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Legal Advocacy Victories

Religious displays in a Missouri school district removed (September 4, 2019)

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.”

Kentucky Elementary school stops promoting a religious event (September 4, 2019)

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.

Fresno district nixes chaplaincy program (September 4, 2019)

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.

Texas district adds disclaimer to religious endorsement (August 29, 2019)

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.

Annual religious event ceased at Michigan high school (August 27, 2019)

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.”

Religious decoration removed from Arkansas school cafeteria (August 26, 2019)

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.

Christian organization no longer be given access to students (August 23, 2019)

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.”

Religious signs taken down from Miss. school (August 2, 2019)

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.

Michigan school districts end ‘Conquerors’ visits (August 1, 2019)

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.

Religious photo removed from teacher’s desk (July 29, 2019)

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.

Invocation, benediction removed from ceremony (July 24, 2019)

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.

Indiana school district ends graduation prayers (July 19, 2019)

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.

Illinois township calls off Ark Encounter trip (July 2, 2019)

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.

Missouri Community College Upholds the First Amendment (June 27, 2019)

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.”

Prayer Does Not Persist at School Athletic Event (June 27, 2019)

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 Ended in Colorado (June 26, 2019)

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.

Georgia Chaplain Will no Longer Lead Prayers (June 25, 2019)

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.”

Basketball League Opened Regardless of Religious Affiliation in Illinois (June 20, 2019)

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.”

Maryland county grants open to all nonprofits (June 20, 2019)

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.”

Ten Commandments plaque removed (June 19, 2019)

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.”

Police & Fire Department in Oklahoma Will Not Fundraise for Salvation Army (June 18, 2019)

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.”

Religious Groups No Longer Permitted on School Property in Idaho (June 18, 2019)

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.”

Religious Messages on Public Schools Social Media Halted (June 14, 2019)

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.”

Prayer Ended at Official School Events in Michigan (June 7, 2019)

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.”

Prayers at Texas school graduation won’t continue (May 31, 2019)

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.”

Web-filtering service will not block the websites of minority religious groups (April 29, 2019)

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.

Religious advertisement removed from school’s social media (May 17, 2019)

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.

Religious club moved outside of school hours (May 16, 2019)

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.

Changes made to religious baccalaureate program (May 15, 2019)

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.

Changes made to an annual prayer breakfast (May 14, 2019)

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.

Religious music halted over school loudspeaker (May 14, 2019)

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.

Religious language revamped on field trip form (May 13, 2019)

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.

 

Promotion on social media for church bulletin ended (May 10, 2019)

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 Colorado (May 6, 2019)

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.

Teacher’s imposition of religion ended at elementary school (May 3, 2019)

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.)

Unconstitutional partnership with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes remedied (May 3, 2019)

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.

Religious activities ceased in high school football program (May 2, 2019)

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.

Religious iconography removed from library website in Tennessee (May 1, 2019)

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.”

Large bible verse painting removed from school property (April 29, 2019)

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.

Baccalaureate services and prayers dropped at commencement (April 29, 2019)

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.

Prayer halted at school board meetings in California (April 26, 2019)

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 removed from state property (April 26, 2019)

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.

Religious displays were removed from the inmate law library in Virginia (April 25, 2019)

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.

Religious sign removed from courthouse window (April 24, 2019)

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.

High school will forego prayer at graduations in Minnesota (April 24, 2019)

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.

Religious advertisement from the front entrance of school (April 22, 2019)

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.

Coach will no longer promote religion to his team (April 22, 2019)

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.”

Biology teacher will no longer promote Christianity to students (April 19, 2019)

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.

Godly broadcast removed from Pennsylvania school district (April 17, 2019)

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.”

Atheist gives a secular invocation in Kansas (April 15, 2019)

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.

Baccalaureate removed in Georgia (April 11, 2019)

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.

Ohio school will hold future events at secular locations (April 11, 2019)

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.”

Religious club will no longer be promoted by a teacher (April 5, 2019)

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.

Missouri coaches cease praying with students (April 1, 2019)

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.”

Gideons will no longer be allowed in Kentucky classroom (March 25, 2019)

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.

Latin cross has been removed from New Mexico county building (March 25, 2019)

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.

Religion taken off health curriculum in Arkansas (March 22, 2019)

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.”

Mississippi school district removes religious displays (March 22, 2019)

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.”

Georgia high school coach will no longer pray with team (March 19, 2019)

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.”

School halts school-sponsored religious endorsement (March 14, 2019)

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.”

School will not force students to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance (March 11, 2019)

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.

Duplin County has addressed concerns over constitutional violation (March 8, 2019)

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.”

Arkansas school will not be exposed to religious promotion (March 8, 2019)

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 ends in Georgia (March 7, 2019)

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.

Cobb County police department will avoid constitutional violations (March 7, 2019)

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.

Teacher-led religious club disbanded in a Texas (March 5, 2019)

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.

Hamilton County School in Tennessee will remain neutral on religion (February 27, 2019)

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.”

Huntsville school updates discriminatory dress code (February 26, 2019)

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.

Hardin County police offer removes cross pin from uniform (February 25, 2019)

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.

Georgia school will no longer religiously pressure football team (February 21, 2019)

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.

School has affirmed its commitment to protecting its students rights (February 21, 2019)

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.

Meigs County school discontinues religious programs (February 21, 2019)

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.”

Manchester hospital has opted for a more inclusive table display (February 20, 2019)

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.

Georgia school will no longer hold chorus concert at a church (February 14, 2019)

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.

School will no longer be subjected to religious promotion in school (February 13, 2019)

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.

Stapleton (NE) stops Todd Becker Foundation's event (February 6, 2019)

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.

Denton (TX) will remain neutral on religion (February 5, 2019)

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.”

Johnston County (NC) removes religious email signature (January 31, 2019)

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.

California school's camp will be held at a secular location (January 31, 2019)

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.

Wichita public school marquee won't advertise after-school bible club (January 31, 2019)

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.

Effingham Illinois school will not promote creationism event in the schools (January 28, 2019)

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.

Columbia Missouri employee reminded of constitutional obligation (January 25, 2019)

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.”

Rowan County (KY) reminds school district employees of constitutional obligations (January 22, 2019)

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 School District in Arizona will not longer have prayer at graduation (January 18, 2019)

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.

Wisconsin school will not lease space to church (January 17, 2019)

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.

Nazareth (PA) takes down cross from public property (January 16, 2019)

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.

Pike County Elementary School (KY) won't show religious movies (January 14, 2019)

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.

 

Midwest City (OK) ensures school will remain neutral on religion (January 14, 2019)

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.”

Orem, Utah university won't center class assignment around a nativity scene (January 10, 2019)

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.”

 

Bibb County School District in Georgia will no longer have prayer at meetings (January 9, 2019)

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.

Kentwood (MI) substitute teacher won't pray with students (January 9, 2019)

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.

 

Quanah ISD halts prayer at graduations (January 8, 2019)

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.

Texas school district will no longer allow the distribution of bibles in its schools (January 8, 2019)

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.

Filer School District in Idaho will not allow Gideons to distribute Bibles (January 8, 2019)

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.

Jeromesville (OH) schools will no longer assign students religious projects (January 8, 2019)

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.”

Davis (UT) school will no longer recite prayers at school events (January 7, 2019)

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.”

Marlington Ohio school refrains from leading Youth 4 Christ club (January 7, 2019)

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.

Hamblen County (TN) schools refrain from prayers at Veteran's event (January 4, 2019)

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.”

Hopkins County Schools in Kentucky halts proselytizing and prayer (January 4, 2019)

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 get church signs removed from school (January 2, 2019)

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.

Teachers refrain from joining religious event (December 28, 2018)

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.”

No more religion in school’s holiday program (December 14, 2018)

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.

Indiana coach will no longer pray with team (December 13, 2018)

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.”

Missouri city relocates cross (December 11, 2019)

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.”

FFRF says away with the manger in N.Y. school (December 11, 2018)

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.

Colorado school backs out of ministry event (December 10, 2018)

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.

Illinois city cancels five-day religious trip (December 6, 2019)

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.

FFRF’s ‘pole’ position: No teachers allowed (December 6, 2018)

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 stops religious teaching at W.Va. school (December 1, 2018)

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.

Religious favoritism taken off café’s menu (November 30, 2018)

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.

Coaches, teachers won’t pray with team anymore (November 30, 2018)

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.

Religious exhibits moved from Ohio public space (November 28, 2018)

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.

No more religion at Wisconsin city’s events (November 28, 2018)

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.

FFRF cleanseth Facebook of city manager’s posts (November 21, 2018)

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 ends at Georgia school (November 20, 2018)

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.

Texas school grows a spine, ends book deal (November 15, 2018)

A Texas elementary school has severed a partnership with a religious group after hearing from FFRF.

A concerned district community member reported that several teachers at Bridge City Elementary School had partnered with a religious group and allowed them to minister directly to students through donated books. In one class, students received a book, sent to them by their “prayer partner,” that contained personalized, proselytizing notes. Additionally, Bridge City Elementary publicly thanked these “prayer partners” on its official Facebook page.

“Providing students with age-appropriate reading materials is of great benefit to many families, but Bridge City Elementary cannot pursue that goal through a partnership that advances the mission of a religious organization,” wrote FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover. “The district may only accept donations that are free from the condition that the school promote a religious message.”

The district’s legal representation responded to FFRF’s letter of complaint, stating that the administration was unaware the books contained personal religious messages.

“Appropriate disciplinary action was taken as well as discussion of district policy and practice of non-affiliation with religious organizations,” the firm wrote to FFRF. “The district expects that this will resolve the issue but will ensure compliance by staff.”

Averse to the verse: School removes quote (November 13, 2018)

A bible verse was removed from a Veterans Day tribute wall in a Missouri public school after the school received an FFRF complaint.

When a local resident contacted FFRF concerned that Seymour R-II School District was displaying a bible verse as part of a Veterans Day display, FFRF Robert Ingersoll Legal Fellow Colin McNamara sent a letter asking that the bible verse be removed from the display.

“This religious display is especially inappropriate given that about 38 percent of Americans born after 1987 are not religious,” McNamara writes. “The display alienates those nonreligious students, families, teachers and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school.”

The district superintendent quickly responded to FFRF with assurances that the bible quote was promptly removed.

Texas coach counseled after FFRF intervenes (November 6, 2018)

After intervention from FFRF, a tennis coach at a Texas high school has been instructed to cease pressuring students to participate in religious activities.

A local parent contacted FFRF after a tennis coach at Friendswood High School reportedly encouraged students to attend a prayer breakfast in September. As FFRF understands, the coach told his players that while he couldn’t “force them to attend,” he would be “checking to see who attended” and that he wanted the whole team there “in solidarity.”

At least one student reportedly felt pressured to attend the prayer breakfast because the student feared punishment if he/she were to forego the event. FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover sent a letter to the district’s legal representative to assure that coaches are not pressuring students to attend or participate in religious events.

“Athletic coaches are entrusted with a tremendous amount of power and influence over their players,” Grover wrote in his Oct. 29 letter. “Using this influence to encourage players to attend religious events is unacceptable and unconstitutional in the public school context. It appears that [the coach] coerced the students in his care to participate in the prayer breakfast.”

The legal firm representing the school sent a response to FFRF, stating that the coach has been “counseled on this matter and now full recognizes that he cannot encourage student attendance to religious events.” Additionally, before the upcoming spring prayer breakfast, coaches will again be reminded they may not in any way encourage or endorse participation in the breakfast.

VA Medical Center in Florida removes cross (November 2, 2018)

Thanks to FFRF, a cross was removed from the lobby of a Florida VA Medical Center.

A volunteer at the medical center reported that a large cross display was put up in October at the Malcolm (it’s spelled Malcom. The letter was incorrect) Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville. The display also featured a religious prayer.

FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert sent a letter to the center, alerting it to the unconstitutionality of such a display and also pointing out that the display is exclusionary of non-religious service members.

“Veterans are frequently compelled to come to the center to receive medical care and other services,” Markert wrote. “The over 23 percent of military personnel who either express no religious preference or are atheists should not be made to feel offended, excluded, and like ‘outsiders, not full members of the political community’ because the center, a government facility, contains prominently placed religious statements.”

FFRF received a call from the center that the display has been removed from the lobby.

Texas district addresses numerous violations (November 1, 2018)

A Texas school district has addressed multiple state/church violations after hearing from FFRF.

A community member contacted FFRF to report that employees of Whitney Middle School in Plano have promoted multiple religious events to students this year. Teachers reportedly used the school’s public address system to remind students about “Bring Your Bible to School Day.” Other events promoted by the school include a Christian revival event called “Fields of Faith” and the Christian-oriented prayer rally “See You at the Pole.” School employees also apparently have participated in these events alongside students. All of these events appeared to have been promoted, in part, at the request of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), which is a private club operating at the school.

“We write to ensure that the district does not allow its employees to organize, promote or participate in future religious events while acting on behalf of the district,” wrote FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover in his Oct. 30 letter to the legal firm representing the district. “Additionally, the district must take steps to disassociate itself from the FCA and ensure that its employees are not promoting their personal religious beliefs to students.”

The district’s attorneys replied, assuring FFRF that all of the complaints had been addressed by the schools. The superintendent passed on the message that both “Bring Your Bible to School Day” and “See You at the Pole” events are not to be officially promoted or endorsed by the school. Additionally, the FCA webpage was taken off the school website.

School board opts for invocation revocation (October 30, 2018)

A school district in California has ceased scheduling invocations before board meetings after receiving a letter of complaint from FFRF.

FFRF Associate Counsel Liz Cavell initially sent a letter to the Ceres Unified School District Board of Trustees last October after a community member reported that the Board of Trustees opens its regular meetings with prayer. The district’s attorney sent a response letter, declaring that the board disagreed with the conclusion of a federal district court in California that the legislative prayer analysis in Marsh v. Chambers and Town of Greece v. Galloway is inapplicable to prayer practices in public school board meetings.

FFRF sent a second letter to the district after FFRF’s Chino Valley victory against school board prayer came down from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court.

“Since the time of your letter, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has joined the 3rd and 6th Circuits in holding that a school board’s prayer practice violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” Cavell wrote.

FFRF received a response from the district stating that the board has decided to suspend placing an invocation on its agenda for meetings.

Cereal killer: City ends ties to prayer breakfast (October 27, 2018)

The city of Noblesville, Ind., has separated itself from a prayer breakfast after FFRF pointed out the unconstitutionality of a city-sponsored religious event.

A concerned Noblesville citizen contacted FFRF to report that Mayor John Ditslear had, in his official capacity, sponsored, promoted and participated in a prayer breakfast. The self-described “prayer and worship service” included the community’s “men and women of faith glorifying God and asking his blessing on our community, schools, families, public services and churches.”

Judge Steven R. Nation was the keynote speaker and shared “how faith has guided his life.”

The mayor’s official Twitter account was reportedly used, in addition to the city’s website, to promote this religious event.

FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne sent a letter to the mayor asking that the city cease promotion and coordination of this prayer breakfast.

FFRF received a response email from the Mayor’s Office stating that the city has “taken steps that will take the city out of the prayer breakfast. The 2019 prayer breakfast will be hosted by a local nonprofit who will manage the entire event. City funds have not been used for this event.”

Wisconsin VA distances itself from religion (October 25, 2018)

After getting a letter from FFRF, the Milwaukee VA Medical Center will take measures to ensure that no future events appear to be entangled with religious sponsorship.

A Milwaukee resident contacted FFRF to report that the Medical Center co-sponsored and advertised a “Bike Blessing” event in June. Posters advertising the event indicated that it was co-sponsored by the VA Chaplain Service and included the VA seal at the bottom, along with text that said, “U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs / Veterans Health Administration / Milwaukee VA Medical Center.”

“Setting aside the VA chaplaincy itself, any Medical Center promotion or organization of a religious event poses serious constitutional concerns,” FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote in his Sept. 5 letter to the medical center. “Advertising this event and including the VA seal on those advertisements sends the message that the VA endorses the blessing ceremony’s religious message.”

FFRF received a response from the VA stating that, in the future, “there will be no marketing that would imply VA sponsorship of the event, and [it] will additionally ensure that marketing materials clearly state that any religious aspects of the event are not sponsored by the VA.”

 

Loudspeaker prayers ended in West Virginia (October 25, 2018)

In August, FFRF contacted a West Virginia school district regarding a report that the high school in Logan County was broadcasting a Christian prayer over the loudspeaker prior to a football game.

“The prayers at district football games are inappropriate and unconstitutional,” FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote in his letter. “Not only is the district endorsing these prayers by allotting time for them at the start of games, but it is also providing the prayer-giver with the public address system needed to impose these prayers on all students and community members at the games.”

FFRF received notice that loudspeaker prayers have ceased at the football games. Later, subsequent violations were reported in the district and FFRF is pursuing these issues.

Ohio district stops loudspeaker prayers (October 24, 2018)

FFRF has brought an end to school-sponsored prayer over the loudspeaker prior to sporting events in an Ohio school district.

After a local resident reported that Green High School in Franklin Furnace was broadcasting a prayer over the public address speaker before its football games, FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line sent a letter alerting Green Local School District to the unconstitutionality of such a practice.

An attorney representing the district sent a response informing FFRF that the district will no longer schedule school-sponsored prayers to occur at events sponsored by the district and that district-owned equipment will no longer be used to project prayers to the public at events sponsored by Green Local School District.

FFRF ends coach-led prayer in Alabama high school (October 16, 2018)

An Alabama high school football coach will cease the unconstitutional practice of leading his team in prayer prior to games after receiving a letter from FFRF.

FFRF contacted the Autauga County Schools’ counsel in early October after it was reported that the Prattville High School football coach regularly led his team in prayer. A video published by the Montgomery Advertiser showed the coach standing over his kneeling players with bowed heads, reciting a prayer.

It is well-established law that it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer, since it constitutes a government endorsement of religion and violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, FFRF’s letter reminded the Autauga County School District.

“[The coach’s] conduct is unconstitutional because he endorses and promotes his religion when acting in his official capacity as a school district employee,” wrote FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Christopher Line. “Certainly, he represents the school and the team when he acts in his official role as head of the Prattville High School football team.”

FFRF received a response from the school board’s counsel assuring FFRF that the matter had been addressed and that the coach will cease the practice of leading the team in prayer.

Georgia school to cease coach-led prayer (October 15, 2018)

FFRF has received confirmation that coach-led prayer will not continue in a Georgia public school system.

FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line sent a letter to the district in September, after a concerned area resident reported that Dawson County High School employed a “character coach” to regularly pray with its football team.

A video posted on Facebook on Sept. 7 showed the character coach, Pastor Russell Davis from Etowah Church, leading the football team and several young children in prayer in what appears to be the school locker room.

“The Word says when they compelled him to carry the cross, and then Jesus went to the hill and he won the victory on the cross. Your goal tonight is not to die on the cross. It’s not to die on the field of battle,” Davis says in the video. “We’re calling you tonight to carry their cross.”

“Let’s pray together, Lord, we thank you, God, for another day,” Davis continues. “We thank you for an opportunity to play the game that we call football. Father, I pray that everything tonight will be for your glory.” He then leads the team in the Lord’s Prayer.

In its letter, FFRF reminded the school that it is well-settled law that a school cannot appoint or employ a chaplain, seek out a spiritual leader for students or agree to have a volunteer teach other people’s children that character centers on religious belief. This constitutes a public school endorsement of religion, a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

On Oct. 15, FFRF received a response from the district’s attorney assuring FFRF that coach or “character coach”-led prayer will no longer occur in Dawson County Schools.

‘God bless’ sign taken down in New York (October 10, 2018)

A sign with the phrase “God Bless Our Veterans” has been removed from public property in New York, thanks to an FFRF letter.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor sent a letter in July to Mayor Michael J. Newhard of Warwick, N.Y., after a local resident reported that the religious sign was placed on village property.

“FFRF has no objection to honoring our veterans — in fact, over 24 percent of our members are either active duty military or veterans,” Gaylor wrote in the letter. “Our objection is to the endorsement of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.”

FFRF asked that the sign be removed and replaced with a message that is inclusive of all veterans, such as “Support Our Veterans.” The mayor sent a response on Oct. 10 informing FFRF that the sign had come down.

No more faculty praying at flagpole (October 9, 2018)

An Illinois public school superintendent initiated an investigation into FFRF’s complaint of teacher involvement in a rally around the pole event.

A concerned FFRF member reported that a teacher at Carterville Junior High School posted a picture on social media of students and faculty praying around the school’s flagpole, along with the statement: “Our first #syatp and kickoff event of our FCA chapter at Carterville Junior High School was a HUGE success! . . . #blessed #fca #stumin.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne sent a letter reminding the district of its constitutional obligation to remain neutral on matters of religion.

Carterville CUSD #5 Superintendent Keith A. Liddell sent a response letter, thanking FFRF for bringing the matter to his attention and assuring FFRF that the Carterville School District, like FFRF, “takes the freedoms empowered by the First Amendment very seriously.”

Secular alternative replaces religious picture (October 5, 2018)

A religious profile picture has been substituted for a secular alternative on a Wisconsin police department’s official Facebook page after receiving an FFRF complaint letter.

FFRF Associated Counsel Sam Grover sent a letter of complaint to Rusk County Sheriff Jeffery S. Wallace asking that the department remove a cross from its profile picture.

Wallace sent a response to FFRF that the photo was in memoriam of an officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty, but nevertheless the department would remove the photo from their profile. FFRF sent a contribution to the fallen officer’s memorial fund.

FFRF remedies constitutional violation in Maryland school (October 4, 2018)

A Christian sign has come down from an elementary school lunchroom in a Harford County, Md., school following a complaint from FFRF.

A concerned parent contacted FFRF to report that Jarrettsville Elementary School displayed a portion of the Lord’s Prayer on a large plaque in its cafeteria. Between the doors where students pass to receive their lunch, a wooden sign, approximately 3 feet wide by 6 inches tall, read “Give us this day our daily bread” in old English-style lettering. This phrase is from Matthew 6:11 in the New Testament.

FFRF sent a letter asking that the school remove this sign to comply with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

“Elementary students should not have to view material promoting a Christian message,” FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott wrote in his Sept. 26 letter to Superintendent Sean Bulson. “There is no educational or academic component or motive for such postings; their presence is proselytizing a captive audience.”

FFRF recently received an e-mail from the district reporting that the plaque has been removed.

Religious quote on sign taken down in Florida (October 3, 2018)

A religious message has been removed from an elementary school office in Panama City, Fla., after a complaint from FFRF.

A concerned parent at Southport Elementary school informed FFRF of a religious quote prominently displayed in the school office.

FFRF Associate Counsel Elizabeth Cavell wrote a letter to the school, reminding it of the unconstitutionality of public school endorsement of religion, and requesting the removal of the bible quote from the main office.

The school’s attorney sent a letter letting FFRF know that the sign has been removed.

Religious testimony at football camp is not OK (October 2, 2018)

Athletic coaches in an Oklahoma district will be advised not to involve their students with religious camps after an FFRF complaint.

In June, a complainant reported that the Keys High School football team in Park Hill, Okla., attended a football “team” camp at Hackett High School in Arkansas. At the camp, the players were reportedly subjected to religious “testimony” by evangelist Tyson Simon, an area representative for the Western Arkansas Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

FFRF wrote to the district to remind it that its football program should not be used as a captive audience for evangelists.

The school district’s counsel sent a reply to FFRF, stating that while the coaches of the Keys School District were unaware that the intention was to include religious messages in the camp, the school district has taken measures to insure this violation will not recur.

FFRF stops ‘Unstoppable Man’ in Indiana (October 2, 2018)

FFRF has stopped an Indiana school district from violating the U.S. Constitution in several ways. The superintendent of Cloverdale Community Schools has assured FFRF it will stop prayers at staff meetings and will not invite back an “inspirational” speaker who proselytized at a school event.

A concerned Cloverdale Community Schools employee informed FFRF that the school district recently hosted multiple events by Craig Conrad, an inspirational speaker who performs as ‘Unstoppable Man,’ including presentations to both teachers and various groups of students. The session for teachers was apparently a mandatory professional development meeting that lasted approximately two hours in the afternoon on Aug. 31 at Cloverdale High School. Conrad reportedly concluded the session with an instruction to teachers to look at an image of Jesus and “realize that we are teaching for ‘Him’ and not for any other reason.” Conrad pressured the teachers to stay for this final portion of the session by telling them that if they were “easily offended snowflakes,” then they could leave.

FFRF’s complainant was uncomfortable leaving the session after this bullying taunt because the school’s principal, H. Sonny Stoltz, has a practice of leading prayers before some staff meetings. The complainant was concerned that leaving the professional development meeting in order to avoid Conrad’s promotion of Christianity would invite retaliation from the principal.

This is not the first time that FFRF had received complaints about Conrad, who sells himself as a patriotic anti-bullying motivational speaker but ironically bullies and belittles those who do not share his views of Christian nationalism.

Providing Conrad with a captive audience presented a risk of legal liability to the district if Conrad again promoted religion during a presentation, FFRF pointed out. In a letter to Superintendent Greg Linton, FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne urged the district to not allow Stoltz to inject religious promotion into staff meetings, and to not invite Conrad to speak at future district events.

FFRF’s reasoning proved to be highly persuasive.

“In short, Mr. Conrad will not be invited back in the future to provide any type of convocations for students, or in-service for staff,” Linton responded. Linton stated that even prior to receiving FFRF’s letter, school administrators concurred that “parts of [Conrad’s] message were not appropriate for a public school setting.” The letter continued, “In addition, I have shared your letter with Mr. Stoltz and have requested that he discontinue praying prior to staff meetings.”

Kansas school takes down bible verse (October 1, 2018)

FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line sent a letter to a school district in Kansas asking that they remove a bible verse from school property.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13,” the note read, affixed to a bulletin board in a classroom at Shawnee Mission North High School.

On Oct. 1, FFRF received a response from the school’s attorneys that, while the note’s messages are chosen by the students rather than the teacher, the bible quote had since been removed from the board.

Religious speeches not part of graduation (October 1, 2018)

A Pennsylvania high school will take further measures to ensure religious speeches are no longer part of graduation ceremonies or other school-sponsored events, thanks to an FFRF letter of complaint.

FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler sent a letter to the district first in July, then again in September, calling attention to a complaint from a district resident who attended the 2018 Kiski Area High School graduation and reported that the ceremony included a prayer led by Josh Westurn of the Kiski Area Youth Network (KAYN). KAYN’s mission is “Connecting Kiski Area Students to Christ, Church, and Community.”

FFRF received a response letter from the district’s superintendent on Oct. 1 ensuring FFRF that the district will be “taking steps to vet and analyze the graduation speakers and to ensure that religious rituals are not part of the graduation ceremonies or any other school-sponsored events.”

School reminded it can’t allow Gideons in class (September 28, 2018)

FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line reminded a Tennessee school district of its prior resolution to not allow Gideons to distribute bibles in Tullahoma schools.

A concerned parent reported that Gideons were allowed to distribute bibles in East Lincoln Elementary School. All three 5th-grade classes reportedly gathered in one classroom where a Gideon spoke to the class while a teacher handed out bibles. The Gideons reportedly told students they should keep the bibles for 60 years.

FFRF originally contacted the same district in 2012 regarding a similar issue, at which time the district assured FFRF it would advise principals to prohibit any like distribution of materials in the future.

District Superintendent Dan Lawson sent a response to FFRF, confirming the event took place and acknowledging the unconstitutionality of such an event. Lawson informed FFRF that the principal was relatively new to the position and that the district conducted a professional development activity to ensure “all current principals and all clearly understand their obligations and responsibilities in this regard.”

N.J. school removes event from Facebook (September 25, 2018)

A New Jersey school district has removed school endorsement of a religious event after an FFRF letter of complaint.

In September, a complainant alerted FFRF to a post on the High Point Regional High School Facebook page in Sussex, N.J., promoting a national “Prayer at the Pole Day on Wednesday, Sept. 26.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler sent a letter to the district, and received a prompt response from the district superintendent that ensured the post had been removed from the school’s official Facebook page and that no district staff were sanctioned to participate in the student-led event.

Cross to be removed from city property in Iowa (September 25, 2018)

A cross has come down from city property in Maxwell, Iowa, after FFRF brought it to the attention of city officials.

FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert submitted an open-records request in August after a local resident reported a cross was on display in Maxwell City Park. The city’s attorneys replied to the records request, ensuring that the cross was placed on city property without city approval or knowledge.

Additionally, a letter was included from Maxwell Mayor Steven Gast asking the owner of the cross display to remove the cross within seven days.

Georgia school won’t post prayer walk on Facebook (September 24, 2018)

Following a letter from FFRF, the McDuffie County School System in Georgia has taken action to ensure that a prayer walk will no longer be endorsed by the school.

FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Chris Line sent a letter to the school on July 19 after a concerned area resident reported that it was promoting a religious “prayer walk” on the school’s official Facebook page.

The district’s attorney sent a response on Sept. 24 apologizing for the promotion of the event which had been, they said, “erroneously and improperly included on a Facebook post on the School’s website.”

Tennessee public utility won’t endorse religion (September 21, 2018)

A Tennessee public utility department will cease endorsing religion on its utility bills, after FFRF pointed out that doing so is in violation of the Establishment Clause.

A concerned local resident contacted FFRF to report that the Russellville Whitesburg Utility District regularly printed bible quotes on its utility bills.

FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line reminded the utility in a letter that it is “tasked with serving all citizens, regardless of their personal religious beliefs,” and asked that they refrain from including bible verses on its utility bills in the future.

FFRF received a response on Sept. 21, ensuring it has, “ceased its practice of placing religious messages or other similar messages on its utility bills.”

FFRF stops 3 violations in Tennessee schools (September 13, 2018)

The Cumberland County School District in Tennessee has remedied several state/church violations after receiving a letter from FFRF.

FFRF wrote to the district’s legal representation warning them of three constitutional violations.

First, FFRF’s complainant reported that Homestead Elementary School (HES) rents its facilities to a church group called “Plant, Grow, Harvest” on Sundays, but allows the group to advertise at the school during times when they are not renting the school facilities.

Secondly, HES reportedly regularly promoted religious events on its official Facebook page.

Lastly, Stone Memorial High School reportedly posted and shared religious messages on what appears to be an official Twitter account for its boys’ basketball team. Additionally, the school reportedly allowed a pastor to act as a “character coach” for SMHS basketball players.

In a video posted on Upper Cumberland Fellowship of Christian Athlete’s Facebook page, SMHS basketball coach Neil Capps explained that he was approached by FCA about starting a “character coach program.” He wrote that he allowed a pastor named Robert McTurnal to act as a character coach for his team. He acknowledges that the team refers to him as “Coach Robert,” and states that Pastor McTurnal is “a part of our staff now.” Capps admits that McTurnal does a “weekly devotional.”

In the video, McTurnal stated, “I got involved here because I found out that I couldn’t get into this school on my own. So, I found out through the umbrella of FCA, I had an opportunity to come in and serve the basketball team as their character coach.

“Since then it’s been amazing just getting to know the boys, getting to minister them, you know, outside of a church. Meeting them right where they are has been a fantastic opportunity.”

“CCDS cannot allow a non-school adult access to the children in its charge, and it certainly cannot grant that access to a minister seeking to grow his religious ministry by targeting students,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line in the letter.

The legal firm representing the district wrote back to FFRF on Sept. 13, ensuring that all three issues have been investigated and that the religious signs have been removed and that the church no longer rents the building, that posting about religious club events will no longer appear to be endorsed by the school, and that both the basketball coach and the “character coach” have been informed that they cannot promote religion to their players.

Cross covered at Iowa VA hospital (September 11, 2018)

A religious display was removed from outside the Out Patient Mental Health Clinic building at the Central Iowa VA Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, following a letter from FFRF.

FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert wrote to the director of the VA Central Iowa Health Care System after a concerned complainant reported a religious memorial that included a soldier kneeling before a Latin cross.

“FFRF has no objection to veterans’ memorials. Our objection is to the message of endorsement of religion over nonreligion,” Markert wrote in her July 16 letter. “Additionally, this memorial sends a message that the government mainly cares about the deaths of Christian soldiers, not other non-Christian and nonreligious soldiers.”

FFRF received a response from Director Gail Graham stating that the display was carved by a Central Iowa Veteran and the family of the deceased veteran has modified the display to cover the cross.

Posters taken down at Arkansas school (September 7, 2018)

Religious posters have come off the walls of a middle school classroom in Jonesboro, Ark., after FFRF sent a letter reminding the district of its constitutional obligation to refrain from endorsing a religion.

A concerned parent reported that a Westside Middle School teacher had decorated classroom walls with multiple bible verses, including “Proverbs 3:5 — Trust in the Lord with all your heart” prominently displayed directly alongside a poster listing “classroom rules.”

On Aug. 23, FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara sent a letter to Superintendent Scott Gauntt, asking that the district investigate these violations and respond in writing with steps the district will take to ensure this violation does not recur.

The legal firm representing Westside Consolidated School District replied on Sept. 7, ensuring that the posters had been removed from the classroom.

Prayer breakfast ad falsely tied to city (September 6, 2018)

FFRF helped end a constitutional violation in Fort Myers, Fla.

FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the city of Fort Meyers after a complainant reported that the city sponsored and promoted a “Community Prayer Breakfast” on the National Day of Prayer.

FFRF received a response from City Attorney Grant Williams Alley, who reviewed the document, which called the Day of Prayer a city-hosted event. Alley said the publication was incorrect. He further confirmed that the city did not pay for the event and the event organizers paid for the use of all city services and facilities. Alley assured FFRF the city would attempt to correct this advertisement, which is not created by the city, should it happen again in the future.

“Please understand the city of Fort Myers does not want to alienate any people, irrespective of what religion they are or, as you write, the 24 percent of Americans who are nonreligious,” the city’s letter read. “There exists a fundamental separation between church and state in American jurisprudence and the city strives to follow the fluid law as the courts interpret them and your opinions are helpful in this critical endeavor.”

Massachusetts school district to stand up for secularism (September 5, 2018)

FFRF has received assurances from a Massachusetts school district that religion will not be allowed to intrude into its graduation ceremonies from now on.

Canton Public Schools officials invited the Rev. John Tomilio III to give a sectarian religious invocation at the 2018 Canton High School graduation ceremony. Principal Derek Folan introduced Tomilio by stating: “At this time I’d like to invite Reverend Dr. John Tomilio III to the stage . . . to deliver the invocation.”

“The Supreme Court has settled this matter—high school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students,” FFRF Robert G. Ingersoll Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote in June to Canton Public Schools Superintendent Jennifer Fischer-Mueller. “As the Supreme Court has said, ‘Fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.’”

FFRF heard back from Canton Public Schools.

“I am writing to confirm that steps have been taken to ensure that there will be no prayers or religious rituals as a part of any school ceremony (e.g., graduation) or any other school-sponsored event,” Fischer-Mueller wrote.

Religious books removed from university hotel (August 29, 2018)

FFRF convinced Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, to remove religious texts from the DSU College Inn hotel guest rooms.

A concerned hotel guest reported that on one stay at the College Inn, she found two copies of the Book of Mormon in her room. On another stay, in a different room, she found a copy of the bible.

“Regardless of whether the religious texts were donated by a private party, the placement of ‘holy books’ in guest rooms demonstrates government endorsement of religion,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line in his letter to DSU President Richard Biff Williams.

FFRF heard from DSU’s general counsel, stating “any religious texts that may have been left in any of the guest rooms have been removed. Further, we have established a procedure of removing any such texts going forward.”

Banners taken down in West Virginia (August 29, 2018)

FFRF has caused Jackson County Commissioners to rewrite their policy on allowing religious banners to be hung on county courthouse property.

In June, FFRF’s complainant reported that a gazebo on the Jackson County Courthouse lawn displayed two banners: one containing a bible verse, and another featuring crosses and announcing a National Day of Prayer in May.

“No legitimate secular purpose was served by the banners’ message,” FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott wrote in his letter to the commissioners.

FFRF received a response from the county’s attorney that those banners had been removed, and that the county has adopted a new policy prohibiting the placement of any banners or signs on the gazebo to avoid any future entanglements.

 

Science teach stops leading prayer in New Hampshire high school (April 16, 2018)

Where: Milford High School in Milford.

Violation: A science teacher had been guiding her students in prayer.

Outcome: On April 16, Superintendent Robert Marquis reported to FFRF that the principal reiterated the seriousness of the accusation to the teacher and reminded her to refrain from having any conversation with students that involved prayer.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Colin McNamara.

Biblical verses on bulletin boards nixed (August 16, 2018)

FFRF brought two bulletin boards containing religious verses to the attention of a Tennessee school district which have been subsequently taken down.

Midtown Elementary School in Kingston, Tenn., had displayed two bible verses in one of its hallways. One display said “A cord of three strands is not easily broken. Ecc. 4:12.” The other said, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. Ecc. 9:10.”

The superintendent quickly responded to FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line’s letter that the bulletin boards would be swiftly removed.

Ohio city removes Ten Commandments plaque from park (August 14, 2018)

A Ten Commandments plaque has been removed from Murphy Park in Steubenville, Ohio, after FFRF sent a letter to the city asking for the religious display to move to private property.

FFRF contacted City Manager Jim Mavromatis on Aug. 10 after receiving a complaint from a concerned Steubenville resident who objected to the Ten Commandments display and its placement on government property. The complainant has subsequently reported that the plaque has been moved across the street to church property.

The appearance of this religious message in a public space, FFRF pointed out, violated the Constitution’s Establishment Clause by displaying government preference for religion.

“Given the content of the display, and the fact that the Ten Commandments originally appeared as a lone display, a reasonable observer would view it as an endorsement of religion by the city,” writes FFRF’s Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott.

Additionally, it is unnecessarily divisive to place religious monuments in community spaces, making non-Christian and non-religious citizens feel like outsiders in their own community.

“The First Commandment alone makes it obvious why the Ten Commandments should not be posted on government property,” Elliott continues. “The government has no business telling citizens which god they must have, how many gods they must have, or that they must have any god at all.”

Mavromatis announced at an Aug. 14 City Council meeting that the plaque would be moved, thanks to FFRF’s letter.

“Mavromatis reported the city will have to remove a Ten Commandments plaque from Murphy Field as a result of a warning letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madison, Wis.,” according to a Herald-Star story.

“We commend the city for taking swift action to correct this violation,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Removing the bible plaque ensures that Murphy Park can be a welcoming space to all citizens.”

FFRF stops religious messages on flyers (August 14, 2018)

The U.S. Probation Office in San Bernardino, Calif., will cease the distribution of job posting flyers with religious messaging, thanks to FFRF.

After a probationer reported last September that the flyers he received from his probation officer contained religious verses in them, FFRF Robert G. Ingersoll Legal Fellow Colin McNamara sent a letter first to the head of the U.S. Probation Office in the Central District of California, then eventually directly to the Chief Judge Virginia Phillips, asking for the religious messaging to be removed.

On Aug. 14, Phillips assured FFRF that “all officers will discontinue sending the list until further research is done about the group that compiles it,” and that “if the office resumes sending out these job listings, all religious quotes, attachments and references will be deleted.”

Religious ads dropped from car hangers (August 8, 2018)

FFRF succeeded in removing religious promotion from the back of mandatory car tags at an elementary school in Tennessee.

Dupont Elementary School in Chattanooga had partnered with Rock Bridge Community Church by displaying an advertisement on the back of the car hangers parents are required to hang from their rearview mirror to be allowed to pick up their children from school. The advertisement displayed the name of the church and a Latin cross, invited parents to book a “VIP visit,” and lists the worship times for the church.

FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote that the presence of the advertisement “communicates a message of school endorsement of religion and is marked by excessive entanglement between the school district and church.”

The school’s legal representation assured FFRF that it was unaware the tag had a religious message on the back. The school has since distributed new tags free from religious promotion.

Alabama school cancels prayer service (August 6, 2018)

FFRF has put a stop to a community prayer service planned on Randolph County, Ala., school system grounds. Woodland High School and Woodland Elementary School planned on hosting a “community prayer service” on Aug. 5. A Facebook post by a counselor at Woodland High School invited all “parents, students and community members” to attend this religious event.

On July 20, FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to Superintendent John Jacobs to ensure that this prayer service is privately organized, not endorsed by the school district, and that the district was not providing any preferential treatment to the event’s organizers.

On July 31, Donald Sweeney, attorney for Randolph County Schools, wrote to FFRF to announce that, “The community prayer meeting . . . will not be held at the Woodland Schools.”

Georgia removes cross from county property (August 6, 2018)

FFRF has ensured the removal of a Latin cross display from the property of Catoosa County (Ga.) Fire Station No. 3. According to a complaint, a large cross was displayed on county property off of Highway US-41. The cross was clearly visible from the highway and included a Christian message about being saved. On June 27, FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert wrote to the county, asking it to remove the cross immediately and to ensure no religious iconography or messages are displayed on public property.

On Aug. 6, legal representative for the county, C. Chad Young, wrote to FFRF to confirm that “Catoosa County is the owner of the tract of land in question” and that “based upon these findings, the cross has been removed from the county’s property.”

City ends Day of Prayer sponsorship (July 31, 2018)

FFRF has persuaded the city of North Miami Beach, Fla., to cease its sponsorship of National Day of Prayer events.

FFRF’s Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Christopher Line sent a letter to the mayor of North Miami Beach on June 26, illuminating the unconstitutionality of the city’s sponsorship of National Day of Prayer events. The city’s sponsorship included promotion of the event on the city’s official social media pages and website, which directed citizens to RSVP to the event through the city’s Division of Public Affairs.

In a July 31 letter, the North Miami Beach Mayor’s Office confirmed it would cease further city sponsorship of National Day of Prayer events: “The city’s intent was not to be divisive nor portray the belief that the city prefers religion over nonreligion, or Christianity over all other faiths,” the mayor’s office stated. “Nonetheless, the city is aware of the constitutional limitations regarding its involvement in organized religious activities and the separation of church and state. Therefore, the City of North Beach Miami will refrain from further organization and promotion of the National Day of Prayer events.”

Religious activity halted in Ohio courthouse (July 30, 2018)

FFRF applauds a Knox County, Ohio, judge for halting religious activity in his courtroom after its unconstitutionality was called to his attention.

FFRF received a report from a concerned Mount Vernon citizen that Judge Richard Wetzel regularly invited a prayer group to use the courthouse for religious activities — even involving them in legal proceedings that he felt “have a particular need for prayer.”

“An opportunity to have the churches directly engage in what the court is doing is very important to me,” Judge Wetzel has been quoted saying.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter on July 25 to the judge, noting why this practice is unconstitutional, and asking him to end the practice of providing the courtroom free of charge to host bible studies and prayer.

In a July 30 letter, the judge thanked FFRF for bringing its concerns to his attention and said he had given the letter “thoughtful consideration.”

“Please be advised that, in response to your letter, the Court will discontinue the practice of allowing the prayer group use of the Courthouse,” Wetzel wrote.

FFRF commends Judge Wetzel.

“Religion has no place in the court system where justice should be blind to a citizen’s religious or nonreligious views,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.

South Carolina school moves prayer breakfast (July 30, 2018)

FFRF has stopped a South Carolina public school district from hosting prayer services on school grounds. Clinton High School and Clinton Middle School in the Laurens County School District recently hosted a week-long event titled, “40th Annual Community Prayer Breakfast.” The religious programming at these breakfasts, which took place before school, involved numerous outside adult speakers and attendees.

The Laurens County School District appears to have been directly involved in putting on these religious events. On May 17, FFRF Senior Council Patrick Elliott wrote to Superintendent David O’Shields to request that the district refrain from coordinating or permitting similar community-wide religious programs during the school day.

On July 30, O’Shields responded to FFRF saying, “It was decided to move the prayer breakfast off school grounds to a local church in order to maintain separation of church and state.”

FFRF gets ‘spirituality’ off foster parent video (July 23, 2018)

FFRF has persuaded a Tennessee state department to end its promotion of belief in a god.

FFRF wrote to the state’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) warning it against endorsing religion to those wishing to become foster parents.

A concerned Tennessee resident who had gone through such training reported to FFRF that the department required aspiring foster parents to watch a video called “Characteristics of Resource Parents” that included a segment called “Spirituality.” The segment opened by explaining that “a belief in something greater than you that you can go to for peace and comfort” is necessary to face “the challenges of adding additional children to your family.” The introduction was followed by clips of foster parents discussing the importance of religion and reliance on God in foster care.

“By requiring potential foster parents to watch a video advocating for religious belief, the Department of Children’s Services is impermissibly endorsing religion and violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” wrote FFRF’s Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Christopher Line.

The required video conveyed a discriminatory preference by Department of Children’s Services for foster parents with religious beliefs by implying that a belief in a higher power is required to be a foster parent. This misguided assertion is alienating to the nearly one-quarter of Americans who are not religious.

FFRF requested that the DCS discontinue using the portion of its training video that endorses religion. The department responded on July 23, informing FFRF that it had removed the video segment on “spirituality” from its foster parent training.

FFRF applauds the decision.

“A reliance on God is certainly not a prerequisite to good parenting,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has done the right thing by tossing the segment from its training.”

Louisiana sheriff removes commandments display (July 23, 2018)

A resident of Washington Parish, La., contacted FFRF to report an unconstitutional Ten Commandments display in the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office reportedly displayed the commandments on two, hand carved wooden tablets in the waiting area. On Jan. 22, FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick C. Elliott wrote to a representative for the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office, Rachel Catalanotto, pointing out that Ten Commandments displays violate the Establishment Clause, and that by placing the display in its office, the Washington Parish is unmistakably issuing an endorsement of religion. FFRF requested the Sheriff’s Office remove the display.

On July 23, after FFRF sent several follow-up letters, Catalinotto called FFRF and said, “I’m sure your concerned local complainant informed you that the Ten Commandments have been removed.”

Wisconsin school to stop hosting Christian speaker (July 19, 2018)

A concerned local resident contacted FFRF to report that Chequamegon High School, Wis., hosted motivational speaker Kristen Anderson during the school day on March 12. FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to Superintendent Mark Weddig to report that Anderson’s presentation on mental health culminated in a religious message: that students suffering from depression should seek a “connection to God.”

Weddig responded on July 19, writing that “Chequamegon School District actively supports the Constitution in regard to not endorsing religious messages. Regarding the future, I will instruct my leadership team to do whatever is prudent to avoid an occurrence such as the one you described and was reported in the newspaper.”

Texas school stops religious art project (July 18, 2018)

FFRF has ensured that one Texas school district will no longer ask students to decorate their own school with crosses. A concerned district community member contacted FFRF to report that students at West Oso High School appear to have been given an assignment through their art class related to constructing and decorating a Christian cross. FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to West Oso Superintendent Conrado Garcia to notify the district of this constitutional violation.

On July 18, legal representative for the district, Tony Resendez, wrote to FFRF to confirm that “the district has reviewed and analyzed the matter and will handle it,” including by “providing training on this topic to all district administrators to ensure that the laws regarding religion and school are being followed.”

Tennessee school ends baccalaureate promotion (July 18, 2018)

FFRF has reminded a Tennessee public school that promoting religious services to students is unconstitutional. A concerned area resident of Roane County, Tenn., notified FFRF that Roane County Schools advertises and promotes baccalaureate services for all of its high schools. On May 17, FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to Roane County Director of Schools Leah Rice Watkins to stop the district from sponsoring or advertising baccalaureate programs for its students.

On July 18, Interim Director of Schools Gary Aytes wrote to FFRF explaining that a new employee “was unaware of the rules for promoting this activity” and “now knows not to post on our district calendar.”

Illinois school chorus ends church performances (July 12, 2018)

FFRF has successfully harmonized an Illinois public high school chorus with the Constitution.

Earlier this year, FFRF was informed that a public school madrigal chorus at Lincoln-Way West High School in New Lenox, Ill., performed at a Catholic church in Manhattan in December. The concert was part of the church’s Sunday morning worship services. Additionally, the chorus performed at other churches in 2014 and 2015. Online videos of the 2014 presentation show that prominent religious iconography was clearly visible, including a massive Latin cross just behind the chorus. In 2015, the chorus performed as part of an event that a church described as “a service in song.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne sent a letter to Lincoln Way Community High School District 210 Superintendent R. Scott Tingley informing the district that the use of churches for public school programming is inappropriate and unconstitutional. Jayne pointed out that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — which has jurisdiction over Illinois — struck down another school district’s use of a church for school functions.

Other federal courts around the country have also struck down similar practices.

On July 12, Tingley responded, writing to FFRF that “Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210 madrigal groups will no longer perform at churches.”

FFRF is tipping its hat to the district for agreeing to stay within the bounds of our secular Constitution from now on.

“Religion is inherently divisive and the district made the right decision to end its church performances to become more inclusive of students of varying beliefs in its chorus program,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Cross removed from sign in California (July 6, 2018)

FFRF has taken action to keep religion out of a California city’s public park. A concerned resident of Avalon, Calif., notified FFRF that the city had placed a sign on display in Avalon Veterans Memorial Park that features a Latin cross. On June 11, FFRF Associate Council Elizabeth Cavell wrote to Avalon City Attorney Scott Campbell to ask the city to remove the cross.

On July 6, Gregg Kettles, legal representative for Avalon, called to notify FFRF that the city recognizes that they cannot maintain a cross on city property and will be removing the Latin cross from the sign. On July 13, Kettles followed up by providing FFRF with a photograph of the sign after the cross had been removed.

Tennessee district stops assembly proselytizing (July 6, 2018)

FFRF has convinced a Tennessee school district to implement a corrective plan barring proselytizing assemblies from taking place.

A concerned student of the Oneida High School in Huntsville, Tenn., reported to FFRF that the school had allowed a local pastor to preach and evangelize to students at a mandatory assembly this past fall. Students at the school are required to attend monthly “character assemblies,” which are typically secular in nature. Last November, however, FFRF was informed that a local pastor began an assembly that was supposed to be on the secular topic of “friendship” by asking students to repeat the phrase, “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.” He went on to instruct the students to turn to the person seated next to him or her to inform each other that Jesus loves them.

FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to Oneida Special School District (OSSD) Director of Schools Jeanny Hatfield on June 7 to warn against the inclusion of religious proselytizing in future high school assemblies.

In a letter received July 6, the legal counsel representing the school district informed FFRF that Hatfield and Oneida High School Principal Kevin Byrd understand that the district may not endorse religious practices and will comply with state and federal laws going forward.

“In an effort to preserve the integrity of our ‘character’ program and ensure that our students are protected from religious proselytizing the OSSD will require that an outline of the content of all presentations be submitted to the principal or his designee for review and approval prior to the presentation,” states the letter.

Ohio police won’t endorse religious service (July 5, 2018)

FFRF has ensured the Columbus Division of Police (CDP) will no longer request department employees attend religious worship services. A concerned employee of the Ohio police department contacted FFRF to report that Deputy Chief Michael Woods emailed all CDP personnel requesting that CDP employees attend a religious worship service at St. Paul’s Church scheduled to take place on June 24. The email said, “As a sign of our appreciation please join our Central Ohio law enforcement family at the June 24, 10:30 Mass.” The email also requested a “strong showing of uniformed officers and a full collection plate.”

FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein about the constitutional violation. On July 5, Jeff Furbee, legal counsel for the CPD, called FFRF to confirm that CDP chief sent out a clarifying email letting employees know that the church service is a strictly off-duty event, and that attendance was not required.

Choir performances will not be held in a church (June 29, 2018)

A concerned resident alerted FFRF to a constitutional violation at a high school in Canal Fulton, Ohio.

A joint concert between the Northwest High School choir and the Central Presbyterian Church choir, which took place at a church and included religious music, was described by Northwest vocal teacher and organist at Central Presbyterian Church as a “culmination of spiritual, musical and theological union.”

FFRF’s Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to Northwest Local Schools’ Superintendent Michael Schreffler on June 5 requesting assurance that the school choir will no longer participate in the religious performances at the church.

General counsel for the Northwest Local Board of Education, Mary Jo Shannon Slick, responded to FFRF on June 29 confirming that the board has reviewed FFRF’s concerns and will not be holding choir performances in a church in the future.

Ohio school handbook no longer has prayer (June 27, 2018)

An Ohio school district has removed religious promotion from its Parent Transportation Handbook after FFRF reminded it of the constitutional obligation to remain neutral regarding religion. A concerned parent reported that the handbook contained “A Bus Driver’s Prayer,” an overtly religious appeal to the “Lord.”

“Publishing a prayer in an official publication impermissibly entangles the district with a religious point of view, violating the principle that state and church must remain separate,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line in his Aug. 30 letter to the district.

Upon receiving FFRF’s letter, the superintendent ensured the prayer would be removed immediately and reported that new copies of the handbook were redistributed in the beginning of September.

School Board member won't promote her religious beliefs to students and staff (June 26, 2018)

A concerned resident reported to FFRF that a Dekalb County School Board member had been using her position to promote her religious beliefs to students and staff, including religious remarks she made at the 2017 Arabia Mountain High School graduation ceremony and the 2017 Dekalb County Schools Convocation.

On April 12, FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote Dekalb County School District’s Chief Legal Officer, Jennifer Hackenmeyer, to notify the district that no public school representative may urge religious points of view on students, including telling them that they should “magnify the Lord,” “exalt his name,” or “put God first” — all things the board member had said during school functions.

An attorney representing the district replied to FFRF’s complaint on June 26, writing that the district “does not sponsor religious speeches” and has “provided a secular script for board members during the 2018 graduation.”

High school won't promote baccalaureate service (June 21, 2018)

A concerned Ohio resident has reported that Shelby High School in Shelby, Ohio, had been advertising and promoting a baccalaureate service as part of its graduation events. An advertisement for the baccalaureate service, which typically includes prayer or worship, was published on the front cover of the Shelby High School graduation program and on the school’s website.

On May 18, FFRF’s Christopher Line wrote Tim Tarvin, superintendent of Shelby City Schools, to ensure that Shelby City Schools does not sponsor or advertise baccalaureate programs for its students.

On June 21, Melissa Martinez Bondy, a legal representative for the district, wrote to FFRF assuring it that the public school will no longer have any part in “controlling, organizing, and publicizing the baccalaureate service,” and that “the board will remove notice of the baccalaureate service from all graduation materials and announcements and will not directly or indirectly publicize the event.”

Christian commencement handouts stopped at high school (June 21, 2018)

FFRF has stopped Christian commencement handouts at Hicksville High School in Hicksville, Ohio. FFRF’s Christopher Line wrote to Keith Countryman, superintendent of Hicksville Exempted Village School, on May 31 to issue a complaint about a religious packet distributed to students during the high school’s commencement practice.

A concerned student notified FFRF about the constitutional violation, reporting that every graduating student received a packet containing materials that promoted Christianity, including a copy of “Evolution vs. God,” an anti-evolution film and a religious tract titled, “Are you a Good Person?” The packet also included a letter titled, “Hicksville High School Class of 2018,” which included religious messages and a bible verse.

An attorney representing the school contacted FFRF on June 21 to communicate that FFRF’s concerns had been addressed by the school and no such illegal action will be taken or allowed by the Hicksville school district in the future.

Ohio city moves cross off city property (June 19, 2018)

At FFRF’s behest, the city of Cambridge, Ohio, has moved a Christian cross off of city property. On Aug. 11, 2017, FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to Cambridge Mayor Thomas Orr to request that a Christian cross be moved off city property. The cross also included an image that appeared to be two hands joined in prayer. FFRF wrote to remind Orr that the display of a cross on public property is unconstitutional.

On June 19, William Ferguson, law director for Cambridge, wrote to FFRF to confirm that the cross had been removed.

FFRF gets Florida school to address violation (June 19, 2018)

FFRF has ensured that a Florida public school will not continue to distribute bibles to students.

FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel wrote on Sept. 1, 2017, to Richard Shirley, superintendent of Sumter County School District in Bushnell, Fla., regarding an incident which occurred on Oct. 19, 2016, at Bushnell Elementary School. During said incident, outside adults were invited into a fifth-grade gym class, at which time the students were lined up against the wall and presented with bibles.

A Jewish student, who declined the bible, was subjected to severe bullying by her Christian classmates as a result of the incident. Ultimately, the bullying resulted in the student leaving the school. The Sumter County School District’s inability to follow the law caused this young girl and her family serious financial and emotional distress.

On June 19, Shirley responded to FFRF’s complaint, saying the district is “working to be sure any such potential matters are corrected.”

Latin cross and Christian flag taken down from school (June 19, 2018)

A parent of a student at Mesquite Independent School District in Mesquite, Texas, notified FFRF that a student choir performed on a stage in front of a large Latin cross, adjacent to a Christian flag on a pole with a cross on top. The venue was reportedly full of other religious iconography, including wall and table art quoting scripture, religious pamphlets and pews full of bibles and hymnals. The parent also noted that there were many alternative, secular venues available to the district at no cost.

On Feb. 6, FFRF Associate Council Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent David Vroonland to issue a complaint regarding the all-city choir concert at Shiloh Terrace Baptist Church in Dallas.

On June 19, district representative Karyn Cummings wrote FFRF to confirm that the “Mesquite Independent School District does not have any choir events scheduled in religious venues for the 2018-2019 school year.”

Christian worship band won't perform at city-sponsored events anymore (June 19, 2018)

FFRF reminded a Colorado city mayor that scheduling a Christian worship band to perform at city-sponsored events poses a serious violation of constitutional separation of state and church. On April 20, FFRF’s Christopher Line wrote Marc Williams, mayor of Arvada, Co., about the city’s regular scheduling of Christian worship band, Renewed Music Ministries.

An Arvada resident reported that the city invited the band to perform at the annual Arvada Kite Festival. The complainant reported that the band played almost exclusively Christian music and the members actively discussed their religious beliefs on stage. Renewed Music Ministries was the only band to perform at the event and was also scheduled to perform at the annual Arvada Days event in September.

On June 19, Rachel Morris, deputy city attorney for Arvada, wrote to FFRF to confirm that the city does not “plan in the future, to engage Renewed for performances at city-sponsored events.”

Texas school stops bible distribution (June 11, 2018)

FFRF has put a stop to a Texas school district’s illegal distribution of bibles. On June 6, FFRF Associate Council Sam Grover wrote to Brian Nelson, general counsel for Corpus Christi Independent School District in Corpus Christi, Texas, to register a complaint regarding several instances of the district inappropriately advancing religion. A concerned district parent reported to FFRF that free backpacks containing supplies and a copy of the bible were being distributed at Gibson Elementary School. Additionally, FFRF was informed that some teachers had been promoting their religious beliefs in the classroom.

On June 11, Nelson responded to FFRF’s complaint, confirming that the backpacks distributed to students did contain bibles and were packed by a local church. Nelson assured FFRF that school district administration “will make certain that any future donors of backpacks and supplies are aware they must not include bibles or any other religious literature.” Additionally, the district will remind employees that religious “statements cannot be made or advanced by school personnel.”

FFRF puts an end to prayer at high school graduation ceremony (June 9, 2018)

FFRF has helped put an end to prayer at a Pennsylvania high school’s graduation ceremonies. A senior at Pottsville Area High School informed FFRF that a prayer was scheduled at the high school’s graduation ceremony, and that the school sponsored a baccalaureate ceremony during the school day.

On June 6, FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote to Superintendent Jeffrey Zwiebel to ensure that the prayer at Friday’s graduation was cancelled.

On June 9, the Republican-Herald, a local Pottsville newspaper, published a story detailing FFRF’s complaint against the school and the school’s subsequent decision to cancel the graduation prayer.

City removes church ad featuring police vehicle (June 8, 2018)

A concerned Tupelo, Miss., resident contacted FFRF to report that a Tupelo Police Department vehicle was featured in a recent advertisement for the Word of Life Church. The ad featured Pastor Tommy Galloway exiting a department vehicle, then quoting the bible as a “warning” to viewers that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus.” He advertised the Word of Life broadcast as a way to “find out more about this free gift.”

On Dec. 4, 2017, FFRF Associate Council Sam Grover wrote Police Chief of Tupelo Police Department Bart Aguirre to issue a complaint about department property being used in a religious advertisement.

On June 8, City Attorney Ben Logan wrote to notify FFRF that the television advertisement for Word of Life Church that used a Tupelo Police Department vehicle was “pulled from the air as of Dec. 12, 2017.”

Bible removed from school office in N.C. (June 7, 2018)

FFRF reminded Wayne Country Public Schools that the Establishment Clause prohibits public schools from promoting the Christian bible or taking any action that encourages students to read the bible.

On Nov. 28, 2017, FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott wrote to Dr. Michael Dunsmore, superintendent of Wayne County Public Schools in Goldsboro, N.C., to issue a complaint regarding a bible on display on public school grounds. A parent of a student at Rosewood Elementary school notified FFRF that the school was prominently displaying a bible in the main office of the school where students and any visitors to the office could see it.

On June 7, legal representatives for the district, Richard Schwartz and Laura Crumpler, wrote to FFRF to relate that “the superintendent has inquired about the practice and assures us it has ceased” and “will not be repeated.”

FFRF stops evangelizing Missouri baseball coach (June 7, 2018)

On May 30, FFRF Robert G. Ingersoll Legal Fellow Colin E. McNamara wrote to Aaron Zalis, superintendent of Rolla Public Schools in Rolla, Mo., to issue a complaint against Marty Hauck, coach of the Rolla High School baseball team. Hauck used his position as head coach to promote his religion to his players, and admitted to praying with the team before every game. While Hauck has since stepped down as coach of the baseball team, FFRF wrote to ensure Hauck does not use his other coaching position on the school’s wrestling team to further evangelize Rolla High School student-athletes.

On June 7, Counsel to Rolla Public Schools Thomas Mickes wrote to FFRF to relate that the district’s athletic director has met with Hauck, and will conduct meetings with all district coaches to emphasize First Amendment requirements.

School board members won't conduct prayer at school functions (June 7, 2018)

After FFRF intervened, Wayne County Public Schools in Goldsboro, N.C., will not conduct prayers at school functions. On Nov. 22, 2017, FFRF Senior Council Patrick Elliott wrote to Wayne Country Public School Board Chairperson Don Christopher West to register a complaint regarding prayers at Spring Creek High School graduation ceremony and school board meetings after a local complainant informed FFRF that Wayne County Schools has repeatedly engaged in practices that violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

On June 7, legal representatives for the district, Richard A. Schwartz and Laura E. Crumpler, wrote FFRF to confirm that “Wayne Country Public Schools has ceased both of the practices” — prayer at high school graduation and board meetings.

No more ‘testimony’ at Oklahoma football camp (July 7, 2018)

FFRF reminded an Oklahoma public school that proselytizing to student athletes is unconstitutional. On July 2, FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to Gore Public Schools Superintendent Lucky McCrary to request that the district not allow its football program members to be used as a captive audience for evangelists. On June 5, Gore High School football players had attended a camp that included a religious “testimony” by evangelist Tyson Simon, an area representative for the Western Arkansas Fellowship of Christian Athletes. According to the Resident Press, “Simon was the vehicle, and God was definitely the focus, the message and the reason” for the high school football team camp at Hackett High School in Arkansas.

McCrary wrote to FFRF on July 7 to confirm that he has “informed our coach that any time a situation arises that may infringe upon any student’s rights, he has authority to remove our students from the situation.”

High School graduation ceremony won't have Christian prayers (June 6, 2018)

FFRF’s objection to an Illinois high school’s religious graduation ceremony has made certain that there won’t be any further imposition of religion in the district.

A concerned community member contacted FFRF to report that the Brimfield High School graduation ceremony on May 20 included two separate Christian prayers. A copy of the ceremony’s written program includes both an “invocation” and “benediction.” Students were reportedly told to vote on whether there would be a prayer, then administrative staff instructed the valedictorians to select who among them would deliver the prayers during the ceremony.

FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to Brimfield CUSD #309 Superintendent Robert Richardson, outlining why the imposition of religion was unconstitutional. The school district was convinced by Jayne’s arguments.

“Brimfield CUSD #309 confirms to you that there will not be scheduled or approved prayer at district-sponsored events,” Richardson recently emailed the state/church watchdog.

W. Va. football coach ends pregame prayers (June 6, 2018)

FFRF notified a West Virginia school district that it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer or participate in student prayers.

On May 31, FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott wrote to Superintendent of McDowell Country Schools Nelson Spencer to register a complaint against Mount View High School football coach Larry Thompson, who led his team in prayer at a team meal this past fall prior to the homecoming football game.

On June 6, Spencer replied, assuring FFRF that actions have been taken to correct the constitutional violation. Spencer reported that “all country principals will be scheduled for a professional development session on district adherence to the constitutional expectations of separation between state and church,” in addition to a meeting “with the coach in question and the principal at Mount View High School to discuss [FFRF’s] letter and review the district’s expectations for endorsing or promotion of religion by its staff.”

Kentucky school ends graduation prayer (June 4, 2018)

A concerned parent of a student at Crofton Elementary School in Hopkinsville, Ky., contacted FFRF to report that the school’s sixth-grade graduation on May 23 began with a Christian prayer delivered by a local minister.

FFRF Robert G. Ingersoll Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to a legal representative of Christian County Public Schools on May 24, requesting assurance that the district will not schedule prayer as part of any school events in the future.

Christian County Public Schools responded on June 4, informing FFRF that the district superintendent has counseled the principal at Crofton Elementary School on keeping religion out of public school-sponsored events.

New Mexico schools commit to neutrality (June 4, 2018)

FFRF has educated a New Mexico school district on its constitutional obligation to keep religion out of its public schools.

It was brought to FFRF’s attention that the 2018 Shiprock High School graduation ceremony began and ended with scheduled religious prayers. Students delivered the invocation and delivered the closing benediction. FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Central Consolidated School District on May 22, informing the district that the Supreme Court has struck down prayers at school-sponsored events.

Acting Superintendent Terri Benn responded to FFRF on June 4, writing that the district would be committed to a policy of religious neutrality going forward.

Ohio school district to censor endorsements (June 1, 2018)

It was reported to FFRF that last August, New Philadelphia City Schools in Ohio organized a prayer event and promoted it on its official Facebook page. FFRF wrote on May 30 to ensure the district does not organize or promote religious events.

FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line pointed out that the promotion of religious events alienates those whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being endorsed by the school.

An attorney representing New Philadelphia City Schools responded on June 1, informing FFRF that the district had not organized the event — which was organized by local churches — and had not approved the social media post. The district has provided training to its staff regarding proper use of social media, including issues related to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The post promoting religion has been removed from the district’s Facebook account and, since the incident, the district informed FFRF that it has been monitoring social media activity more closely.

FFRF discovers hushed victory in district (June 1, 2018)

FFRF was pleased to recently discover a hidden victory for state-church separation in an eastern Texas school district.

Back in 2014, FFRF was informed by a concerned community member of the Mt. Vernon Independent School District that the district was displaying several religious quotes on the walls of its schools. The quotes included both biblical passages and alleged statements attributed to a variety of prominent individuals in American history. After seeking and obtaining an open records request in 2015 for a copy of all records related to the selection and display of the quotes on the district’s walls, FFRF found that a significant portion of the quotes on display were not only unconstitutionally endorsing religion, but also fallacious.

FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to Mt. Vernon Independent School District Superintendent John Kaufman, requesting that the district remove the quotes. Courts have time and again held that public schools may not endorse religious messages — including texts taken from the bible.

The original complainant informed Grover that a new superintendent who was hired soon after FFRF sent its 2015 letter to the district quietly removed the religious quotes over the summer of 2016.

FFRF is thrilled that this assault on the right of conscience of Mt. Vernon students has been rectified.

“We don’t always know the full extent of our impact, but it is vast,” says Grover.

Colorado council allows nonreligious prayers (May 31, 2018)

FFRF has ensured that a Colorado city council will not discriminate against nonbelievers in its council meetings.

FFRF was informed that the Monte Vista City Council decided at a council meeting earlier this spring that it would begin opening its meetings with prayer. Comments made at the meeting by council members and local residents suggested that the council was intending for the prayers to be exclusively religious, prompting FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line to send a letter to Monte Vista Mayor Dale Becker.

In a letter received by FFRF on May 31, the city reported that, while it would be going ahead with its plan to open meetings with invocations, it acknowledged that it may not discriminate in who gives the invocation.

LifeChurch expelled from Oklahoma school (May 29, 2018)

An Oklahoma public school has updated its policy to protect students from religious coercion, thanks to FFRF.

A concerned parent within Owasso Public Schools in Owasso, Okla., informed FFRF that Owasso Seventh Grade Center was allowing representatives from LifeChurch, an evangelical church, to enter the school during Wednesday lunches to hand out church flyers and proselytize to students. The representatives were also pestering students and asking them why they were not going to church.

“It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the district to offer religious leaders unique access to befriend and proselytize students during the school day on school property,” wrote FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Chris Line. “It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion.”

Owasso Public Schools responded on May 29, informing FFRF that there would be no more in-person proselytizing going forward.

The district has since implemented a new policy requiring school visitors to receive permission from Owasso Seventh Grade Center Principal Eric Nantois. Additionally, school visitors will only be able to speak with one student per lunch period and must obtain written permission from that student’s parent.

Tennessee school stops state-church violations (May 29, 2018)

FFRF has put an end to multiple state-church violations within a Tennessee school district after receiving a couple of complaints regarding religious promotions.

A Stone Memorial High School student reported to FFRF that the school — part of the Cumberland County School District in Crossville, Tenn. — was displaying overt religious symbols and messages in its library. One display was a picture with a Latin cross, two bible verses and the word “faith” in all capital letters.

Additionally, a faculty member of the district reported to FFRF that in April, Director of Schools Janet Graham sponsored a luncheon that included school administration-led prayer with students, administrators and community members. FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the school district on May 16 asking that it remove its religious endorsements and take steps to ensure that future district-sponsored events do not include prayer.

On May 29, FFRF was informed by the district that the religious displays have been removed from the library and that future events will include a moment of silence rather than prayer.

Virginia district stops mandated staff prayer (May 23, 2018)

FFRF has helped end mandatory staff meeting prayers within a school district in Luray, Va.

An employee of Page County Public Schools informed FFRF that Superintendent Donna Whitley-Smith was including prayers during meetings that involved school administrators. During those meetings, meals were served and Whitley-Smith was calling upon the director of human resources to lead employees in saying grace.

FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott wrote to the district on May 11 informing it that, as a government entity, the district has a constitutional obligation not to promote religion.

The district responded on May 23 notifying FFRF that it had ended the prayer practice.

Teachers won't promote their personal religious beliefs (May 23, 2018)

FFRF ensured that employees within a Kansas school district will not be promoting their personal religious beliefs to students. On May 23, FFRF’s Christopher Line wrote to Khris Thexton, superintendent of Great Bend public school district in Great Bend, Kan., to issue a complaint against Principal Tim Friess of the Great Bend High School. Friess made religious remarks to students and parents at the 2018 Great Bend High School graduation, beginning his remarks by “thank[ing] God for the beautiful day that he has blessed us with” before relating a religious anecdote and concluding his remarks with “may God bless each of you.”

On June 8, Mark Rondeau, a legal representative for the school district, wrote to FFRF to report that Thexton had spoken with Friess, telling him that his religious comments were not in accordance with school policies. Friess assured the superintendent these comments would not be repeated.

Indiana school ends religious art projects (May 21, 2018)

FFRF has ensured that all lessons being taught at an Indiana elementary school will be free of religious ideology.

Earlier this spring, FFRF sent a letter to the School City of Mishawaka district after a concerned parent contacted the state-church watchdog to report that a first-grade teacher at Liberty Elementary School assigned an art project to students focused on the biblical nativity story. The teacher reportedly taught her class that Christmas was Jesus’ birthday and read a book about it to the class.

“As you are certainly aware, public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne to Superintendent A. Dean Speicher.

The district recently assured FFRF that the teacher had been reminded of her obligations to remain neutral in matters regarding religion in her role as a public school teacher and that the promotion of Christianity would not recur.

FFRF stops outside proselytizers in schools (May 17, 2018)

FFRF has ended unconstitutional religious promotion within a Chicago suburb school district.

A concerned community member of Community Consolidated School District 15 reported to FFRF that the district allows outside adults to engage in one-on-one meetings with students at several district elementary schools, usually during lunch. The adults are affiliated with a faith-based organization named Kids Hope USA that connects “one church” with public schools under the guise of mentorship. Kids Hope USA believes the most effective aspect of its program is that it prays for students.

While the adults purportedly discuss only secular topics with students, and do not inform students that “prayer partners” are secretly praying for them, FFRF was informed that these adults had been abusing their access to students by advertising for a religious event.

In a letter sent to Superintendent Scott Thompson, FFRF informed the district that, in fact, Kids Hope USA’s website suggests that promoting religious events is a fundamental goal of its program: “Principals are advised that parents may choose to someday send their children to events at the church, only after parental permission is granted.”

FFRF warned the district that, regardless of parental permission, it is inappropriate and unconstitutional for a public school district to allow church representatives unique access to invite students to religious events, during the school day on school property, after developing a personal one-on-one relationship with those students.

“No outside adults should be provided carte blanche access to minors — a captive audience — in a public school,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne to Thompson. “The district may not allow its schools to be used as recruiting grounds for churches during the school day.”

The district responded to FFRF with assurances that the violation would not recur.

“The district is updating its own administrative procedures to ensure that all volunteer mentors are informed that they must refrain from praying or proselytizing while at school, including encouraging students to attend religious events,” a legal representative of the district informed FFRF.

Police Department in Missouri removes religious decal (April 23, 2018)

Where: Viburnum Police Department.

Violation: The department placed a bumper sticker on a government patrol car reading, “2 Chronicles 7:14.”

Outcome: The city responded on April 23 informing FFRF that the department had removed the sticker.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Patrick Elliott.

Bible verse removed from Missouri patrol car (April 23, 2018)

Where: Viburnum Police Department.

Violation: The department placed a bumper sticker on a government patrol car reading, “2 Chronicles 7:14.”

Outcome: The city responded on April 23 informing FFRF that the department had removed the sticker.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Patrick Elliott.

Basketball coaches won't institute team prayers (April 20, 2018)

Where: Dillard Drive Middle School in Raleigh.

Violation: The boys basketball coaches had instituted team prayers.

Outcome: An attorney representing Wake County Public Schools responded to FFRF on April 20, writing that it addressed the violation.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Patrick Elliott.

Boys basketball coaches won't pray with students (April 20, 2018)

Where: Dillard Drive Middle School in Raleigh.

Violation: The boys basketball coaches had instituted team prayers.

Outcome: An attorney representing Wake County Public Schools responded to FFRF on April 20, writing that it addressed the violation.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Patrick Elliott.