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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
A New Hampshire VA hospital has opted for a more inclusive “missing man” table display after FFRF intervened.
A concerned veteran and patient of the Manchester VA Medical Center contacted FFRF to report that the center’s “missing man” table display honoring POW/MIA soldiers included a Christian bible. FFRF took action to ensure that non-Christian service members were being equally honored.
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to the Medical Center’s Public Affairs Officer, Kristin Pressly, asking that the VA remove the bible from the display in order to eliminate any appearance of religious favoritism.
FFRF’s complainant confirms the bible has been moved from the display.
Future events in the Dalton Public Schools will be relocated from a nearby church after a district parent reported their child was forced to perform at the nearby First Baptist Church of Dalton.
Brookwood Elementary School held a chorus concert at the church, where students performed under a giant Latin cross. FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district’s attorney, alerting them to the unconstitutional nature of holding public school events at a religious venue.
The district’s attorney responded to FFRF’s concern, assuring that, whenever possible, future events will be moved to other locations.
Decatur Public Schools students will no longer be subjected to religious promotion in school after a district parent reported a concerning partnership between E.J. Muffley Elementary School and Calvary Baptist Church. The parent reported numerous instances where, during the school day, Muffley Elementary teachers led students across the street to events at the church, at times facilitating the course of events.
Students were taken to the church and given free shoes and bags with “religious gospel tracts” inside. Another day, students were ushered to a “Trunk or Treat” event in the church parking lot and were given candy out of volunteers’ cars. Finally, the school reportedly held a “Winter Program” inside the church, where students were brought into the main sanctuary of the church where religious iconography lines the walls, including large Latin crosses, a Ten Commandments wall display, a nativity scene, a chalkboard with the message “Jesus thinks you are special” written on it, among other things.
FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to the school district’s attorney, reminding him that public school teachers “may not use their position to facilitate the church adopting the school as religious recruiting grounds, such as by bringing students to an ostensibly secular event and allowing the church to give students religious literature.”
The school’s attorney responded to FFRF, stating that the students will no longer be allowed to enter the sanctuary as part of a school-sponsored event, and, in any other room, religious iconography will be removed or covered up if the school uses the room.
Promotions for a religious Todd Becker Foundation event have been removed from Stapleton Public Schools’ website.
Stapleton Public Schools had been promoting and endorsing a religious worship event being put on by the Todd Becker Foundation at North Platte High School.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district, asking that it remove the unconstitutional religious promotion immediately. Superintendent Howard Gaffney responded quickly, complying with the request and thanking FFRF for bringing the matter to his attention.
Religious rituals will not be included in district-sponsored meetings in the Denton Independent School District anymore.
A district employee contacted FFRF to report that the district invited a religious leader from Morse Street Baptist Church to give a Christian prayer at the staff Christmas party at Thomas Rivera Elementary. The complainant reported that this was a district-sponsored event and that the school principal made clear to all employees that they were intended to be in attendance.
Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to ensure that no prayer is scheduled at district-sponsored events.
Superintendent of Schools Jamie Wilson responded to FFRF’s letters with assurances that they would investigate the situation and “in doing so all of our employees will be educated that prayers during mandatory training programs and staff meetings presents the message that school district decisively endorses a particular religious position.”
A teacher in the Johnston County School District has removed a religious email signature from his school account.
A parent in the district reported that a teacher at South Jackson High School was sending emails from his school email account with religious messages included in the signature line. An email received by our complainant included the message, “What we are born with is God’s gift to us. What we do with it is our gift to God.”
The principal of the school discussed the issue with the teacher and the email signature has been removed.
Rocklin Academy Charter School will move an annual field trip from a Christian camp retreat to a secular location in the future.
A concerned parent reported that Rocklin Academy Gateway takes an annual field trip to Alliance Redwoods Conference Grounds (ARCG), an evangelical retreat. ARCG’s mission is to provide a place “where our guests meet the Creator in his Creation,” according to the camp director in a promotional video.
FFRF Associate Counsel Elizabeth Cavell wrote to the district, outlining the plethora of the religious entanglements associated with taking students to this camp.
The school has put a plan in place to ensure this year’s trip does not include any religious proselytization, including vetting the curriculum and never allowing camp staff to be alone with students without school chaperones present. Next year’s trip will then be moved to a secular location.
A public marquee in Wichita Public Schools will no longer advertise an after-school bible club.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Unified School District No. 259’s general counsel, alerting the school to the unconstitutionality of using a school-owned marquee to advertise religious clubs.
The school has adjusted its policy and, in the future, only official school-sponsored activities will be advertised on the sign.
FFRF has extracted a pledge from an Illinois school district to curb creationism-promoting events in its schools.
A concerned district parent contacted FFRF after discovering that a fourth-grade math assignment at Central Grade School in Effingham included unconstitutional overt religious instruction.
The assignment consisted of counting the total number of gifts given in the lyrics of the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Completely superfluous to the task, students were given religious metaphors for each lyric in the song. The assignment stated that “the ‘true love’ of the song refers to God,” “The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ,” etc.
FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to Effingham CUSD #40 Superintendent Mark Doan, citing the unconstitutionality of the math exercise.
The district responded to FFRF’s complaint on Jan. 28, acknowledging that the religious material was inappropriate and assuring that no similar violation will occur in the future.
A Columbia Public Schools employee has been reminded of his obligation to refrain from leading or participating in religious clubs at school.
A concerned district community member reported that a teacher and basketball coach at Gentry Middle School had been actively leading a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) club at the school for several years. FCA is a Christian organization whose mission is to “lead every coach and athlete into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and his church.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to Superintendent Peter Stiepleman, alerting him to this teacher’s unlawful leadership of the club.
The district investigated the matter and spoke with the teacher. “We reiterated the school districts’ position,” the superintendent’s letter read, “that children may form religious clubs, but that teachers/staff, in their capacity as school employees, may not participate in or lead any type of religious clubs.”
FFRF addressed two separate instances of coach-sponsored prayer in Rowan County Schools, prompting the district to remind district employees of their constitutional obligations.
First, a concerned parent of a Rowan County Senior High School band member contacted FFRF to report that the band was subjected to a group prayer as part of a mandatory practice last October. Then, separately, a parent reported that, last December, Rowan County Schools basketball coaches joined hands with players for an on-court prayer circle.
In both instances, FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to the district, asking that it cease the practice of allowing adults to proselytize to its students.
The district’s response assures FFRF that “school district central office personnel have met with principals, coaches and other school-level personnel to remind them of their obligation to refrain from any actions which have the appearance of endorsing religion, even if unplanned and unintentional, while at the same time refraining from demonstrating open hostility toward the sincerely held religious beliefs of others.”
Tuba City Unified School District #15 will no longer allow prayer at its graduation ceremonies.
FFRF was informed that Tuba City Junior High School’s 2018 graduation ceremony included an opening prayer led by a student. FFRF Associate Counsel Elizabeth Cavell wrote to Superintendent Sharlene Navaho, stating that unconstitutional religious rituals should not be part of graduation ceremonies or any other school-sponsored events.
The superintendent responded to FFRF’s complaint with assurances that “religious prayers will not be permitted at [their] graduation ceremonies.
FFRF wrote to the school board president in the Tomorrow River School District to urge the school not to lease space in St. James and St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church in Amherst for classes as it was considering doing.
After reviewing records related to the selection of classroom space for Tomorrow River, FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne sent a letter urging the board to select one of the alternative secular classroom spaces.
Board President Mark Kryshak said that, at the time of his response, the board does not support leasing the church space and is looking at other options.
FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert sent a letter to the borough administrator of Nazareth after a local resident contacted FFRF to report a cross that was displayed on what the complainant understood to be public property. The display has a silhouette of a soldier kneeling next to a Latin Cross on the base of a cannon.
FFRF received a response from the borough explaining that while the property in question is not actually owned by the borough of Nazareth, the cross was removed as it was placed without permission or approval from the Nazareth Borough Council.
A Christian adventure comedy called “The Star” will not be shown in Pike County Schools again.
A Valley Elementary School parent reported to FFRF that a third-grade science teacher at the school showed a film called “The Star” in class. The movie apparently follows the biblical account of the birth of Jesus. Christian themes are reportedly also portrayed throughout the movie, including a reliance on prayer for guidance and a desire to do God’s will.
FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote the district, requesting that it “make certain that none of its employees is unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters.”
The district’s attorney responded to the letter by letting FFRF know he had spoken with the school’s principal and advised him to speak to his staff about the issue and to refrain from showing this movie or any like it in the future.
The Mid-Del City school district is taking steps to ensure it is in compliance with its constitutional obligation to remain neutral on religion.
A parent in the Mid-Del School District reported that Schwartz Elementary School held a Christmas concert last December that included religious worship music. The complainant reported that students sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus and about how much they love Jesus.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote a letter to Superintendent Rick Cobb, who then responded, saying he is “aware of the incident and [they] are taking steps internally to ensure that the practices of our schools and staff are in alignment with state and federal laws.”
Utah Valley University has reconsidered a continuing education class assignment that centered around creating a nativity scene.
A local Orem resident reported that Utah Valley University’s continuing education program includes a woodcarving class where students will “complete and paint the beginning of a Nativity set: Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.” Our complainant reported that they considered taking the class but were discouraged from doing so because of the religious theme.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line reminded Utah Valley University of its obligation to remain neutral on matters of religion and pointed out the exclusionary nature of such an assignment.
The university’s legal counsel responded to FFRF’s letter. “We’re working to ensure inclusive project offerings specifically in the woodcarving course at issue, and hope that the concerned resident you reference will reconsider the course in the near future.”
FFRF has ensured that Bibb County School District will no longer include prayer in district-sponsored meetings.
A district employee reported that a mandatory employee meeting at Central High School last August began with a prayer that lasted between three and five minutes and invoked Jesus. The complainant also noted that this is not the first time they had been subjected to prayers at BCSD meetings.
FFRF’s Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district’s legal counsel, asking the district to refrain from including prayers in meetings.
FFRF received a response from Chief Legal Counsel Randy Howard, indicating that the district has resolved the issue.
FFRF received an exemplary response from a school district in Kentwood after reporting a substitute teacher praying with students in Kentwood Public Schools.
A concerned Southwood Elementary School parent contacted FFRF after a substitute teacher led third-grade students in prayer in the classroom. The complainant reported that after the class recited the Pledge of Allegiance, he told the class “when I was in third grade, we prayed.” He then proceeded to pray aloud, with many of the students joining in.
FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to Superintendent Michael Zoerhoff, outlining the constitutional issues being violated.
Zoerhoff thanked FFRF for bringing this matter to his attention, and directed the district’s human resources department to investigate the incident. The district notified the substitute’s employer, and has enacted a plan to ensure that this violation will not happen again.
FFRF scored two victories for state/church separation in Quanah ISD. FFRF received records from the district which confirm that Quanah High School had a practice of scheduling prayers and religious remarks at its graduation ceremonies. Each graduation ceremony for the last three years has included a program identifying the event as a “Baccalaureate and Commencement” event. Each program has included a scheduled “invocation,” “scripture reading,” “baccalaureate address,” and “benediction.”
The complainant further informed FFRF that several district employees display Christian crosses on district property, in areas frequented by students and members of the public, including a cross on the wall of the Quanah High School principal’s office.
Associate Counsel Sam Grover sent a letter to Quanah ISD, alerting it to the unconstitutionality of both.
FFRF received a response from the district, stating that future graduation ceremonies will no longer include religious prayers and practices and the religious iconography has been removed from all district property.
A Texas school district will no longer allow the distribution of bibles in its schools after intervention from FFRF. A concerned parent of a district student reported that Van Middle School allowed a group of outside adults access to the campus to distribute New Testament bibles to each fifth-grade student during the school day.
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent Don Dunn to ensure that this sort of illegal bible distribution does not take place in the future.
Dunn responded to FFRF’s letter with assurances that he has addressed the issue with the campus principal and has been assured that this bible distribution will not recur.
The infamous bible-distributing Gideons will not be allowed back in the Filer School District.
FFRF received a complaint that Gideons International, an organization whose mission is to spread Christian doctrine, was allowed to distribute bibles to students at Filer Intermediate School in November. The school also reportedly made a school-wide announcement over the PA system to promote distribution.
FFRF Associate Counsel Elizabeth Cavell sent a letter to Superintendent John Graham, alerting him to the situation. Cavell reminded the district of its constitutional obligation to remain neutral on matters of religion and to protect both its students’ and parents’ rights of conscience from religious proselytization on school property.
The superintendent has spoken with the staff at Filer Intermediate School and ensured that they would not allow the Gideons back on school property.
A school district in Ohio will no longer assign students to complete religious Christmas projects, thanks to intervention from FFRF.
A concerned parent in the Hillsdale Local School District in Jeromesville reported that Hillsdale Elementary School required its students to complete a religious craft assignment last December. The project included a specifically religious message, “Jesus is the reason we celebrate the season.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote the district to alert it to the unconstitutionality of such an assignment and ensure that, in the future, students are not required to complete explicitly religious projects.
Hillsdale Superintendent Steven Dickerson said in a response letter that “the matter had been addressed and [he] does’ not anticipate anything like this happening again.”
Corrective action has been taken to ensure that a Utah school district will no longer recite prayers at school events.
A concerned citizen reported that North Layton Junior High School in Farmington held a Veterans Day Assembly that included a Christian prayer delivered by the principal.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line reminded the district that it is unlawful for any school-sponsored event to include prayer and asked that it ensure any future events do not include religion.
The district’s director of education equity sent a response to FFRF.
“Corrective action has been taken to address the situation with [the principal]. The Davis School District Legal Department has reviewed the State and District Policy: Recognizing Freedoms in Public Schools.”
A teacher at Marlington High School has been instructed to refrain from leading Youth 4 Christ, a religious club at the school. While the teacher is listed as the “faculty advisor” for this club, the complainant reported that he also organizes and participates in the club’s events and activities.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote a letter to ensure that district staff members do not continue organizing or participating in religious student clubs.
The district sent a response letter informing FFRF that Marlington Local Superintendent Joe Knoll has spoken with the club advisor and shared the constitutional concerns presented by FFRF.
The superintendent of Hamblen County Schools has instructed all teachers and administrators to refrain from unconstitutional religious endorsement after a religious prayer was delivered “in Jesus’ name” during an in-school Veteran’s Day event.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line sent a letter, lauding the district for organizing an event to honor veterans, but reminding the district that, in order to honor all veterans and their obligation to the Constitution, they may not include religious prayers in school events.
The superintendent assured in his response to FFRF that the district will “be more vigilant in [its] efforts to prevent activities that are unconstitutional or illegal.”
An employee in Hopkins County Schools reported that this year’s “Superintendent’s Day” was rife with religious proselytizing and prayer. “Superintendent’s Day” is a mandatory gathering for all district staff that is ostensibly for team-building and staff development.
The complainant reported several events that were highly religiously charged, including the reading of a biblical passage and a speech given that was based on the biblical story David and Goliath, among others.
The school’s attorney replied to FFRF’s Robert Ingersoll Legal Fellow Colin McNamara’s letter, assuring FFRF that they will “continue to monitor all of these and other issues to ensure compliance with appropriate federal and state law and local Board policy.”
FFRF has ensured an end to a North Carolina school district’s unconstitutional advertising of weekly religious services at a local church.
Southwest Elementary School in Durham, N.C., was allowing Keystone Church to place a large sign on the school’s lawn to advertise its Sunday worship services. FFRF’s local complainant reports that the sign was up at all times, including during the school week. The school had also allowed the church to store materials visible to students in the gym, including signs advertising the church.
“Southwest Elementary School may not display messages on school grounds that recruit participants to engage in religious worship,” FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott wrote to the school district’s legal counsel. “Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools.”
FFRF’s request that the school district remove all church property from school grounds during times when the church was not renting school facilities was heeded.
“The church street sign has been removed and the signs that are stored in the gym have been completely covered,” the school district’s representative replied in an email.
An Oklahoma public school has instructed staff on their obligation to refrain from participating in religious events.
A concerned parent reported that Adams Elementary School was sponsoring a “See You at the Pole” event in September. A Facebook page for the event indicated that it was organized and promoted by a teacher at the school.
The district’s attorney sent a reply to FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line, noting that district officials took swift action to resolve the issue prior to the event.
“The school district’s superintendent Nick Migliorino has assured me that relevant individuals and groups were counseled regarding the district’s expectations that future events would not include references to the district as if the district or its employees were the sponsor of a religious events,” the attorney’s letter read. “Similarly, district resources including its contact information cannot be used to advertise non-school related activities.”
A Michigan school district removed religious messaging from a holiday program, thanks to FFRF.
It was reported to FFRF that Fairview Area Schools’ kindergarten, 2nd-, 4th- and 6th-grade students were scheduled to present “Christmas is Coming,” a holiday-themed concert that contains a number of Christian elements. While the program was set to include some secular holiday music, it also was supposed to contain narration that treats the biblical story of the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem as historical fact.
“The ‘Christmas is Coming’ program contains narrative passages and songs with a distinctly devotional message that would be appropriate in a church, but not in a public school,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara to district Superintendent John Sattler.
Sattler responded quickly, saying that the religious narration had been removed from the program.
An Indiana public high school will instruct its coaches to stop participating in student prayer after intervention by FFRF.
A concerned South Gibson School Corporation community member reported that Gibson Southern High School personnel prayed with student athletes after a home game on Nov. 2.
A photo posted on social media shows coaching staff for both teams, as well as other adults, bowing their heads in prayer and placing their hands on students, along with the caption, “This is how two of the best football programs in southern Indiana complete a game . . . the power of prayer — at Gibson County, Ind.”
It is unconstitutional for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer, participate in student prayers, or to otherwise promote religion to students, FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne reminded the district in his Nov. 30 letter.
On Dec. 17, FFRF received a response letter from the school district’s attorney addressing the concerns and assuring it that the district would take action to ensure that it adheres to the First Amendment in the future.
“We want to emphasize to our personnel that they may not participate [in] any such student led prayer,” the letter read. “We further plan to instruct the school personnel, including all coaches, that they may not encourage, lead, initiate, mandate, either directly or indirectly, any such student prayer.”
FFRF has at last convinced a Missouri town to transfer a cross from public land.
“Ozark officials said [Jan. 4] they will move a cross that is part of a holiday display in a city park,” the Springfield News-Leader reported. “The issue was raised when the city received a letter in late November from a separation-of-church-and-state group demanding the cross be removed.”
That “separation-of-church-and-state group” is FFRF, and it has been asking the city for months to do the constitutionally right thing.
As FFRF mentioned in its initial letter on Nov. 30, an illuminated cross is not a permissible city holiday decoration.
Soon after, it seemed that Ozark had listened to FFRF’s advice. On Dec. 11, the city issued a statement indicating that a cross displayed in its Finley River Park indeed violated the Constitution. But later the same day, the city reversed course under immense pressure from the community, stating that “the cross in the Finley River Park will remain in place until a further due diligence can be completed regarding this matter.”
In its subsequent letter taking city officials to task for their reversal, FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert emphasized its original legal point.
“In ACLU v. St. Charles (1986), the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals prohibited the city of St. Charles from displaying an illuminated Latin cross on the top of the city’s fire department as a part of its annual Christmas display,” Markert reminded City Administrator Stephen Childers. “The court stated matter of factly that ‘the cross is not in fact a common Christmas symbol.’”
Finally, Ozark has heeded FFRF’s counsel — this time, hopefully, for good.
“The city said it will move the cross to a private piece of land at the south end of the park,” the Springfield paper adds. “That land is owned by the Christian County A&M Society and is used by the Finley River Saddle Club, according to the city.”
A nativity scene was removed from a New York elementary school after FFRF intervened.
A concerned parent of a Harvey C. Fenner Elementary School student in Falconer, N.Y., reported that the school had placed a nativity scene near its main entrance. A picture of the nativity scene showed it sitting by the front desk, such that any student or guest to the school had to walk by it.
FFRF Robert G. Ingersoll Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote district Superintendent Stephen Penhollow to request that the scene be removed.
FFRF received a prompt response from the superintendent informing us that the display was removed.
FFRF commends a Colorado school district for cancelling its attendance at a sermonizing session that an evangelical group is a key part of.
The Todd Becker Foundation, a Christian ministry, was scheduled to appear at a Burlington Middle School assembly on Nov. 28. FFRF sent letters to the Burlington School District and several area school districts that were scheduled to attend the event, warning them that it will involve members of the Todd Becker Foundation reading from the bible and praying with students, which is in violation of the Establishment Clause. The school systems that were slated to be present at the event included Cheyenne County School District, Hi-Plains School District, Kit Carson School District and the Arriba-Flagler School District.
However, the Cheyenne County School District, after hearing from FFRF, did not send its students to this religious assembly.
The Todd Becker Foundation travels throughout the Midwest and the Rocky Mountain states putting on assemblies in public schools with the explicit purpose of converting students to its brand of evangelical Christianity. Oftentimes, it infiltrates public schools under the guise of offering a secular presentation, despite its purpose being laid out in no uncertain terms on its website.
FFRF was able to get canceled an Illinois city-sponsored religious tour after receiving a report that the Parks and Recreation Department was hosting a five-day trip featuring visits to the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum, scheduled for fall 2019.
It is unconstitutional for a city government to endorse the religious mission of the Ark Encounter or the Creation Museum by organizing, sponsoring or funding a trip to them, FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne reminded Charleston, Ill., officials on Dec. 5.
By the next afternoon, City Attorney Rachael Cunningham had alerted FFRF that the event had been cancelled. The trip has been removed from the city’s website and online registration portal.
Teachers in a California school district have been instructed to stop promoting religious events to their students following a letter from FFRF Associate Counsel Elizabeth Cavell.
A concerned parent contacted FFRF to report that a Cosumnes Oaks High School teacher encouraged students to participate in “See You at the Pole,” an on-campus prayer event. The teacher reportedly showed a graphic promoting the prayer event on the overhead projector in his classroom.
The district sent a response to FFRF, detailing the course of action it took to remedy this violation. The district discussed the issue directly with the teacher and corrected the behavior and is taking action to “engage in a broader discussion with the entire faculty emphasizing the importance of the separation between church and state [its] constitutional obligation to refrain from promotion religion in public education.”
FFRF received multiple reports that Wood County School District in West Virginia has allowed teachers and outside adults to facilitate religious instruction during the school day in its elementary schools. Representatives from a local church reportedly created bible clubs at the school and recruited students at lunch. The bible club, “Generation NXT,” openly admitted that teachers and principals “have stepped up to either start or join an NXT Club in their school!!!”
FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott sent a letter to the school superintendent William Hosaflook alerting him to the fact that adults had abused their position to proselytize within Wood County Schools.
Hosaflook directed the two schools reportedly hosting these clubs to immediately cease and desist all “Generation NXT” and other non-curricular clubs throughout the school day. The district is also undergoing the process of establishing a new policy for managing school clubs to ensure they remain in accordance with students’ constitutional rights.
A restaurant in Virginia has discontinued offering a religious discount after FFRF alerted the establishment that it was in violation of state and federal civil rights laws.
Ms. Girlee’s Kitchen in Richmond was reportedly offering a 15-percent discount to patrons who presented a church bulletin on Sundays. This offer was advertised on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
FFRF Associate Counsel Elizabeth Cavell sent a letter to Ms. Girlee’s Kitchen’s manager, alerting them that the discount was in violation of the Civil Rights Act and the Virginia Human Rights Act as it showed favoritism based on religion.
FFRF received an uncommonly conscientious response from the restaurant’s management apologizing for unintentionally discriminating against anyone and assuring that the discount would be discontinued.
A school district in Missouri has instructed coaches and teachers on their constitutional obligation to refrain from participating in student prayers.
FFRF received a complaint that coaches and teachers in a Palmyra school district joined players in an on-field prayer at a football game held on Oct. 23, 2018. Staff from both the Palmyra R-1 School District and Monroe City R-1 School District reportedly participated in the prayer.
Legal Fellow Colin McNamara sent a letter to the district requesting that all employees, including teachers and coaches, cease praying with students.
Superintendent Kirt Malone responded, affirming the district’s commitment to upholding its constitutional responsibilities to honor its students’ religious liberty.
FFRF persuaded the city of Dover, Ohio, to transfer a nativity scene and a Ten Commandments monument from public to private property owned by Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church.
A concerned area resident reported to FFRF last holiday season that each year during this time, the city of Dover was displaying religious exhibits on city property, and FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line contacted Mayor Richard Homrighausen then to let him know of the unconstitutionality of its practice.
The city had informed FFRF that Dover would no longer have such overtly Christian monuments on city property. During the holiday season, the media has been reporting on FFRF’s constitutional victory.
The city of Baraboo, Wis., affirmed its commitment to inclusion of nonreligious citizens after receiving a letter from FFRF.
In November, a shocking photo of Baraboo High School students giving a Nazi salute was circulated by the media, receiving international condemnation. In response, the city held a series of events aimed at helping the Baraboo community heal from the harm the photo caused. Local media reported that “religion played a central role” in one of the events, which were reportedly co-sponsored by local “faith leaders.”
While endorsing the anti-hate programs, FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne sent letters to the superintendent of Baraboo School District and the mayor’s office, reminding them of their constitutional obligation to keep public events secular and asking for assurance that future events would be free from government religious endorsement.
FFRF received responses from both the mayor’s office and the district, assuring that the future events were poised to remain free of religious proselytization.
A Florida city manager has ceased posting religious messages on the city’s social media following intervention from FFRF.
A concerned Lynn Haven resident contacted FFRF to say that City Manager Michael White regularly posted proselytizing messages to the city’s official Facebook page. One post ended with:
“I would love to leave you with this message from my Lord and Savior:
1 John 1:7
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
Similar religious messages appeared at the end of numerous posts signed by White.
FFRF Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter to the city, asking that city officials honor its residents’ First Amendment rights and stick to secular messaging on their social media pages.
FFRF received a response from the attorney representing the city and the city has since ceased including religious messages and bible quotes in their Facebook posts.
Religious promotion in a Georgia school will cease, thanks to a letter from FFRF.
A local resident alerted FFRF to the fact that Providence Elementary School in Gainesville, Ga., was promoting on the school’s official Facebook page a church service and a “prayer walk” hosted by the church.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district to ensure it remove such social media posts and refrains from promoting any future religious events.
“It is illegal and inappropriate for Carroll County Schools, and Providence Elementary School in particular, to create an event on Facebook for a worship service and an accompanying prayer event,” Line wrote in his letter to the district’s legal representation. “To do so shows that the district is ‘appear[ing] to take a position on questions of religious belief.’”
The district’s attorney responded with assurances that the posts have been removed from the school’s official Facebook page and the administration has reviewed with their staff the obligation to avoid any appearance of public school endorsement of or participation in religious events.