFRF that the school prominently displayed the plaque near its auditorium entrance. The Supreme Court has ruled that displays of the Ten Commandments in public schools violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line pointed out to the district.
New Philadelphia City Schools’ attorney Brian DeSantis responded to FFRF, assuring the state/church watchdog that the “plaque has been taken down and is no longer on display on district property.”
Both the Claremore Police Department and Claremore Fire Department will no longer use official time and resources to fundraise for the Salvation Army after FFRF pointed out the unconstitutionality of such practices.
A local Claremore resident informed FFRF that multiple police officers rang bells for the Salvation Army during the 2018 holiday season. The Claremore Police Department reportedly competed with the Rogers County Sheriff’s Office and the Claremore Fire Department to fundraise for the religious ministry.
FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to Chief of Police Stan Brown and Fire Chief Sean Douglas to inform them of the explicitly religious nature of the Salvation Army. “The Salvation Army is not merely a charity or chain of thrift stores — it is a church denomination with an evangelical mission,” Jayne wrote.
Claremore City Attorney Bryan Drummond responded to FFRF’s complaints with assurances that the fundraising will not continue.
“I have spoken with the fire chief and police chief and informed them that no fundraising activities can take place during duty time or in an official uniform,” Drummond wrote. “I have also informed them that if individual members of either department or their unions want to do fundraising activities for the Salvation Army, it must be done on non-duty time and not in their official uniforms. Both chiefs have assured me that they will ensure this does not happen again.”
Supervisors and principals in the Post Falls School District have been reminded by FFRF that religious groups are not permitted to advertise on school property.
A concerned parent informed FFRF that Real Life Ministries, a local church group, came to River City Middle School’s eighth-grade “End-of-Year Celebration” and supplied field games for students to play. The parent informed us that each game station had a banner on display advertising the church’s logo and times when its middle school youth group meets. Per Real Life Middle School’s Facebook page, it maintains a “close relationship with the school and its administration.” Real Life also hosted end-of-year celebrations at Post Falls Middle School and Timberlake Junior High.
In a letter to Superintendent Jerry Keane, FFRF Associate Counsel Elizabeth Cavell reminded the district it cannot allow its schools to be used as recruiting grounds for churches.
Keane responded to FFRF’s letter with assurances that the district “advised the principal of River City Middle School that religious groups are not allowed to advertise on any campus or recruit students in any way.” Additionally, Keane will “reiterate this information with all of [the district’s] principals and supervisors.”
A religious message has been removed from the Webbers Falls Public Schools Facebook page and website after intervention from FFRF.
Multiple area residents reported that district Superintendent Dixie Swearingen posted a religious message on the district’s social media in response to catastrophic flood damage in the area.
“Personally, this I know, God will be glorified! He takes devastation and turns it into not just restoration but glorification. He takes the broken and makes all things new,” Swearingen wrote. “He is the creator and the deliverer. I trust in Him!” The message continued for two more paragraphs.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district expressing our sympathy for the devastation facing the district and the greater Webbers Falls community, but pointing out that using an official district social media page to spread a religious message is both divisive and unconstitutional.
“The letter has been removed from the school website and Facebook page,” Swearingen responded. “Thank you for your concern for the children of Webbers Falls. I will ensure that no other posts of this nature are on any of our social media.”
The Seguin Independent School District in Texas has altered its graduation ceremonies, to avoid its tradition of opening and closing with prayers led by students.
A district parent informed FFRF that Seguin High School has a practice of scheduling opening and closing prayers at each of its graduation ceremonies. These prayers are invariably Christian in nature. Last year, for instance, the senior class secretary began the invocation with “Dear heavenly father” and ended with “We ask this in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.” The ceremony ended with the senior class president giving the benediction, which also opened with “Dear heavenly father” and ended with “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent Matthew Gutierrez requesting assurances that the district will no longer schedule prayer at school-sponsored events.
The district’s attorney conferred with district leadership and assured FFRF the titles have been changed from “invocation” and “benediction” to “student prelude” and “student adjournment.”
Federal Hocking Local Schools has taken action to ensure its web-filtering service is not unconstitutionally blocking websites of minority religious groups.
A district student reported that Federal Hocking Local Schools had been violating the rights of its students by blocking the websites of minority religious groups like the Satanic Temple, while allowing access to the websites of mainstream religious groups, including Christianity and Judaism. The district reportedly blocked these websites because they contain “mature” content, despite the fact that even a cursory review of these websites shows that the content of these websites is not “mature.” The content simply espoused views different than those contained on mainstream religious websites.
Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district and the district’s attorney notified FFRF that the district has worked with its web-filtering service to enable access to the Satanic Temple’s website.
Woodson School District #366 has removed a religious advertisement from its social media page after FFRF’s intervention.
A district parent alerted FFRF to an advertisement for a religious baccalaureate event taking place at the Toronto Cowboy Church on the district’s official Facebook page. Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district pointing out the unconstitutionality of such religious promotion.
The district confirmed it has since removed the post.
A North Canton City Schools high school will move a religious club outside of school hours due to a complaint from FFRF.
A concerned student has reported that outside preachers regularly attend meetings and preach Christianity to students during the school day as part of Anchored, a student religious club at Hoover High School. The complainant reported that Anchored is the only student club that was meeting during the day and that no staff member is present during the meeting.
The school’s attorney responded to the letter of complaint, informing FFRF that “the principal will instruct the students that non-school persons may not regularly attend the club.” While the meetings do take place during the day, it is during non-instructional time during which no other groups have requested to meet. However, the club will be advised to move its meetings to before or after school.
Hamilton Community Schools will make changes to its current protocol regarding a religious baccalaureate program after FFRF intervention.
A district parent informed FFRF that Hamilton Community Schools sponsored and promoted a baccalaureate ceremony for graduating seniors held at a local church. The event was listed in the “senior itinerary,” which was distributed to all seniors during a class meeting. The senior itinerary also listed a rehearsal for the baccalaureate during instructional time. Students were presumed to be attending the baccalaureate ceremony unless they “opted-out” by signing their name on a list in the main office or emailing the school secretary.
Furthermore, Hamilton High School evidently shared students’ names and home addresses with the church for the purpose of mailing baccalaureate invitations. These invitations, which bear the Hamilton High School official logo, invite the student and their family to attend a ceremony held “in your honor and to God’s glory.” Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to the district to request that it completely dissociate itself from the baccalaureate.
The district’s attorney confirmed the district addressed these concerns. The superintendent further notified the ministry that they would need to find an alternative location for the practice and students would not be excused from class in order to participate in the rehearsal. Significantly, the district will also no longer automatically provide the ministry with the names of addresses of graduating seniors.
The city of New Hope is making changes to an annual prayer breakfast, addressing concerns brought to light by FFRF.
A New Hope resident reported that each year the city hosts a “Community Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast.” The event was reportedly sponsored by the city of New Hope. The city sells tickets for this event and the event is reportedly advertised on the city’s official website. The city’s mayor also reportedly participated in the event in his official capacity. The complainant reported that New Hope also displays a religious message “America, God shed his grace on thee” above the main desk of its city hall building.
Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Mayor Kathy Hemken, highlighting the constitutional concern of the city’s hosting and coordination of a prayer breakfast.
The city confirmed that the religious sign has been removed and, with regard to the prayer breakfast, “any future prayer breakfasts will be conducted in compliance with the guidelines outlined in the Newman case.” Those guidelines restrict the use of city funds, employees, resources, and supplies in facilitating the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast.
Alexander County Schools has ceased playing religious music over the school loudspeaker following a letter of complaint.
A parent of a student at Bethlehem Elementary School said that employees regularly play Christian radio stations over the loudspeaker before school begins each day.
Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district urging it to discontinue the practice of proselytizing to students. “Students arriving at school are a captive audience and cannot avoid listening to broadcasts played outside of the school and in the school’s office,” Line wrote to the district.
Superintendent Jennifer Hefner assured that only a classical music station will play over the loudspeaker from now on and that she will continue to monitor the situation going forward.
Dodgeland School District has revamped its field trip form and policies after FFRF alerted officials to religious language.
A concerned community member contacted FFRF to report that students and parents were asked to sign a religious statement in a list of rules related to Dodgeland Middle School’s field trip to Washington, D.C., in mid-April. The only rule written in bold and italicized text stated, “REMEMBER AT ALL TIMES, AND IN ALL PLACES THAT YOU ARE REPRESENTING OUR GOD AND SAVIOR . . .” The district reportedly required students and parents to sign this document.
FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to district Superintendent Annette Thompson.
The Dodgeland School District has acknowledged its lapse and pledged to FFRF that a principal or an associate principal will review such documents from now on. It has also promised to draw up a new form that will not have any religious references.
The Lemonade House Grille has discontinued a social media promotion for a free appetizer for presenting a church bulletin.
Offering a church bulletin discount violates the federal Civil Rights Act as well as Oklahoma civil rights law, Associate Counsel Liz Cavell pointed out to the restaurant owner.
The church bulletin promotion has been removed from the restaurant’s Facebook page and all other advertised promotions are secular and available to all customers.
Christian music will no longer be played in a public recreation center in Denver after objection from FFRF.
A concerned Athmar Recreation Center patron reported that the recreation center frequently played Christian music over the facility’s PA system. The complainant reported that multiple patrons have requested that the center choose more appropriate music, but that these requests were ignored.
The station reportedly being played was KLove 91.1 FM, which describes its mission as: “To create compelling media that inspires and encourages you to have a meaningful relationship with Christ.”
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote to the center’s management with a reminder that its job is to serve all citizens of varying faiths or none at all. It is therefore inappropriate to endorse religion through Christian music, FFRF contends.
The Denver Parks and Recreation Department thanked FFRF for bringing this matter to its attention and took swift action to correct the violation. The department has established a new policy regarding the music played over the PA system and will only allow one neutral station to be played over the course of the day.
FFRF’s intervention formalized an end to a teacher’s imposition of religion on her elementary school students in Birmingham.
A concerned parent had informed FFRF that a first-grade teacher at Norwood Elementary School was leading her students in prayer every day before lunch. The teacher was reportedly making her young students imbibe bible verses and Christian songs, including a song about “the blood of Jesus.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Lisa Herring about the constitutional problem.
FFRF recently received communication from the district’s attorney that due to the organization’s intervention, the Birmingham school district has instituted a formal policy on the matter. (The teacher had been verbally warned after an initial parent complaint.)
Forney Independent School District is taking several positive steps to remedy its unconstitutional partnership with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).
A community member reported that the district partnered with FCA, a private religious organization, to host a jointly-sponsored athletic event called the “FCA Unity Bowl.”
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to the district and the district’s attorney reported that the district will take numerous steps to ensure there is no longer the appearance of district promotion of the FCA.
Pueblo City Schools has been instructed to cease religious activities as part of its football program after insistence by FFRF.
A concerned local resident reported that the East High School football team has a chaplain. An article published in the Pueblo Chieftain published last November called, “Faith and football” reported that “Dr. Mike DeRose serves as chaplain for the school’s football team.”
The night before each game, the team reportedly gathers for dinner and a religious message was being delivered by DeRose or another religious speaker. Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district urging it to take immediate action to end any official chaplaincy program at East High School and to ensure that all coaches be reminded that they may not promote religion while acting in their official capacity, nor enlist an outside adult to do the same.
“The assistant superintendent instructed the East High football program to cease all activities following the pre-game dinner, that is, FCA activities, and motivational speakers, secular or otherwise,” the school district’s attorney responded to the letter.
The Blount County Public Library has removed religious iconography from its website.
The complainant reported that the library had three Latin crosses on its website and on a computer inside of the library used to search its catalog. Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the library’s director about the violation.
Library Director K.C. Williams responded to FFRF’s complaint. “Once I became aware of the situation, immediate action was taken to rectify it,” Williams wrote. “It is my intent to ensure that there are no further lapses.”
A large bible verse painting has been removed from Muroc Joint Unified School District property after FFRF intervened.
A concerned parent reported that Desert Junior/Senior High School had a bible verse painted on a retaining wall near the main office. The verse cited was Hebrews 13:20-21.
Legal Fellow Chris Line urged the district to remove the display immediately, since it constituted an impermissible government endorsement of religion..
Superintendent Kevin D. Cordes recently informed FFRF that it has removed the bible verse painting.
The Clymer Central School District agreed to drop baccalaureate services and prayers at commencements after FFRF asked it to end the unconstitutional practices.
A concerned Clymer resident contacted FFRF to report that the district had been sponsoring an annual baccalaureate service for graduating seniors held at Clymer Central School. Last year, a district music teacher led the prelude and recessional at the service, which also had messages from three different pastors, scripture reading, a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, and a distribution of bibles by the Gideons. Last year’s senior commencement ceremony also opened and closed with prayer.
FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to Superintendent Ed Bailey.
“Clymer CSD will not be hosting baccalaureate service this year nor will we open or close our commencement ceremony with prayer,” Bailey responded in an email.
A concerned Clovis Unified School District parent reported that the district was opening its board meetings with prayer. According to the parent, board meeting agendas included an “invocation” which is “invariably a Christian prayer,” led by a board member.
FFRF Associate Counsel Liz Cavell wrote to the district, alerting it to the unconstitutionality of public school religious endorsement.
District Superintendent Eimear O’Farrell responded to FFRF: “The district is undertaking actions to comply with applicable laws with respect to the concern that was raised in your letter” and did not pray at a meeting in May.
Four crosses in Marshall have been removed from state property after FFRF drew attention to the unconstitutionality of such a display.
A Marshall resident reported that there was a roadside memorial consisting of four illuminated Latin crosses on I-94. These crosses had reportedly been up for more than a year, while other non-religious memorials had been removed in a much shorter time frame.
Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, urging it to remove these crosses as the display constituted an unconstitutional endorsement of religion as well as a violation of DOT policy regarding roadside memorials.
DOT Chief Operations Engineer John Steiner assured FFRF in a response letter that the cross display has been removed and returned to its owners.
Multiple religious displays were removed from the inmate law library at Coffeewood Correctional Facility in Mitchells due to a complaint from FFRF.
Multiple concerned inmates told FFRF that the facility had erected a large Christian-themed display in the law library, including a prominent Ten Commandments display and a large poster detailing the biblical account of the history of ancient Israel. Additionally, this display apparently sat adjacent to a display case containing various scripture quotes and a sign that read, “Jesus in me loves you.”
Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to Warden Ivan Gilmore, urging that the displays be taken down and that common areas in the prison not be used to endorse religion. The complainants have confirmed that the display was removed following the receipt of FFRF’s letter.
A religious sign was removed from a courthouse window at the Benton District courthouse following FFRF’s complaint.
A Benton community member reported that a sign hung in the window that read: “WE ALL FAIL. WE ALL FALL. BUT JESUS PICKS US UP EACH TIME AND REMINDS US WHO WE ARE.” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district court asking that it remove the exclusionary display.
The court swiftly responded, confirming the sign was removed immediately upon receipt of FFRF’s letter.
Fulda High School’s decided, after hearing from FFRF, to forego prayer at high school graduation this year in favor of a valedictorian speech and a nonreligious moment of silence.
A concerned Fulda Independent School District community member reported to FFRF that the 2019 high school graduation ceremony was set to open and close with a prayer. This had reportedly been a regular practice at Fulda High School graduations for years.
FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to Superintendent Loy Woelber to ensure that religious rituals are no longer a part of school-sponsored events. The school’s principal immediately responded, informing FFRF that the school has voted to have the valedictorian deliver a speech this year and hold a moment of silence asking those in attendance to take a moment to reflect on the past and future instead of prayer.
Davis Elementary School in Marietta has removed a religious advertisement from the front entrance from the school after FFRF sent a letter of complaint.
A Cobb County School District parent reported that the school was promoting a religious organization called “RISE UP!” by displaying a sign for the group on school property.
RISE UP! is a Christian organization where “elementary students are their families can learn about God’s unconditional love and can strengthen their character by applying Biblical principles to their lives.”
Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, alerting him to the unconstitutionality of promoting religious messages on school grounds. The district’s attorney responded with assurances that the sign is no longer on display in front of the elementary school.
The Animas Public Schools high school basketball coach who was violating the Constitution resigned after FFRF alerted the school district.
A concerned community member reported to FFRF that the head coach of the Animas High School boys basketball team was promoting religion to his team. Before a playoff game on Feb. 27, the coach had his players wear T-shirts that said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The coach was also reportedly holding bible studies with players.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Loren Cushman.
Cushman acknowledged in his response that FFRF’s concerns were real and informed FFRF that the coach had resigned. And he added, “We will address each of the areas of concern during our staff in-service training at the start of the next school year.”
A concerned parent reported that a biology teacher at Daviess County High School was regularly promoting Christianity to students, including showing videos of sermons in class. At least one of these videos, reviewed by FFRF, showed a bloodied Jesus hanging on the cross while a pastor, Louie Giglio, delivered a sermon in which he attributes an image of the distant galaxy photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope directly to God. (See page 20 for story from the student’s perspective.)
Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to the district, alerting it to this egregious constitutional violation and to submit an open record request for any records pertaining to this violation.
Upon receiving the thorough open records response detailing the school’s internal investigation of the incident, FFRF has confirmed that appropriate action was taken to reprimand the teacher and to ensure that this sort of violation will not reoccur.
A Pennsylvania school district has removed a godly broadcast tagged on to the Pledge of Allegiance after hearing from FFRF.
A concerned Springfield School District parent informed FFRF that Sabold Elementary School had been proclaiming “God Bless America” over the loudspeaker following the Pledge of Allegiance each morning.
FFRF asked that the school’s practice of decreeing “God Bless America” each day immediately stop.
“The repeated recitation of a religious message in the school setting violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits public schools from advancing, supporting or promoting religion,” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Anthony Barber. “‘God Bless America’ is a prayer. The song that the phrase originates from begins, ‘As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.’ A prayer hosted by a publicly supported school does not pass constitutional muster.”
FFRF’s message met with receptive ears from Springfield School District officials.
“After the school district’s receipt of your letter, Sabold Elementary School has ceased its practice of announcing the slogan ‘God Bless America’ over the loudspeaker immediately following the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance,” the school district’s legal counsel recently wrote back. “None of the schools in the school district currently engages in this practice.”
The Sedgwick County Board of Commissioners has agreed to let an atheist give a secular invocation following FFRF’s challenge to its original denial of the request.
A Sedgwick County resident told FFRF he had been denied the opportunity to present an invocation before the Board of County Commissioners because he is an atheist and the request to speak was “not made on behalf of a religious group.”
Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the board, pointing out that while the practice of government prayer itself is divisive and ill-advised, if the board allows religious groups to deliver a prayer it is unconstitutional to bar atheists from doing the same.
The board responded, indicating that they will now allow our secular complainant to deliver a nonreligious address before the Board of County Commissioners.
A concerned Henry County (Ga.) Schools employee reported that Union Grove High School organizes, endorses and advertises a baccalaureate for its seniors each year. Faculty members reportedly often speak at the event and met with students during the school day to organize it. The event was advertised on both the school’s website and on a calendar of senior events.
Line wrote to the district, expressing FFRF’s constitutional concerns about the public school-sponsored baccalaureate programs.
“The district’s role in advertising and promoting these baccalaureate programs, along with official teacher and administrator participation in organizing these events, would cause any reasonable graduating senior or parent to conclude that the district endorses the religious messages espoused at these services,” Line wrote in his letter to Superintendent of Henry County Schools Mary Elizabeth Davis.
The district’s legal representation discussed the issues with school officials and the event has been removed from the list of senior events for graduation.
Dalton Local Schools has been instructed by its attorneys to hold future events at secular locations, thanks to FFRF.
A local resident reported that the Dalton High School Choralation group performed at Cornerstone Community Church and previously performed at the Dalton United Methodist Church during its worship service.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Jim Saxer urging the district to respect the rights of conscience of all families and no longer hold events at churches and instead select public facilities for all future events.
The district’s attorney assures that the superintendent has “instructed the employee that school related performances should take place in secular venues.”
FFRF resolved multiple constitutional violations in Jefferson County Schools after a district community member alerted FFRF to ongoing violations in the district.
The complainant reported that Clay-Chalkville High School promoted a “See You at the Pole” event to its students. The school reportedly included a teacher-led advertisement for First Priority, a religious club operating at the school, in one of its daily announcement videos for students. The event was also promoted in the school’s newsletter.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line pointed out the unconstitutional nature of allowing a teacher to promote a religious club at the school, as well as the school’s endorsement of the “See You at the Pole” event.
The district has addressed both issues. “Clay-Chalkville High School will not promote the See You at the Pole event in the future,” the district confirmed in a response letter. Additionally, the district will make sure that, moving forward, the First Priority Club will be entirely student-initiated and neither the school nor its employees will lead, participate in or promote any meetings or club events.
Wrestling coaches in Jackson County R-II School District have been instructed to cease praying with students, after receiving a letter from FFRF.
A concerned citizen contacted FFRF to report that Jackson Senior High School wrestling coaches regularly pray with their team. Photos shared on the “Jackson Wrestling” Facebook page showed coaches kneeling and bowing their heads along with students praying in a circle.
FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to the district, asking that it investigate the complaint and take action to stop any and all school-sponsored prayers occurring within district athletic programs.
The district’s attorney responded to FFRF’s complaint with assurances that “the coaches at issue were reminded of the district’s board policy regarding staff members praying in school, and were also instructed not to lead students in prayer, initiate a prayer with students or cause a student to initiate prayer.”
The Webster County School District in Dixon, Ky., has instructed school administrators to contact the school board and discuss any requests regarding religious materials following a visit by the Gideons to the district.
A Clay Elementary School parent reported that on Nov. 28, the school allowed the Gideons to enter classrooms at the school and distribute bibles to students.
FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to the district regarding this unconstitutional distribution of religious materials, acknowledging that the district may not have even known about the distribution, as the Gideons operate by deliberately avoiding superintendents and school boards.
The district informed FFRF in a response letter that school administrators have been instructed to contact the school board before approving any request regarding dissemination of religious material. Additionally, the school board has pledged to discuss any such request with its legal counsel.
Following a complaint by FFRF, a Latin cross has been removed from a county building in Carlsbad, N.M.
A local resident reported that a cross was displayed prominently in the Eddy County Clerk Office, a location that was used for early voting in October of 2018. FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert swiftly intervened.
“The inherent religious significance of the Latin cross is undeniable and is not disguisable,” Markert wrote in her letter to County Clerk Robin Van Natta. “No secular purpose, no matter how sincere, will detract from the overall message that the cross stands for Christianity and the overall display promotes Christianity.”
This violation of the civil liberties of non-Christian residents by the presence of this cross is further exacerbated by the fact that the location is used as a polling place, Markert added.
The county confirmed in a letter to FFRF that the cross was removed following the complaint.
The Arkansas Department of Education has followed a recommendation from FFRF in ensuring the removal of religious promotion from its online health curriculum.
FFRF wrote a letter of complaint to the district expressing the concerns of a parent of an Arkansas public high school student that their child’s curriculum, administered through Virtual Arkansas, contained explicit religious proselytization.
In one assignment titled “Healthy Habits for Mental Wellness,” students were presented with “20 suggestions for healthy habits we can practice in five different dimensions, which integrate to enhance mental health.” One of these dimensions was “spiritual,” which was designed as “establishing a relationship with the Giver and Sustainer of life and health.” The program suggested students should tend to said “spiritual dimension” through, among other things, “daily devotionals” and “praying for others.”
“Every religious system promotes a time of prayer and meditation, preferably at the beginning of the day,” the program read. “The devotional session is a time to render worship and express gratitude for life, which you acknowledge that you have no ability to sustain. The sense of connection with God, the Supreme Being, boosts your mental awareness that supernatural support is available throughout the day. You worry less and praise more.”
Under the “Praying for Others” heading, the suggestions continued: “Praying for others provides an opportunity for you to forget your own troubles. It is an exercise which helps you become interested in someone else, whether to request compassion on their behalf, or to share their expectations. Praying for others underscores your personal belief in a God who cares.”
FFRF’s Robert G. Ingersoll Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key, informing him that including proselytization as part of a public school curriculum was completely inappropriate and demonstrated an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
“It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion,” McNamara wrote. “Assigning students reading materials that encourage them to pray and worship a monotheistic god violates this basic constitutional stricture.”
The Department of Education’s general counsel responded to FFRF’s request with assurances that the troubling elements of the curriculum would be deleted.
“The Department of Education reached out to Virtual Arkansas and learned that the materials at issue will be removed on Monday, March 25, by Virtual Arkansas’ design and development team,” the letter reads.
FFRF commends the Arkansas Department of Education for taking such swift action to correct this violation and bring its health curriculum in line with constitutional standards.
“Public schools cannot be used as recruiting grounds for religious indoctrination,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We welcome the removal of this unconstitutional content from the state’s online health program.”
A Mississippi school district has removed unconstitutional religious iconography from its schools, following a recommendation from FFRF.
A Lee County Schools community member reported to FFRF multiple displays promoting religion in areas of Saltillo Elementary School frequented by students and community members on school business. One such exhibit featured a Christian cross hung above the door to an administrator’s office. Multiple school administrators were displaying similar crosses and other religious items, including a sign reading “why worry when you can pray,” at their desks. Additionally, a painting was exhibited at the school that includes a quote from the bible verse, Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you . . .”
It is well-settled law that public schools may not endorse religion, FFRF reminded the district in a letter of complaint.
“We write to ensure that district employees cease impermissibly endorsing their personal religious beliefs through religious displays on district property,” FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote in his letter to the district’s attorney. “Any Latin crosses or other displays promoting religion must be removed from areas of the school frequented by students or members of the public.”
Lee County Schools has since indicated that the displays will be removed from school property. FFRF commends the district on taking swift action to remove these displays and for providing guidance to teachers on their constitutional obligations to remain neutral on matters of religion.
The district’s pledge to take down the religious iconography has subsequently invited overblown criticism from some members of the community who interpret the district’s enforcement of the law as an attack on faith. Some have conflated FFRF’s citing of legal precedent barring these sorts of displays with the protected individual rights of teachers to wear a cross necklace.
“Teachers are allowed to wear personal religious necklaces. Neither FFRF’s letter nor the district’s communication to its employees said otherwise,” Grover points out. “It appears that the district, like FFRF, is concerned about government employees using their official positions to promote religion to students and members of the community. Religious displays like the ones complained of in FFRF’s letter violate the religious freedom of each and every Lee County Schools community member.”
At Peach County Schools in Georgia, administrators have pledged to educate coaches on expectations regarding First Amendment requirements, thanks to a letter from FFRF.
A local resident reported that the Peach County High School football coach had been praying with his team. FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district to object to this unconstitutional school-sponsored prayer and ask that the district interfere to stop this practice.
The district’s counsel responded to FFRF’s complaint with assurances that the superintendent of the district “intends to meet with high school personnel, including all coaches, to discuss issues related to the First Amendment, including the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause.” The district also noted that it is “confident that all of its schools make good faith efforts to fully comply with the requirements of the Constitution and protect the rights of all parties.”
Loudspeaker prayer will not continue in United Local Schools after FFRF alerted the district to the unconstitutionality of such school-sponsored religious endorsement.
A concerned parent reported that a prayer was broadcast over the loudspeaker prior to a United High School basketball game. The complainant reports that an announcer asked everyone to remain standing following the national anthem, and then a student led everyone in prayer. The parent understandably felt isolated during this prayer as coaches, referees and school officials took part in this religious ceremony.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Lance Hostetler, urging the district to “take immediate action to end the practice of scheduling prayer at school-sponsored events and end the use of district equipment to project prayers to the public.”
The district responded to FFRF and committed to investigating the issue and, if it is found to have happened as described, terminating any practice that occurred. The district also pledged to ensuring that staff and faculty “understand that they may not initiate, direct or lead prayer at school-sponsored events.”
A parent contacted FFRF to report that an elementary school principal in Alton was forcing a young student to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne contacted the district superintendent and received assurances that the student would be allowed to sit quietly in the future.
The Duplin County School District has taken action to address concerns over constitutional violations in its district after FFRF received reports that the Wallace-Rose High School football coach led his team in prayer during team activities.
FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott wrote to Superintendent Austin Obasohan asking that the district take prompt action to stop all school-sponsored prayers occurring within any of its athletic programs.
The district’s attorney has informed FFRF that, “among other things, the district’s principals will be advised of the applicable laws, rules and policies regarding religious activities in public schools at the next principal’s meeting. Principals, in turn, will share this guidance with athletic directors and coaches across the district.”
Student athletes in Panama City Schools will not be exposed to religious promotion during official school events, following intervention from FFRF.
The Panama High School football team reportedly attended a football “team” camp at Hackett High School in Arkansas. At the camp, the players were subjected to religious “testimony” by evangelist Tyson Simon, an area representative for the Western Arkansas Fellowship of Christian Athletes. According to local news, “Hackett was the destination, Simon was the vehicle, and God was definitely the focus, the message, and the reason.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to remind the district of the unconstitutionality of subjecting students to overt religious proselytization at an official team event and to request that the district “not allow its football program to be used as a captive audience for evangelists.”
The district’s new superintendent noted in a response to FFRF that coaches have been made aware of the situation and assured that such religious promotion will not occur at future team events and that each athletic camp will be pre-approved by an administrator and/or athletic director.
Scheduled prayer has ceased at Lowndes County (Ga.) School Board meetings after persistent pressure from FFRF.
A concerned Lowndes County Schools parents first reported more than a year ago that the Lowndes County Board of Education begins all of its meetings with a scheduled prayer. FFRF stepped in to remind the district that it is beyond the scope of a school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings.
“Calling upon board members, parents, students and members of the public to pray is unconstitutional,” wrote Line. “It is coercive, embarrassing and intimidating for nonreligious citizens to be required to make a public showing of their nonbelief (by not rising or praying) or else to display deference toward a religious sentiment in which they do not believe, but which their school board members clearly do.”
After diligent follow-up with the district, the complainant has informed FFRF that the agenda no longer shows scheduled prayer for the school board meetings.
The name of a Cobb County Police Department-sponsored public event series has changed from “Faith Forums” to “Community Forums” after pressure from FFRF.
Multiple community members in Marietta, Ga., informed FFRF that CCPD was sponsoring “Faith Forums,” which apparently function as community forums intended to address issues of teen violence and gangs in the community. The goals of the forums include “developing results-oriented relationships with institutions of faith” and to “allow pastors or associate pastors an opportunity to have an open discussion with the [police] chief.” According to local media, nearly 300 local law enforcement representatives “dined with religious leaders” in order to discuss further participation “in one another’s events, such as officers attending church events or smaller gatherings at the house of worship.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to the police department, pointing out that “while it is laudable for the CCPD to work with the community to prevent teen violence and gang activity, holding a ‘Faith Forum’ that is only open to ‘pastors’ sends an impermissible message of exclusion to nonreligious community members.”
One complainant has now reported that the event’s name has been changed to “Community Forum” on a recent advertisement.
An unconstitutional, teacher-led religious club was disbanded in a Texas district following FFRF’s persistent interference.
A local community member reported that a teacher at C.C. Hardy Elementary School had been organizing, promoting and leading “Kats for Christ,” an explicitly Christian club, at the school.
In addition to multiple staff members being involved in starting and organizing the club, the school’s official Twitter account has been used for its promotion.
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent Tim Harkrider, reminding him that the district must not allow teachers to use public schools to proselytize. “Given that the ‘Kats for Christ’ club was conceived of by district employees and that district employees run the club on campus, the club is far too entangled with the school to be allowed to continue,” Grover noted.
Our complainant has since reported that the club has been disbanded at the school and is no longer meeting.
Staff members at Soddy Daisy High School in Hamilton County will be reminded of their obligation to remain neutral on religious matters after FFRF brought a serious violation to the administration’s attention.
A district parent reported that a school staff member has been praying with students as part of high school ROTC events.
At one event, the district employee reportedly told students and parents that they didn’t have to participate if they didn’t want to, then proceeded to lead the students in prayer. At another event, he reportedly prayed with students, including the complainant’s child, before a competition.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district’s attorney and urged the district to make certain that school programs do not include prayer and that none of its employees is unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters.
The attorney responded, confirming that the employee has been reminded of the First Amendment requirements and has been directed to cease praying with students. Additionally, the principal has committed to sending out correspondence reminding teachers and staff to “remind everyone of the constitutional issues at play.”
Bob Jones High School in Huntsville will update its dress code to remove a discriminatory rule regarding religion in next year’s policy.
A concerned local resident reported that the current student dress code prohibits students from wearing “T-shirts, clothing, or other personal items bearing a reference to alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, drugs, drug-related slogans, death, the occult . . .”
“The occult” is commonly used — often derisively — to refer to certain neo-pagan belief systems (e.g. Wicca), as well as the various forms of Satanism, FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line points out.
“The district cannot permissibly draw a distinction between student religious expression based on which religion they choose to express,” Line wrote to Madison City Schools’ attorney.
The district’s attorney has assured FFRF that the school’s policy has been updated to be consistent with the current systemwide dress code as set out in the school board’s policy and that the discrepancy will be remedied in the handbook for the 2019-20 school year.
A Hardin County officer has removed a cross pin from his uniform after FFRF brought the issue to the attention of the sheriff’s office.
A concerned Hardin County resident reported that a deputy in the sheriff’s office wears a religious pin on his official uniform; a Christian cross stylized with a star and a blue stripe. FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to the sheriff’s office, urging Sheriff Mark Davis to ensure the rights of conscience of all citizens in Harding County are being honored.
“As you are aware, citizens interact with and rely on law enforcement officers during some of the most urgent and vulnerable times of their lives,” Grover wrote. “These citizens should not be made to feel excluded, like political outsiders because the local government they support with their taxes oversteps its authority by prominently displaying a religious symbol on their uniform. Nor should the sheriff’s office turn religious citizens into ‘insiders.’”
Davis replied, informing FFRF that unauthorized pins or patches on officer uniforms are not allowed. The department has addressed the issue with the employee to ensure compliance.
A Georgia school district will not continue religiously pressuring its high school football team after FFRF interceded.
FFRF had contacted Toombs County Schools in October after a resident informed it that coaches and an outside pastor were praying with the high school football team and that religious propaganda was being posted on official social media. A video posted on Facebook showed coaches making religious statements and initiating a religious chant with students after the game. In the video, each coach made a statement before reciting the phrase, “God is good,” to which the students responded: “All the time.” Each coach then said, “All the time,” and the students responded: “God is good.” This was repeated a dozen times.
FFRF reminded the school district that such conduct was blatantly breaching the U.S. Constitution.
“The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools,” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Toombs County Schools Superintendent Barry Waller.
FFRF has persuaded the school district to mend its ways.
“It was agreed that staff of the Toombs County School System should not be participating in any form of religious activity with students, on school property, and, likewise, should not be posting any form of religious statements on school-related social media,” the school’s legal counsel recently wrote back.
The Benton County School District has affirmed its commitment to protecting its students’ First Amendment rights, thanks to FFRF.
A local parent reported that teachers at Hickory Flat Attendance Center instructed students to read from the bible and to complete religious assignments as part of “Bring your Bible to School Day.” The school advertised the religious event on its Facebook page and made an additional post the day of the event showing pictures of kindergarten students reading bibles at the instruction of a teacher. Additionally, students were reportedly assigned to complete religious crafts during the day, such as coloring pages depicting bible stories with bible verses printed on them. Separately, the parent reported that teachers have also adopted the practice of leading students in prayer before lunch.
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to district Superintendent Steve Bostick asking that the district investigate both issues and take steps to prevent employees from promoting their personal religious beliefs to their students.
“While I do believe there was no intent to cause harm or distress, I have placed the utmost importance on the requirement we, as a district, must avoid promoting or appearing to promote any religious preference in a public setting,” Bostick wrote. He further informed FFRF that all staff will be required to attend training and review sessions regarding the separation of church and state, and that the district is reviewing its policies for individual school monitoring at the district level.
A Meigs County school has assured FFRF that unconstitutional religious programs will not continue after a complaint that its former coach was promoting religion to players.
FFRF wrote to Meigs Local School Superintendent Scot Gheen after a concerned parent reported that the high school football coach was taking his team to devotionals at a church before every football game and was playing Christian music during football practice.
The parents reported that players felt as though they had to attend these preaching sessions in order to be allowed to play.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line urged that the district investigate these investigations and take immediate action to stop all coach-led religious activities occurring within any district athletic programs.
The coach in question has since resigned but the district writes that it will “be sure that future coaches are aware of the board’s policy, practices and expectations related to First Amendment freedoms.”