A Louisiana middle school has heeded FFRF’s warning over a serious constitutional violation.
FFRF took action after it learned that a “Field Day” event hosted by Scott M. Brame Middle School in Alexandria, La., was sponsored by the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes and staffed by the Philadelphia Baptist Church.
During the school-day event, the church representatives, stationed at tents, proselytized students. FFRF was further alerted that the school had plans to begin a partnership with the church in the fall. FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter to Rapides Parish Schools Superintendent Nason Authement on Aug. 3, warning the district that inviting, or allowing, a religious organization into the school to indoctrinate students is a far-reaching constitutional violation. FFRF requested that the district investigate the situation and halt any planned church-school partnership with the Philadelphia Baptist Church.
On Sept. 8, Authement responded, informing FFRF that the violation and other Establishment Clause issues would be addressed with district administrators at a scheduled in-service.
After receiving a legal letter from FFRF, a Texas school district has taken steps to keep its commencement speeches secular and lawful.
It was reported to FFRF that during a commencement speech in the Quitman Independent School District in Quitman, Texas, a parent speaker quoted multiple bible verses in what should have been a secular speech. The parent also infused the speech with religious instructions, such as telling students to “seek the Lord for wisdom.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent Rhonda Turner on June 16 informing the district that the unconstitutional speech alienated non-Christian members of the school, and that graduations are not the place for a personal promotion of religion.
On Sept. 8, FFRF received confirmation from an attorney representing the school district that future commencement speakers and subject matter would be reviewed to avoid another constitutional violation.
The staff in a California school district has been educated by FFRF on constitutional concepts after a First Amendment violation was addressed.
FFRF was informed that a teacher at Roseville High in Roseville, Calif., had been pressuring students to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance and favoring students who complied. FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote to the Roseville Joint Union School District on Aug. 23, telling administrators that students have a constitutional right not to be coerced into participation in the pledge.
FFRF was informed on Sept. 7 in a letter from Principal David Byrd that he had met with the teacher to let her know that she could not compel any student to recite or stand for the pledge, nor could she reward students for participating in the pledge. Byrd also reported to FFRF that the entire school staff would be reminded of the law surrounding students’ rights regarding the pledge.
Students at a Texas elementary school won't be herded to receive Gideon bibles after FFRF sent a warning to the school district over the constitutional violation.
It was reported to FFRF that teachers at West Fountain Elementary School in Wichita Falls, Texas, had lined students up and escorted them out to the edge of school property to receive a bible from the Gideon Society, a male proselytizing group.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Wichita Falls Independent School District on March 17, informing the district that advancing the Gideon's religious mission was a constitutional violation of the separation between church and state.
FFRF was informed on Sept. 5 that Executive Director of School Administration Debby Patterson had addressed the violation by sending an email to district staff, reminding them of the guidelines regarding sidewalk bible distribution. Patterson informed the staff that the Gideons are never to be allowed on school property to distribute bibles.
A California elementary school will no longer be including prayers in its graduation ceremonies after receiving a warning from FFRF.
A concerned parent informed FFRF that an elementary graduation ceremony at Blochman Union School District in Santa Maria, Calif., included an invocation and benediction led by a local pastor.
The prayers had begun with the pastor instructing the audience to bow their heads in prayer, and had thanked and praised "Father God," "Lord God," and "Our Heavenly Father." FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote to the school district on June 29 requesting that future graduations do not include unconstitutional prayer.
Superintendent Doug Brown responded Aug. 30, assuring FFRF that both the invocation and benediction would be removed at future graduations.
An Alabama school district will not be promoting religious events, thanks to FFRF's involvement.
FFRF was informed that Fairview High School in Cullman, Ala., had used its televised morning announcements to advertise a religious event, the "Decide" Youth Rally, which took place in January at the public school. The event was also mentioned in the school's morning announcements for several days leading up to the event, including one with a promotional video from a pastor speaking at the event.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Cullman County Schools Superintendent Shane Barnette Aug. 28 informing him that the advertisements had impermissibly entangled the school and district with a religious viewpoint and violated the principle of state and church separation.
The schools superintendent responded Aug. 28 to inform FFRF that he would address the violation appropriately with the administration and ensure that the law was followed in the future.
A Virginia school division in Smithfield will no longer include prayer in its mandatory employee convocations.
It was reported to FFRF that every year at the Isle of Wight County School Division convocations, a guest speaker would lead the staff in a Christian prayer.
At the 2016 convocation, the speaker had asked employees to stand up if they believed in Jesus Christ during the prayer. FFRF Senior Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to Superintendent Jim Thornton Aug. 23, requesting that the division end the unconstitutional prayers.
Thornton responded Aug. 28, informing FFRF that the 2017 convocation speaker had been told not to pray, which he had complied with. Thornton further informed FFRF that going forward the division planned to eliminate convocation speakers from outside organizations to avoid future violations.
Thanks to FFRF, a South Carolina transit system will be up and running on Good Friday.
It was reported to FFRF that the Spartanburg Area Transit System in South Carolina did not run on the Christian holy day, Good Friday, on April 14.
FFRF's Legal Director Rebecca Markert wrote to the transit system general manager on May 18 informing the city that it is an unconstitutional promotion and favoritism of Christianity to shut down the transit services for this Christian holiday.
Spartan Area Regional Transit Agency General Manager Luis Gonzalez responded Aug. 25, informing FFRF that the transit system would no longer be closed on Good Friday.
FFRF and Americans United have ensured that creationist myths will no longer be taught at an online Ohio public charter school based out of Akron.
A concerned parent of an Ohio Distance & Electronic Learning Academy student contacted FFRF to report the school's biology classes include a unit on "biogenesis" that teaches the biblical view of creation. The class readings for this unit reportedly include young-Earth creationist Walter Brown's book, In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood, which was promoted exclusively by Brown's own religious ministry, the Center for Scientific Creation.
In a letter sent to Ohio Distance & Electronic Learning Academy Superintendent David Bowlin on July 24, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover informed the academy that the Supreme Court has struck down the teaching of "scientific creationism" in public schools. Grover also noted that federal courts have consistently rejected other efforts to undermine evolution or to supplement its teaching with religious ideology in the public schools.
Bowlin responded to FFRF Aug. 24, writing that all the public school's teachers had been reminded that using religious materials for any reason is prohibited in public schools.
FFRF has ensured that an elementary school in Texas will no longer be partnering with a religious organization for school supplies.
It was reported to FFRF that Glen Rose Elementary School in Glen Rose, Texas, had partnered with a Christian organization, School Tool Box, to sell school supplies to parents through the organization's website. The school was advertising School Tool Box's services and, indirectly, its religious mission.
FFRF Associate Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter to the Glen Rose Independent School District superintendent to ensure that the school district would not continue to illegally promote religion, encouraging Glen Rose Elementary to partner with secular organizations in the future.
A legal representative of the school district replied on Aug. 18, informing FFRF that the district would request that Glen Rose Elementary School partner with different, non-religious organizations going forward.
FFRF has put the kibosh on coach-led prayers at a school district in Shelbina, Mo.
It was reported to FFRF that the South Shelby High School football coach, Rob Wilt, was leading prayers with student-athletes after games last year.
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to the Shelby County R-IV School District superintendent on May 11, warning that it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer. FFRF requested that the district take action to ensure Wilt would cease praying or organizing prayer with athletes.
FFRF was informed in August that Wilt and other staff had received training by the school legal counsel on their obligation to keep religion out of school events.
FFRF was able to get a superintendent to stop leading prayers at school-related functions.
FFRF learned the superintendent of Crosby Independent School District in Crosby, Texas, had led a prayer at an awards ceremony for students and led similar prayers at Crosby High School graduation ceremonies.
Furthermore, it was reported that the school was regularly scheduling prayers to be announced over public loudspeakers before home football games.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to a legal representative of the school district on July 12, informing the district of its constitutional violations. Grover also explained that it is illegal for a public school to include prayer at school athletic events.
On Aug. 11, a representative of the school district informed FFRF that the district had agreed to meet its legal obligations to remain religiously neutral.
A community member contacted FFRF over a promotion of religion at Cole Camp High School in Missouri during the school's Senior Awards Night, and FFRF promptly took action. A school staff member had promoted a religious baccalaureate service scheduled immediately after the school-sponsored award ceremony.
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to Cole Camp School District administration to ensure that religious services were not being organized or promoted by the district and reminding the public school district of its constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion.
Superintendent Tim Rolling responded on Aug. 9 to inform FFRF that the district would review all policies and practices to ensure that the school district employees would not promote any religious activity.
FFRF has ensured that a school district in Twin Falls, Idaho, will keep religion out of its assemblies.
A district parent reported to FFRF that in February all district secondary schools in the Twin Falls School District held a mandatory student assembly featuring a guest inspirational speaker who referenced God and prayer as her source of support. Her presentation to students included a slide with a bible verse, Philippians 4:13. While FFRF Associate Counsel Elizabeth Cavell lauded the school district's goal of motivating students, she reminded the district in a letter sent July 26 of its First Amendment obligations to neither advance nor promote religion as the speaker did.
The district assured FFRF that it would comply with the First Amendment and refrain from sponsoring assemblies with religious content in the future.
After learning of a state/church violation that occurred at Delton Kellogg Schools in Michigan, FFRF took action to ensure religious rituals are kept out of school events.
FFRF was informed that the district held a Veterans Day concert in November 2016 at Delton Kellogg High School. The event included a prayer led by a middle school student. In a letter sent on Nov. 22, 2016, FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert wrote that while it was laudable for the school to honor veterans, it is unconstitutional to allow a religious message or prayer to be a part of a school-sponsored event. FFRF asked for confirmation that future school assemblies would not include prayer.
A legal representative of the school district responded on Aug. 3 that the district would comply with the law going forward.
FFRF has ensured that a teacher at Whitewater Middle School in Gainesville, Ga., has changed his tune and will keep religion out of his classroom.
A parent of a student attending the middle school informed FFRF that an eighth-grade science teacher, Matthew Mundock, was playing Christian music in his classroom during his examinations. When the student informed Mundock that the music was distracting, he suggested the student go to the library. FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler sent a letter to Fayette County Public Schools on June 30 warning that it is illegal for public school employees to promote Christianity by playing religious music in classrooms. FFRF requested that Mundock be directed to cease exposing students to Christian music.
On Aug. 3, the school district responded that Mundock had been made to understand that playing Christian music unconstitutionally endorsed religious messages and that he would only play secular instrumental music going forward.
The Palmyra Interfaith Manor in Lebanon, Penn., has removed a large collection of Christian iconography that had decorated its common areas.
A resident of the manor reported to FFRF that Latin crosses, angels and depictions of Mary, Joseph and Jesus decorated the lobby and community room, making the resident feel alienated in her own home. Because the manor is funded by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the religious displays raised constitutional concerns. FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line sent a letter on June 29 asking that the decorations be removed from the common areas of the residency to avoid the promotion of Christianity.
The housing authority responded on Aug. 1 informing FFRF that the religious items had been removed.
FFRF has snipped the ties between a Wisconsin elementary school and a religious financial firm.
It was brought to the attention of FFRF that Bristol Elementary School in Bristol, Wis., had partnered with Thrivent Financial, a Christian financial services firm that openly discriminates based on religion.
FFRF's Elaine and Eric Stone Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne sent a letter to the Bristol School District asking that it investigate Establishment Clause concerns.
The school and financial firm had collaborated on a "Feed My Starving Children" event. Feed My Starving Children is a Christian nonprofit with a mission to nourish "God's starving children hungry in body and spirit." After the students packed food, they were invited to participate in a Christian prayer over the food. In exchange for the funding, Thrivent transported students to the event. Students all wore T-shirts with the religious firm's logo that includes a Christian cross.
Bristol School District #1 Administrator Michael Juech informed FFRF in an email that the district had contacted Thrivent Financial to let the group know that no future partnerships would take place. Additionally, the school district has taken steps to remove social media posts from the Bristol School District pages highlighting the relationship with Thrivent Financial.
The Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Ga., will not be promoting an evangelical group or displaying Christian symbols in its cafeteria after FFRF sent a letter over a constitutional violation.
FFRF was informed by a troubled parent that two large, seemingly permanent banners showcasing Christian iconography and ideology were affixed to either side of the stage in the school cafeteria. The banners were for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes' Southeast Georgia Chapter, which includes a prominent Latin cross in its logo. The group's mission is to give coaches and athletes "the challenge and adventure of receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, serving Him in their relationships and in the fellowship of the church." FFRF Associate Counsel Elizabeth Cavell wrote to a representative of Lowndes County Schools on June 19, warning the district that displaying religious symbols or promoting religious organizations with a clear evangelical mission is a constitutional violation.
FFRF was informed on July 31 that the school had complied with its request that the banners be removed.
The Parkway School District in Chesterfield, Mo., will not be be teaching misleading, faith-based curriculum in the future after FFRF raised constitutional and health concerns.
A local faith-based organization, Thrive St. Louis, has been teaching sex education in district schools. The group operates "crisis pregnancy centers," which label themselves as general-purpose medical clinics for pregnant women, but in reality spew fallacious advice and provide services that further a religious agenda. Thrive's sex education lessons, called "Best Choice," is made up of scare and shaming tactics to discourage students from using contraception, choosing to have sex or having an abortion — all of which crisis pregnancy centers oppose for purely religious reasons. The group's employment policy clearly aims to spread Christian dogma.
"It would be inappropriate and irresponsible for a public school district to encourage students to visit a crisis pregnancy center, much less invite such a group to teach sex education," wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne in a letter to the Parkway School District on April 7.
On July 31, the district superintendent responded that beginning with the 2017-18 school year, all sexual health instruction would be delivered by the district's certified health educators.
FFRF has taken action to ensure that students in Breitung Township Schools in Kingsford, Mich., will no longer be socially pressured into participating in religious rituals.
This past spring, the district’s Eighth-Grade Dinner Dance included a prayer that students were instructed to recite before a meal. The prayer had been organized by Mrs. Hofer, a teacher in the district, who had pressured and shamed students at the event to join in the religious ritual by saying that refusing to do so would be poor manners. FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert wrote to Superintendent Craig Allen on May 25, warning that it is a constitutional violation for public school teachers to involve themselves in prayer.
Allen responded on July 28 that the incident had been discussed with the violator.
A Texas high school will no longer be using graduation events to unconstitutionally promote Christianity after FFRF contacted the school district over several state/church violations.
FFRF was informed that the graduation events at Big Sandy High School were laced with religion. During a senior banquet prior to the school's graduation ceremony, the principal led a Christian prayer in which he made multiple references to the bible and "warned" about Satan. On the day of graduation, a faculty member gave students a copy of the Christian book "God's Promises for Graduates." The graduation ceremony itself began with a Christian invocation and concluded with the principal asking everyone to stand up to join hands and recite the Lord's Prayer. Moreover, a local religious group was invited onto school property before the ceremony to distribute bibles to students.
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to the school district's superintendent, Jay Ratcliff, on June 22 to remind the district of its duty to remain religiously neutral and protect the rights of conscience of students. Public school graduations, Grover pointed out, are not the place to preach personal religious beliefs. Ratcliff responded on July 27 agreeing that the district would comply with its legal obligation to keep religion out of its schools.
FFRF has ensured that the Wisconsin Department of Health Services will not entangle itself with religion when sponsoring events.
The Aging and Disability Resource Center of Southwest Wisconsin (ADRC) sponsored a dementia workshop on June 15 exclusively for faith community leaders. Religion was advertised in a flyer of the workshop, which indicated that Pastor Carolyn Kennedy led the 15-minute opening worship and that it was held in the United Church of Christ in Barneveld.
In a letter sent to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne requested assurance that future Aging and Disability Resource Center events would not include religious rituals. FFRF also asked that any future events the center sponsors be open to all community leaders, not just clergy.
The Department of Health Services responded on July 26, agreeing that resource centers should not prohibit any interested community leader from attending its informational events.
The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine has removed a religious text from a display after receiving a warning letter from FFRF.
An employee reached out to FFRF over a bible being displayed on the table outside the office of the director of the teaching hospital. The bible was placed next to the seating for visitors. FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert sent a letter on July 21 to the university's dean explaining that displaying the bible to visitors of the director's office sends the message that the college endorses the religious text, which is a constitutional violation. A legal representative of the university informed FFRF in a letter sent on July 25 that the bible had been removed from public view.
A public school bus rolling through Tennessee will no longer be doubling as Christian propaganda on wheels. A concerned resident informed FFRF that a school bus for the Bedford County School District in Shelbyville, Tenn., was showcasing a large bumper sticker that read, "Easter is all about JESUS!" The district violated the constitution by allowing its resources to display religious messages and promote religion. FFRF sent a letter to the district superintendent on May 12 requesting that the bumper sticker be removed.
The school district responded on July 24 that it had immediately complied with FFRF's request and that an in-service training would be provided for drivers to address the violation.
A U.S. post office plant in Richmond, Calif., has agreed to end government-endorsed prayers after receiving a letter from FFRF.
At a potluck held by the post office plant in December 2016, a pre-meal prayer was led "in Jesus' name." At a luncheon four days after, the plant manager asked for an employee to lead a prayer. FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote to the plant manager, Severo Garza, on April 3, warning that the prayer practices had violated the constitutional separation of church and state by imposing prayer on employees and endorsing religion on behalf of the government.
Garza responded in a letter to FFRF on July 21 agreeing that the post office would be in compliance with the First Amendment in the future.
A Kansas school district superintendent has agreed to restrain himself from praying with his employees at school functions.
A concerned employee informed FFRF that at an awards meeting for retiring staff, Independence Unified School District Superintendent Rusty Arnold asked the audience to join him in prayer and to bow their heads. FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line sent a letter to Arnold on July 7 warning the school district that imposing prayer on employees at a district-sponsored event violates constitutional limits on government religious endorsement. Furthermore, Line explained to Arnold that such prayers inappropriately alienate non-religious employees, or those who practice a minority religion.
On July 20, Arnold assured FFRF in a letter that he did not want to alienate staff members and would no longer be praying with his employees during school events.
A U.S. post office in Miami, Fla., will no longer be unconstitutionally promoting religion after receiving a letter from FFRF.
FFRF was informed that a poster reading, "To all South Florida District Employees who have been called to serve, our thoughts and prayers are with you. God Bless America" had been on display at the Quail Heights Post Office. On Nov. 4, 2016, FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote a letter warning the post office that U.S. postal regulations prohibit the display of nearly all religious materials and that the First Amendment prohibits government sponsorship of religion.
Ziegler asked that the post office comply with the constitution and remove the sign. The Quail Heights Post Office district manager responded on July 20, informing FFRF that the sign had been immediately removed following the reception of the warning letter.
FFRF commends a Wisconsin school district for turning off a Christian broadcasting station on a school bus.
Early in the spring, FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne sent a letter to the Stevens Point Area Public School District due to concerns over a bus driver who was incessantly playing devotional Christian music on a bus taking students to P.J. Jacobs Junior High School.
The school district responded with a brief, but laudable, response: "The practice has ceased."
FFRF has stopped an Ohio county's attempt to divert public dollars to exclusively religious organizations.
In August, it was brought to FFRF's attention that Cuyahoga County had issued a "request for proposal" so that it could offer outreach services limited to faith-based organizations or coalitions of faith-based organizations. The request was intended to seek "proposals from faith-based organizations interested in providing outreach and referral activities to drive enrollment in Cuyahoga County's Universal Pre-Kindergarten Program."
In a letter to the county administration, FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line warned the county against the violation of the First Amendment.
The county responded that it would comply with constitutional requirements to be entirely neutral on matters of religion.
FFRF has ensured that a program at the University of Florida in Gainesville will remain neutral regarding religion.
FFRF contacted the university over a mandatory program it planned to implement for all undergraduate students called "UF Quest," which contained aspects that appeared to advance or favor religion. The university's associate provost of undergraduate affairs explained that all students in the program would be encouraged to meditate on their spiritual tradition — which she equated with prayer.
In a letter sent on June 6, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel spotlighted the constitutional state-church concerns with the program and requested that all program curriculum be approached from a secular standpoint. FFRF also asked that the program include all students by representing the nearly 35 percent of millennials who do not identify with religion. The university's attorney responded on July 14, assuring FFRF that the program would not promote religion and that the university would work with FFRF to find humanist or atheist representatives if necessary in the future.
Thanks to FFRF, an elementary school in Frederick, Md., has agreed to expunge a proselytizing message to its students.
A concerned local resident informed FFRF that Lincoln Elementary had been displaying a religious sculpture in its foyer that had been donated by a Rotary Club. The sculpture was in the shape of a key and included printed advice to students to "be good Christians." FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter on June 21 to the Frederick County Public Schools superintendent objecting to the overt promotion of Christianity on behalf of the school and asking that the sculpture be modified to remove the message.
A representative of the school district responded on July 11 informing FFRF that the principal of Lincoln Elementary school had been advised to remove the word "Christians" from the message. It now contains a secular message to "be good."
An Illinois statewide fishing competition will not be angling for religion, thanks to FFRF.
A concerned Illinois resident informed FFRF that the Illinois High School Association, in conjunction with the Fishing League Worldwide, started this year's 2017 IHSA Bass Fishing State Finals for member Illinois schools with a Christian prayer that included "Thanks for your son Jesus."
This sectarian prayer was inappropriate and unconstitutional, FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne told the association.
The Illinois High School Association responded quickly by ending the prayers.
Due to the FFRF, there won't be any Christian indoctrination permitted during official hunter training in New Hampshire.
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department facilitates hunter safety classes throughout New Hampshire. A person who contacted FFRF attended a class on April 6-8 hosted by the Heritage Free Will Baptist Church in Laconia, N.H. The complainant reported that everyone who attended the class received religious flyers with prayers and information about church services. A pastor taught this class. The religious materials were enclosed with all of the official hunter's safety documents and study packets.
FFRF learned that the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department will make certain that future classes co-sponsored by the department do not involve the distribution of such religious materials.
FFRF recently sent a letter to the Ashe County Sheriff's Office, based in Jefferson, objecting to a "Time of Prayer" event it was scheduled to host on June 24. Highlighting the event was a prayer led by Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of the celebrity evangelist Billy Graham and sister of Franklin Graham.
FFRF expressed concern that Ashe County officers, and perhaps Sheriff Terry Buchanan, would make an appearance at the event in their official uniforms and might speak using government titles to promote the religious event. This, FFRF reminded the sheriff's office, would have exacerbated the appearance that the sheriff's office endorses Christianity. The Ashe County Sheriff's Office promptly addressed this concern.
"No uniformed officer or deputy will be speaking or participating in the event," wrote an attorney representing the Ashe County Sheriff's Office. "Mr. Buchanan may give a brief introduction of Ms. Lotz, but it would be without introduction of himself and without use of a title or uniform. The only presence of any uniformed officer would be consistent with their normal routine of patrol and other law enforcement duties."
A school district in Smithville, Ohio, won't be scheduling Christianity into its school calendar or holiday decorating activities anymore.
Green Local Schools District featured a overtly Christian theme on its lunch calendar this past December, listing "Baby in a blanket on a bed of straw" with a "star" on the lunch menu. This was an obvious reference to the birth story of Jesus Christ. The calendar also displayed a picture of a baby in a manger on Dec. 26, paired with the wording "The Best Christmas Gift." FFRF was also made aware that Green Middle School had several classroom doors decorated with nativity scenes and references to the birth of Jesus Christ.
In a letter sent on March 16, FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert informed Superintendent Judy Robinson that a nativity scene is a sectarian Christian symbol, which is unlawful for a public school to display. Markert warned against the constitutional violation of promoting a religious doctrine in a public school. On June 20, FFRF was informed by a school official that the situation had been investigated and corrected.
It was brought to FFRF's attention that an Owasso High School teacher, Bob Linder, was teaching creationism in his science classes. Linder fallaciously claimed that the biblically based idea of human origin was equivalent to the scientific theory of evolution, which he had made attempts to cast doubt upon. Teaching creationism, or any of its derivatives such as intelligent design, to a captive student audience is unlawful — as federal courts have consistently upheld. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Owasso Public Schools Superintendent Clark Ogilvie on Jan. 31, informing the district of the violation.
"Teaching that there is a scientific controversy about the validity of evolution is akin to teaching astrology with astronomy or alchemy beside chemistry," wrote Seidel. "Representing unconstitutional discarded misconceptions as scientific facts does a great disservice to the scientific literacy of Owasso High School students."
An attorney representing the school district informed FFRF in a letter sent June 20 that Linder had voluntarily retired, and that appropriate actions had been taken by the district to prevent similar violations of staff infusing religious doctrine into curriculum.
A Florida high school won't be inserting religion into future school-sponsored events after receiving a legal warning from FFRF over a Christian prayer.
It was brought to FFRF's attention that the assistant principal and athletic director at Middleton High School in Tampa, Fla., had called upon a staff member to deliver a Christian prayer at an athletic banquet on school property. The individual had asked his students and their parents to bow their heads as he delivered a prayer, thanking God for the food.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to Hillsborough County Public Schools Chief of Staff Alberto Vazquez on May 30, warning against the unconstitutional school endorsement of religion. Vazquez responded on June 19 to inform FFRF that an investigation had been launched over the violation. The athletic director has been retrained on the district's policy to remain religiously neutral and inclusive.
An Indiana school district has promised FFRF that graduation prayers will not occur again in its schools.
A concerned Elkhart Community Schools parent contacted FFRF to report that the 2016-17 graduation ceremony at the Roosevelt STEAM Academy began with a prayer. The speaker asked the audience to stand and bow heads, and then led a sectarian Christian prayer, concluding with "In Jesus' name, Amen."
"The Supreme Court has continually struck down prayers at school-sponsored events, including public school graduations," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Elkhart Community Schools Legal Counsel Douglas Thorne last month.
This prayer is especially egregious when involving a captive group of impressionable elementary-age school children, FFRF added. Parents, not public schools, are responsible for the religious or nonreligious upbringing of their children. And courts have continually reaffirmed that the rights of minorities are protected by the Constitution. It makes no difference how many students want prayer or wouldn't be offended by prayer at their graduation ceremony.
The school district has assured FFRF that it will adhere to the First Amendment.
"Our obligation to maintain a status of religious neutrality is communicated to our staff at all levels on a regular basis and I am, by copy of this letter, reminding our building principal on the importance of maintaining this status at all school functions," Thorne responded. "We will continue in our efforts to meet those obligations."
FFRF has ensured that a senior center in Grants, N.M., will be serving prayer-free meals from here on out.
A concerned member of the Cibola Senior Center informed FFRF that the federally funded institution was instructing its members to pray before receiving meals. Although the center was not directly coercing members to comply with the practice, staff members were singling out individuals who did not pray. This created a divisive atmosphere that ostracized those who chose not to pray.
"Not only does permitting public prayer at these meals cause concern that the government is endorsing religion, it also violates our citizens' rights to be free from religious proselytizing," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in a letter to the center's director, Dorie Sandoval, on May 19. Sandoval responded on June 8, informing FFRF that the center had a policy against employees encouraging prayer that would be strictly adhered to.
A high school in Honea Path, S.C., has been reminded of its obligation to stay secular after it received a warning from FFRF over an unlawful prayer delivered to the school's wrestling team this past spring.
FFRF was informed that a local pastor was called to lead a prayer at a Belton-Honea Path High School awards event for the school's wrestling team. The pastor called upon Jesus Christ several times throughout the prayer, explicitly undermining the public school's duty to remain secular on matters regarding religion.
FFRF sent a letter on June 2 requesting that the school address and correct the violation. The school district superintendent, Richard Rosenberger, responded on June 7, informing FFRF that the Belton-Honea Path High School principal and athletic director were made aware of the constitutional breach. Rosenberger also informed FFRF that school district faculty would be given a legal briefing on religion in schools.
A North Carolina county senior center will adhere to federal regulations against religious worship after FFRF took action on a constitutional violation over pre-lunch prayers.
A concerned resident of Leon Mann Jr. Enrichment Center — based in Morehead City, N.C. — informed FFRF that a daily lunch prayer was occurring at the publicly funded facility. The prayer was being led by a former preacher, who was attending the center himself. Employees would quiet the crowd and encourage participation in the prayer while members of the center who did not wish to join in were being ostracized for their rejection of the religious ritual.
FFRF sent a letter on May 30 requesting that the center cease its prayers as regulations prohibit senior centers receiving federal funding from engaging in religious activities at government-sponsored functions, such as senior lunches. An attorney representing the center responded on June 6, informing FFRF that no coercion or endorsement of religion would take place at the Enrichment Center and that the prayer did not represent the center.
A Delaware school district agreed to comply with its constitutional obligation to remain neutral regarding religion in its June 5 graduation ceremony, after receiving a letter from FFRF requesting that it cancel scheduled prayers.
It was brought to FFRF's attention that the Woodbridge High School graduation ceremony had scheduled both an invocation and a benediction, and had done so in years past. FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote to Woodbridge School District Superintendent Heath Chasanov on June 1, informing him that the Supreme Court has ruled against prayers at public school events — which includes graduations.
Chasanov responded on June 5 with a copy of the commencement ceremony showing that the prayer had been removed.
FFRF successfully stopped prayers scheduled into yet another high school's graduation ceremony, this time in Elkins, Ariz.
Last spring, FFRF was informed that the Elkins High School 2016 graduation ceremony opened and closed with a Christian prayer. FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott a letter on June 26, 2016, to the school district, warning against the inclusion of prayer at future school-sponsored events.
Although FFRF did not receive a response from the district, the organization was informed on June 5 that there had been no prayers included in this past spring's 2017 graduation ceremony.
After it was brought to FFRF's attention that an award assembly at an Arizona high school had begun and ended with a Christian prayer, action was taken to ensure the public school remains secular.
During an award assembly this past spring at Harrison High School in Harrison, Ariz., a benediction was scheduled and delivered to students during school hours. FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to the Harrison School District on May 24, informing the superintendent that such school-sponsored religious activities violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Elliott requested that the school refrain from including inappropriate and unconstitutional prayers at future school events.
FFRF received a response May 30 from the interim superintendent, who wrote that all principals had been notified of the violation and assuring the organization that the violation will not occur anywhere in the school district again.
Thanks to FFRF, a school district in Willard, Mo., has adopted a policy to ensure that religion does not seep into future high school commencement addresses.
During Willard High School's graduation ceremony this past spring, religious remarks and a prayer were given by Willard Public Schools Superintendent Kent Medlin in his address to students. FFRF was informed that Medlin had quoted the bible several times, evangelized the audience by discussing his "savior" and asked the students and their families to pray along with him.
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to the school board on May 18 noting that Medlin is infamous for abusing his position of authority to promote his personal religious beliefs in the past. Elliott asked for steps to be taken by the district to comply with constitutional requirements that it remain neutral regarding religion.
An attorney representing the district wrote on May 25 to inform FFRF that the remarks had been against the board's policy. The district has altered its policy on graduation ceremonies to have the Board of Education review future commencement speeches.
Furthermore, the school board's policy on religious neutrality will be reviewed with all staff members during the orientation for the upcoming school year.
A high school wrestling coach in Wichita, Kan., has been reminded to stay in line with the First Amendment after he unconstitutionally led a prayer during a team banquet.
A concerned parent informed FFRF that, this past spring, the Wichita Northwest High School wrestling coach led a prayer for all attendees at the end-of-the-year school-sponsored banquet. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the school district on April 20 to inform school officials that such conduct endorses and promotes personal religious beliefs on behalf of a public school district — which is unconstitutional.
FFRF received notice on May 22 that the school district conducted an investigation into the violation. Several actions were taken to ensure that no promotion of religious belief reoccurs in the future. A newsletter will be sent out before the school year starts this upcoming fall reminding school principals of the constitutional prohibition against employee participation of prayer at school functions. The issue will also be discussed with the district's high school athletic directors.
After being informed of a prayer scheduled to take place at the Schley County Middle School graduation in Ellaville, Ga., FFRF raised its voice against the constitutional violation.
FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote to Superintendent Adam Hathaway on May 16 reminding him of the school district's obligation to remain neutral toward religion.
On May 18, FFRF received a response from a legal representative of the Schley County School District informing FFRF that no prayer would be scheduled to be part of the graduation ceremony, no prayer was referenced in the graduation program and seniors would not be required to remove their hats during the ceremony.
FFRF has successfully stopped the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department from promoting religion through its government email server.
FFRF was contacted by a local resident after an email to city employees was sent by IMPD Police Chief Bryan Roach in March promoting an event. The email concluded with a scripture verse for "encouragement and guidance." FFRF's Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne contacted Roach requesting assurance that bible verses would not be included in future emails.
FFRF received notice on May 16 that future emails sent from Roach's government email address would not include religious references.
An elementary school teacher in Stantonville, Ga., has been reminded of her constitutional obligation to keep her classroom secular.
A parent of an Echols County Elementary School student informed FFRF that a teacher at the school had a religious sign posted in her classroom which read, "Testing 101: When you are going through something hard and wonder where God is, remember the teacher is always quiet during a test. Trust in the Lord."
FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to an attorney representing the district, Brian Smith, on Dec. 23. Smith responded on May 15, informing FFRF that the district administration had spoken to the teacher regarding the violation and that the sign was removed. Smith also noted that the teacher had been counseled on her duty as a public school employee to remain neutral regarding religion.
Thanks to FFRF, a South Dakota high school kept its May graduation ceremony free of religious influence.
FFRF was informed that Clark High School in Clark, S.D., scheduled prayers by a Catholic priest into its graduation ceremony. The program had included both a Catholic invocation and a benediction as portions of the ceremony.
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to Clark School District Superintendent Luanne Warren on May 12, urging that the invocation and benediction be canceled and that all references to them be removed from the ceremony program. FFRF was informed on May 13, a day after the scheduled graduation date, that the ceremony was devoid of any religious undertones.
The Pasadena Independent School District in Texas has been warned not to allow religious speakers access to a captive audience of public school students for indoctrination.
The school district had hosted an in-school assembly during the school day featuring a speaker from the evangelical church, Go Tell Ministries. The group was permitted to strongly promote its April 8 Christian event, the "Bay Area Go Tell Crusade." The event was deceptively described to students as a "pizza night."
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent DeeAnn Powell on April 21. On May 12, an attorney representing the school district responded to Grover's letter informing FFRF that the district had been advised on its constitutional obligations related to religion and public schools. He noted that they anticipated no further violations.
FFRF took swift action after a student at Lakeview Middle School in The Colony, Texas, contacted the state-church watch group about a teacher requiring that he stand and participate in the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and Texas Pledge.
The student, who identifies as an atheist, objected to taking an oath "under God," wording present in the two pledges. The only way that the student would be allowed to opt out of the pledge would be by presenting a note from his parent or guardian allowing him to do so, which was not possible for the student.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to the Lewisville Independent School District Director of Legal Services Jeff Crownover on May 10 asking that the situation be investigated to ensure that teachers of the district were not violating the free speech rights of students. Crownover replied on May 12 that the student would be permitted to sit silently during the pledges of allegiance at school.
After hearing of multiple shocking constitutional violations occurring within the Wilson School District in Pennsylvania, FFRF took action to warn the district of its duty to keep religion out of its public schools.
FFRF was made aware that Wilson Southern Middle School was regularly advertising religious events. A bible study was being hosted by two Wilson Southern Middle School teachers before school. Teachers handed out flyers promoting the bible study, which was advocated for in the morning announcements. A Christian "See You at The Pole" event was also featured in the school's announcements. And sixth-graders were sent to Camp Swatara Church of the Brethren, a Christian camp.
FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Superintendent Curt Baker on March 2. On May 11, district administration responded that the issues FFRF raised had been investigated and that the district had taken the necessary steps to address the violations.
Thanks to FFRF, the city of Winter Haven, Fla., ended its endorsement of religion through the annual Mayor's Prayer Breakfast in May.
It was brought to FFRF's attention that Mayor Steven Hunnicutt planned on hosting the annual Mayor's Prayer Breakfast to recognize the National Day of Prayer on May 4. The conspicuous religious event was being promoted through the official Winter Haven Facebook page, Twitter account and in the city's e-newsletter. Moreover, tickets for the event were being managed and sold through the city clerk's office.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to the Winter Haven commissioners on April 28. On May 8, City Attorney Frederick Murphy responded, writing that the city had taken measures to ensure that its conduct regarding the prayer breakfast was in compliance with the First Amendment.
A religious poster has been taken off display in Hillcrest High School, in Ammon, Ind. The framed poster of "A Wrestler's Prayer" was hanging on one of the teacher's classroom walls.
FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell sent a letter to Bonneville Joint School District No. 93 Superintendent Charles Shackett, informing the school district that it is a violation of the Constitution to display religious symbols or messages. Public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion.
FFRF received a response from Shackett on May 8, explaining that the Hillcrest High School principal had met with the specified public school employee concerning his wrestling poster and had reviewed the complaint with him. The teacher immediately removed the poster from his classroom wall and placed it in his vehicle to take home.
Revelations Yogurt in Edmonds, Wash. will no longer be dishing up its party room free to church groups after FFRF contacted the establishment over its religious discrimination.
FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote to the Revelations Yogurt management on April 27, after a customer gave FFRF the scoop on the business' tasteless deal promotions. The establishment charges $25 for all other nonprofit organizations for use of the party room.
The store manager informed FFRF on May 5 that she had been unaware of the violation and had removed the discounts from the website and store poster in response to Cavell's letter.
An evangelical group will no longer be invading Liberty High School in Frisco, Texas, after FFRF got involved with the state-church violation.
A parent of a student in the school district informed FFRF that members of Gideons International were permitted to enter the school's cafeteria during the lunch period to distribute bibles. FFRF was told that the Gideons were proselytizing rather aggressively, forcing bibles onto reluctant students.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Liberty Independent School District Superintendent Cody Abshier on April 24 to ensure that the shocking and illegal bible distribution would not take place in the future.
FFRF received a response on May 4 from Abshier, who wrote that the district had spoken with some staff about the troubling incident. Abshier assured FFRF that there would be training this summer to address the concern districtwide.
A teacher at Texas' Fannin Middle School will be promoting science rather than Christianity, thanks to FFRF's action.
Eric Sheen, an eighth-grade science teacher at the school, had been promoting anti-science curriculum and Christian propaganda. A concerned parent had informed FFRF that Sheen had showed his class a video clip from Ben Stein's pro-intelligent design film "No Intelligence Allowed," and made repeated references to students about his personal Christian faith. Sheen regularly encouraged students to embrace religion themselves, citing his personal "life-changing" experience with letting God into his life.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Amarillo Independent School District Superintendent Dana West on April 7, informing the district that teaching creationism or any of its offshoots, such as intelligent design, in a public school is unlawful.
In a response on May 3, FFRF was assured that the situation had been investigated and thoroughly addressed.
Students at John B. Sliney Elementary School in Branford, Conn., will no longer be forced to sing religious songs after FFRF raised its voice in opposition.
It was brought to FFRF's attention that the school's music teacher, Ted Samodel, had been teaching spiritual songs to students. A concerned parent informed FFRF that her child was brought to the auditorium to listen to older students rehearsing for their music class.
One of the songs being performed was "Angels Watching Over Me," which contains pious lyrics.
FFRF Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter to Bradford Public Schools Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez on Feb. 9 requesting that Samodel be instructed to stop teaching young, impressionable students religious hymns.
Hernandez informed FFRF in a letter on May 3 that the district had addressed the issue with the music teacher and gave assurance that the situation would not occur again.
FFRF took action after being informed that a high school in Pierson, Fla., had scheduled a graduation ceremony at a church.
A member of the Volusia County School District informed FFRF that the T. Dewitt Taylor Middle-High School official website encouraged graduating seniors to attend a baccalaureate at the Community Christian Assembly. The invitation was deceivingly made to appear as if the religious event was a requirement for graduation.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to School Board Attorney Michael Dyer on April 10 denouncing the inappropriate level of school involvement in the religious ceremony.
On May 1, FFRF was informed by a district representative that the school would not sponsor the baccalaureate and that no school employee would be involved in the organization, planning or coordination of the services. FFRF was also assured that the event would not be advertised as being encouraged.
McKinney North High School in Texas has been given a secular makeover after FFRF was informed of religious symbols and messages decorating the walls of hallways and classrooms in the school. These messages included a football poster with a biblical quote, a varied collection of crosses, an advertisement for a Christian club, and a large assortment of Latin crosses next to white boards, over entrances to classrooms and behind teachers' desks.
On April 12, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover reminded the school district attorney, Charles Crawford, of a letter FFRF sent last year to the district outlining why Latin crosses and religious messages are impermissible displays by public school employees. Since the district's employees clearly did not follow through with removing the displays, Grover requested additional assurance that the recurring issue would be, at last, resolved.
On May 1, Crawford responded to Grover's letter informing FFRF that the district superintendent would address the displays.
FFRF has taken on All Pro Dad, a religious organization, once again, this time at a Georgia elementary school.
A concerned parent of a student in the Barrow County School System contacted FFRF about the promotion of All Pro Dad events at Statham Elementary School through the school's website. The website directed visitors to a page that included religious messages and to an online shop that included T-shirts reading, "Pray and Worship Together" and "All Pro Dad."
FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler, who sent a letter to the school district on March 31, noted that this religious promotion created an unnecessary wedge between students of the school. A response was received on April 25 from the superintendent informing FFRF that all mentions of the All Pro Dad program would be removed from the school calendar and that no school resources would be used to promote the program.
A huge prayer display has been removed from a Wisconsin police station thanks to FFRF intervening on behalf of the Constitution.
A concerned area resident contacted FFRF to report that the Onalaska Police Department had a large religious display on the wall of a public room in a local police station.
It is laudable for the police department to recognize the challenges officers face and to promote compassion and courage in law enforcement. But these sentiments should not be couched in the religious message that a god should be the officers' "guide" in their work, and is responsible for their success and safety, FFRF asserted.
"Displaying 'A Police Officer's Prayer' in the police station demonstrates a preference for religion over nonreligion on behalf of the Onalaska Police Department," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Onalaska Police Chief Jeffrey Trotnic in January. "By endorsing belief in a god, the Onalaska Police Department sponsors a religious message, which is 'impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to . . . nonadherents'" that they are not full members of the political community, to quote the U.S. Supreme Court.
Citizens interact with and rely on law enforcement officers during some of the most urgent and vulnerable times of their lives, FFRF reminded Trotnic. The Onalaska Police Department's religious display conveyed a message to nonreligious citizens that they weren't favored members of the political community. Law enforcement must be even-handed and avoid any appearance of bias toward some citizens or hostility toward others.
FFRF requested that the prayer display be removed immediately. The Onalaska Police Department recently informed FFRF that it has acceded to the organization's request.
"Dear Mr. Jayne: The item in question has been removed," Trotnic wrote back.
Religious leaders will no longer be permitted to prey upon school children for proselytization in Montana's Missouri's Forsyth R-III Schools after FFRF raised alarm.
It was brought to FFRF's concern that a youth minister, Jeffrey Barrikman, from First Baptist Church, was given special access to students at Forsyth Middle School. Barrikman had been allowed onto school grounds as a "visitor," a privilege he used to sit and speak with children during lunch. Back in 2015, the district had been put on notice of similar recruitment tactics by First Baptist Church.
On March 31, FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott cautioned the school district against its unconstitutional endorsement of First Baptist Church and allowance of evangelization during the lunch period.
"This predatory conduct is inappropriate and should raise many red flags," Elliott wrote to Superintendent Jeff Mingus.
Mingus responded on April 7 informing FFRF that adjustments had been made to ensure that school visitors do not violate the separation of religion and school.
A California high school soccer coach will be keeping his hands and blessings off athletes after FFRF blew the whistle on the constitutional foul.
It was brought to FFRF's attention by a concerned community member that the coach was leading his players in prayer before games, which involved the "laying of hands" ritual.
FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Los Banos Unified School District Acting Superintendent Dean Bubar on March 24. After receiving Ziegler's letter, the district looked into the matter and discussed the First Amendment violation with the coach. Bubar wrote to inform FFRF on March 30 that the coach assured the district he would refrain from promoting or participating in religious rituals during the next soccer season.
FFRF and the Center For Inquiry were informed by a local resident of Alto, Mich., of an unconstitutional cross memorial monument at Alto Veterans Park.
The memorial displayed a black cutout of a soldier kneeling and a Christian cross.
FFRF Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert and CFI Vice President Nicholas Little wrote to the Alto Downtown Development Authority to express concern over the religious display to honor all veterans, especially when 25 percent of military personnel identify as atheist or agnostic.
Markert and Little pointed out that the memorial sent out a message that the government only cares about the deaths of Christian soldiers and not non-Christian or nonreligious soldiers.
The organizations were informed on March 29 that the memorial had been removed and would not be reinstalled.
Two teachers at Jones-Wheat Elementary School in Georgia's Decatur County Schools District will no longer be teaching students to pray after FFRF got involved.
A concerned parent contacted FFRF to report that their child had recited prayers at home that they had learned in school. It was discovered that multiple teachers at the school had been engaging in the prayer practice resulting in the indoctrination of schoolchildren.
FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler contacted Decatur County Schools Superintendent Tim Cochran on January 18.
After receiving Ziegler's letter, FFRF was informed that Cochran held a meeting with all district administrators to remind each employee of the prohibitions on religious expression set forth by the Establishment Clause.
Thanks to FFRF, a Colorado public high school's digital marquee will no longer display advertisements for Orchard Church.
Since 2012, Prairie View High School has permanently displayed the sign promoting a Christian message. It was donated by the church as a way of showcasing the unconstitutional partnership between the school and Orchard Church.
For years, the high school has allowed the church to use its building for religious services, and now the church plans to strengthen this alliance by building its own facility next door.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to School District 27J Superintendent Chris Fiedler on March 1.
District General Council Janet K. Wyatt responded on March 20 that the sign listing Orchard Church activities would no longer be displayed starting in March and that all references to Orchard Church would be removed from the sign once the school year ends in May.
Two instances of unconstitutional religious promotion by staff in California's Del Norte County Unified School District were brought to FFRF's attention.
A weekly bulletin distributed to staff at Del Norte High School and put on display in the school's hallway contained a religious saying at the end which read: "Your talent is God's gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God." FFRF was also informed that at the district's Bess Maxwell Elementary School, a cafeteria worker had handed out pencils to students on Valentine's Day with notes attached reading "Jesus [heart]'s You and I Do Too!"
FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Del Norte County USD Superintendent Jeff Harris on March 17.
Harris wrote back that day, informing FFRF that the high school principal had dealt with the religious wording in the bulletin and that the district administration was addressing the inappropriate gift given out on Valentine's Day.
Starting this spring, the Bradbury Science Museum in New Mexico will show a new film to replace a movie that unnecessarily endorsed religion and distorted historical fact.
FFRF was informed by several concerned citizens across the country of religious imagery in a movie being shown at the Bradbury Science Museum, which is a part of a government-run laboratory. The movie, "The Town that Never Was," displays religious iconography and prayers to Catholic deities in its first two minutes, apparently to contrast Catholicism with the Nazi regime.
"The clumsy attempt at contrast is a distraction that happens to endorse religion in an inappropriate manner," wrote Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker to Bradbury Science Museum Director Linda Deck in November 2016.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a follow-up letter to Linda Deck on Feb. 21 asking for the religious imagery to be edited out. Deck responded on March 14 that a more appropriate history film would replace "The Town that Never Was."
Promotion of false, creationist "science" will no longer be undermining the education of students in the Rusk Independent School District in Texas.
A concerned school district community member brought it to FFRF's attention that the Rusk Junior High School principal had gathered students in the school auditorium in the middle of the school day to view an anti-evolution video. The video featured religious arguments against objective scientific information about the process of evolution. One such argument was that whales could not have evolved to survive deep water pressures and that, therefore, the biblical god must have been the creator.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote on Feb. 23 to inform the district that it is illegal for the public school to teach students creationism, intelligent design or any other religiously based story as an alternative to evolution.
Rusk ISD Superintendent Scott Davis wrote back on March 13 informing FFRF that the situation had been investigated and the high school's principal had been directed to cease showing creationist videos.
The Matagorda County Sheriff's Department in Texas will no longer be posting religious messages online after FFRF stepped in.
A local county resident informed FFRF that the department had regularly been posing religious messages, such as bible verses and prayers, on its Facebook page. While the posts were prompted by the untimely deaths of two department employees, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover informed Sheriff Frank Osborne and the department in a letter sent Feb. 8 that public endorsement of religion was an inappropriate way to mourn the tragic events.
Osborne replied on March 6 informing FFRF that the deputy who ran the Facebook page containing the religious posts had been asked to discontinue the site.
Florida's Walton County School District put an end to classroom prayers in its public elementary school after FFRF got involved.
A concerned district family informed FFRF that a teacher at West DeFuniak Elementary was imposing prayer on her third-grade class. The year before, the teacher had been doing the same with her second-grade class. FFRF was told that she was lining her students up against a wall to sanitize their hands and then praying with them before lunch. When the family addressed the concern with the school principal, she failed to take action.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter Feb. 28 to WCSD Superintendent Russell Hughes.
Hughes responded on March 3 that he would begin the recommended investigation. FFRF was later informed that classroom prayers had ended.
A teacher at a Texas public high school will no longer be evangelizing students by forcing them to listen to religious music in her class, thanks to FFRF's involvement.
A concerned student contacted FFRF about a teacher at the Trenton High School who would broadcast a Christian playlist from Spotify over loudspeakers in the classroom. FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to the school district to ensure that the district not allow its employees promote their personal religious beliefs to students during the school day.
"It is inappropriate for a public school teacher to promote religion during class, regardless of whether that promotion is part of a lesson plan," wrote Grover to Trenton Independent School District Superintendent Rick Foreman on Feb. 28.
Foreman responded on March 1 informing FFRF that the situation had been investigated and the teacher had agreed to stop playing Christian music immediately.
Faculty in a Texas school district will no longer be weaseling Christianity into its curriculum after FFRF attorneys took action.
Mark Sevarino, biology teacher at McKinney North High School, had distributed a written assignment to students setting up two sides of a debate about whether to teach creationism in science classes. The handout used creationist rhetoric and introduced students to common creationist beliefs.
In a letter to the district on Feb. 7, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover informed the school district that attempts to smuggle religion into science classrooms as "alternative theories" had failed in court.
"Courts have consistently held that creationism is a religious concept without scientific merit," wrote Grover. "We worry that Sevarino is similarly attempting to present creationism as a viable scientific alternative to evolution through a classroom assignment."
Grover went on to express FFRF's concern over an advertisement to parents for a private religious ministry program which had been distributed via email by a school district staff member.
Crawford responded on Feb. 21 to inform FFRF that Mr. Sevarino's assignment was intended to be in line with curricular goals and not to advance a religious message. The district also took action to ensure that no staff member would promote an exclusively religious event in the future.
A Christian organization won't be allowed to continue proselytizing students during lunch hours at schools in the Baldwin County School District in Georgia after FFRF got involved.
FFRF was informed that members of Young Life, a religious organization whose mission involves "introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith," had been permitted to attend lunches at Oak Middle School and Baldwin High School. During the lunches, members of the group would befriend students and recruit them for club meetings. These were "WyldLife" meetings, a group with the goal of converting students to Christianity.
FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Baldwin County School District Superintendent Noris Price on Nov. 23, 2016, to voice FFRF's objection to the unique access the Christian ministers were given to evangelize students during the school day on school property.
On Feb. 16, the district's attorney office responded to inform FFRF that the school district administration had talked to the members of Young Life, who had been voluntarily tutoring students, to tell them they are not to discuss religion during tutoring sessions.
Students at a Texas school will not be coerced into receiving bibles as part of a misinformed lesson on "free speech" after FFRF contacted the College Station Independent School District about the constitutional violation.
It was brought to FFRF's attention that a social studies teacher at Oakwood Intermediate School had announced to students that the class would be participating in the springtime Gideon bible distribution to learn about the First Amendment. The activity was to involve walking off of school property to a crosswalk where the Gideons would be handing out bibles. The students would be given a "choice" whether to take a bible before returning to class.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to school district Superintendent Clark Ealy on Jan. 26 to ensure that the teacher would not be permitted to illegally facilitate a bible distribution while representing the district.
On Feb. 15, Oakwood Principal Josh Symank wrote back to assure FFRF that "under no circumstance" would the teacher be taking students to receive bibles. He also informed FFRF that he would be discussing the incident with the entire campus during an upcoming faculty meeting to guarantee that all staff understand and comply with the constitutional separation between church and state.
Furthermore, Symank wrote that his administrative team would be stationed on the day of the bible distribution to make sure that no students escorted by faculty would meet with the Gideons.
FFRF reminded the Lewisville Independent School District in Texas that employees must not endorse their personal spiritual beliefs to students through religious displays.
A community member informed FFRF that a cross was visibly hanging in a classroom of Arbor Creek Middle School promoting the teacher's Christian views to students. On Feb. 8, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to the school district's superintendent, Kevin Rogers, asking that the cross be removed.
Lewisville ISD's legal director called to inform FFRF on Feb. 13 that the cross had been removed from the classroom.
FFRF learned that coaches in Texas' Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District were illegally participating in prayers with its student-athletes.
Coaches from Byron P. Steele II High School, Samuel Clemens High School and Ray D. Corbett Junior High School had engaged in prayers.
Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent Greg Gibson on Jan. 25 to inform the school district that it is illegal for public school coaches to organize or participate in prayer with their teams.
Gibson responded on Feb. 9 that he worked with the athletic director and health educator to schedule training for all coaches on complying with the Constitution.
FFRF has dissuaded a Virginia city’s park and rec department from hosting a trip to the infamous “Ark Park” and creationist museum.
A resident informed FFRF that the Christiansburg Parks and Recreation Department was arranging a visit in early April to the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum in Kentucky. The excursion was advertised on the city’s website.
FFRF urged the city to refrain from organizing an outing to such overtly religious sites, and the city responded within a couple of days.
“Please be advised that the trip has been cancelled and will be removed from the town of Christiansburg’s website,” the city’s legal counsel wrote.
The Ark Encounter is a Christian ministry run by the creationist Ken Ham, who also built the Creation Museum. Ham has been open about the proselytizing nature of his projects right since the beginning.
“We are eagerly approaching what I believe will be a historic moment in Christendom,” he stated in a 2016 letter outlining his motive. “It’s the opening of the one of the greatest Christian outreaches of our era."
FFRF was informed that a statue of an angel with its hands clasped in prayer had been put up in a public park in Kokomo, Ind. The display conferred government endorsement of Christianity over all other faiths or no faith.
FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to the Kokomo Parks and Recreation Department's superintendent on June 3, 2015, asking that the statue be removed from the park or to a more private location.
After several follow-ups, FFRF was informed on Feb. 6 of this year that the statue had been removed by the city park department's new superintendent.
FFRF took action to end a partnership between the Decatur Public Schools District in Illinois and two local churches after learning of a constitutional violation.
The school district had partnered with Glad Tidings Church and Tabernacle Baptist Church for six half-day retreats at the churches. FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to the district's administrators on Dec. 21, 2016, reminding them that public schools may not advance or promote religion.
The school district's attorney contacted FFRF early this February to inform the organization that the partnership program with the churches had been suspended and cancelled for the next year.
A Florida judge says a prayer lawsuit against a high school athletic league should be tossed out. FFRF filed an amicus brief in the case.
U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Amanda Arnold Sansone issued a Feb. 3 recommendation to dismiss a case brought by Cambridge Christian School against the Florida High School Athletic Association. The First Liberty Institute, a theocratic group, filed the suit in September, arguing that the association was mandated to allow Cambridge Christian to deliver a Christian prayer over the PA system at state championship events. Sansone found that Cambridge Christian's request for a preliminary injunction should be denied and its suit should be dismissed.
In Louisiana, the Caldwell Parish High School football team's coaches have been warned not to promote religion to the team in the future.
FFRF was informed that a coach had been taking the team to church. The coach had also been exposing the athletes to religious movies and music. The coach had described his efforts to indoctrinate student-athletes into Christianity as "faith-based team building."
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent John Gullatt on Sept. 16, 2016, about the violations.
The school district's attorney responded in writing to FFRF on Feb. 1, that the coaches had been reminded of the district's policies against religious promotion.
An Illinois school district has confirmed to FFRF that its staff members will not remain involved in a school gospel choir.
FFRF initially contacted the Oak Park and River Forest High in December after a local community member informed the organization that there was a gospel choir at the school being led by the school's outreach coordinator.
"It is wholly inappropriate for a public school to teach its students songs of Christian worship," FFRF's Elaine and Eric Stone Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Interim Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams on Jan. 23. In a letter received on Jan. 25, the district informed FFRF that it would adhere to the law.
A parent with a child in Victoria School District in Texas contacted FFRF to report instances of religious promotion at Ella Schorlemmer Elementary School. A Christian prayer was part of the school's Veterans Day celebration and a teacher at the elementary school incorporated religious worksheets into a lesson plan.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent Robert Jaklich on Dec. 22, 2016, asking that the school district refrain from including religious rituals during public school assemblies and that teachers not incorporate religious instruction or devotional teachings into their lesson plans.
Jaklich responded on Jan. 24 that steps had been taken to ensure that the violations would not recur.
An Indiana school district has pledged to FFRF that it will not permit the distribution of fundamentalist flyers to its students.
A resident contacted FFRF to inform it that staff at Yankeetown Elementary School in Newburgh, Ind., were distributing ultrareligious flyers to third- and fourth-grade female students. The handouts were a description of POP Girls ("Pearls Of Purity"), a Christian ministry promoting the "wisdom of Christ."
FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Warrick County Schools Superintendent Brad Schneider on Jan. 20, cautioning the school district about disseminating such material.
"This flyer should not have been approved and we will put steps in place to prevent objectionable flyers to slip through the cracks in the future," Schneider responded on Jan. 24. "You have my word that flyers of this nature will not be distributed home in the future."
Educators at Grant County Schools in Kentucky have been reminded of their responsibility to uphold the First Amendment's requirement that they not proselytize religion.
FFRF was alerted to a published nativity display in the high school's newsletter, accompanied with the phrase "Merry Christmas." FFRF Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Superintendent Donald Ruberg on Jan. 17, asking that the school refrain from including religious iconography in their newsletters and that staff be reminded of their constitutional duty to remain neutral toward religion.
On Jan. 19, the attorney for Grant County Schools communicated that the superintendent would meet with the school district's principals and let them know that the newsletter nativity was inappropriate and why.
The city of Zachary, La., has changed its rules to ensure that its annual "Mayor's Prayer Breakfast" will no longer violate the First Amendment by receiving city endorsement.
The city's website promoted the annual breakfast as a "Christian event," which was held in a church. FFRF's Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Mayor David Amrhein on Dec. 16, 2016, informing him that the event violated the Constitution.
Amrhein responded on Jan. 17 with a list of changes that the city would make in future prayer breakfasts to avoid city endorsement. Amrhein informed FFRF that the event would take place at a non-city facility, not use city resources or funds, not require mandatory attendance by city employees and not be mentioned on the city's website.
An Illinois school district has apologized to FFRF for a coach's participation in prayer gatherings at school events.
On Dec. 26, 2016, after a basketball game between Vandalia Community High School and Pana High School, Coach Brian Buscher took part in a prayer circle with students of both teams.
In a letter sent on Jan. 11 to Vandalia Community Unit School District #203 Superintendent Rich Well, FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne reminded him that it is illegal for public school coaches to lead, organize or participate in prayers with their students.
"Please accept our apology," Well emailed back a few days after receiving FFRF's letter. "Our Varsity Boys Basketball Coach Brian Buscher has been notified that no coaches are allowed to participate."
An Auburn, Ala., elementary school assured FFRF that it will not be promoting Christianity or a religious group.
Dean Road Elementary School distributed flyers and used social media postings to promote "All Pro Dad" events, which the school was hosting throughout the school year. All Pro Dad is a group that promotes "family values," along with Christian prayer and worship.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover first wrote to Auburn City Schools Superintendent Karen DeLano on July 16, 2015, about the unlawful flyers. After several interactions, an attorney representing the school district replied to FFRF on Jan. 12 that there would not be any promotion or endorsement by the school of a religious organization.
Religious artwork hanging on the office wall of Bob Miller Middle School in Henderson, Nev., has been taken down after FFRF took action on a complaint.
The organization received a report that a cross and a reference to Jesus were being displayed on the BMMS Dean of Students' office wall. FFRF's Patrick O'Reiley Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to School District General Counsel Carlos McDade on Dec. 22, 2016, asking that the Christian iconography be taken down.
McDade responded in a letter to FFRF on Jan. 11 writing that the employee had removed the displays of religious symbolism.
FFRF was able to get the Upper Arlington City Council in Ohio to amend its rules to comply with the Constitution.
FFRF received a complaint that the council was having government officials lead invocations at the beginning of its meetings when a local minister was not present. FFRF Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to City Council President Donald Leach on Dec. 6, 2016, informing him that not only is prayer at government meetings unnecessary and divisive, but it is illegal for officials to lead prayers at government meetings.
FFRF received a response from City Attorney Jamie Hummer on Jan. 6, who wrote that the council amended their rules to state that neither council members or employees are permitted to conduct the prayer.
A nativity display was removed from an Ohio public high school's property after FFRF took action.
It was brought to FFRF's attention that a December nativity scene had been put up for the second year in a row at Buckeye Local High School in Rayland. FFRF Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert informed district officials on Dec. 20, 2016, that the display was unconstitutional because it signaled that the school district preferred Christianity over all other faiths or no religion.
Interim Superintendent Scott Celestin informed FFRF on Dec. 28 that the nativity scene had been taken down after receiving Markert's letter.
A community member contacted FFRF to report that a radio in the front office of Osceola (Wis.) Intermediate School regularly played a Christian station loudly enough for everyone passing by to hear. The station was St. Paul-based 98.5 KTIS, which describes itself as a "ministry" that "communicat[es] God's message in the Twin Cities" in order "to lead people to Christ and nurture believers in their faith through Christ-centered media."
FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Osceola School District Supertintendent Mark Luebker with FFRF's concerns, and the district complied.
"Effective Jan. 1, 2017, the Osceola Intermediate School office will refrain from playing 98.5 KTIS or other religious programming while students or parents are present," Luebker responded.
On behalf of a local resident, FFRF recently wrote to the North Carolina town of Butner objecting to a nativity scene in a public park that had been placed there for years around Christmas. It was a large exhibit prominently displayed across from the Butner Town Hall that featured figurines and lights illuminating it at night.
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to Butner Mayor Vicky Cates about the violation, and the town responded.
The town has sent FFRF an official acknowledgement of the removal of the nativity scene.
Teachers at an elementary school in Guilford, Maine, have been reminded of their constitutional duty to not promote religion in their public roles as educators.
FFRF received notice that a third-grade teacher at Piscataquis Community Elementary School had handed out a coloring page depicting a pious turkey with wording that read, "Thank You God for everything — for family, friends and fun — but most of all for Jesus, My Savior and Your Son."
FFRF sent a letter to Superintendent Ann Kirkpatrick on Dec. 21, 2016, who responded a month later that the matter had been investigated, and that the teachers understood their obligation to refrain from any religious promotion in the classroom.
In December 2015, a nativity scene was on display at a publicly owned manor in Wadena, Minn. The manor is owned and managed by the Wadena Housing and Redevelopment Authority and funded in part by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott contacted the housing authority to inform it of the constitutional violation.
FFRF's local complainant reported this past December that the nativity scene was not put back on display during the holiday season.
FFRF contacted Wayne City Community Unit School District #100 in October to object to a posting on Wayne City High School's Facebook account about a "Bring Your Bible to School" day. The announcement gave a location (school library), time and day to meet and "pray over the day."
FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Superintendent Jeff Mitchell and pointed out that such an announcement violated the constitutional separation of church and state.
The Wayne City school district has promised to prevent any future misuse of its social media.
Cross removed (no official response; complainant emailed STG on December 6, 2016 to let him know that the cross was removed)
In mid-December, FFRF was able to persuade the city of Longview, Texas, to remove a cross from a Texas fire station's lawn in front of the station's sign. After FFRF heard from an area resident, Grover wrote to Longview Fire Chief J.P. Steelman about the violation. City officials then told the fire department to remove the cross.
"A cross that caused a stir when it was erected a year ago as part of a Longview fire station's Christmas display went up again this year — until city officials asked firefighters to remove it," the Longview News-Journal reports.
"It's our practice to follow what case law has shown throughout the United States," city spokesperson Shawn Hara told the paper. "So that is to not display on our city-owned property displays that are specifically sectarian — things like the cross."
A football coach in Michigan's Millington Community School district will no longer be participating in or leading prayer with student-athletes after FFRF blew the whistle on the unlawful violations.
It was brought to FFRF's attention that after a November football game hosted by Millington High School against Detroit Central High School, both teams joined each other on the field to pray together. This prayer involved Millington head coach Roger Bearss.
FFRF Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert informed Millington Community Schools Superintendent Bruce Martin that it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer or to permit someone else to.
Martin informed FFRF that the situation had been discussed with Bearss, who had been made aware of the church and state violation regarding coach participating in prayer with student-athletes.
A Christian flag displayed in an office window at Stephen F. Austin State University has been removed after FFRF raised concerns.
The flag displayed the image of the Latin cross, the global symbol for Christianity, and was visibly hanging in the office window of the university's processing coordinator for admissions, Dorinda Byly. FFRF's Grover contacted the university president about the constitutional violation in the university's expression of favoritism for Christianity above other religions or no religion.
FFRF received notice on Dec. 16 from General Counsel Damon Derrick that the flag had been removed from the window.
Coaches in an Arkansas public school district will no longer be promoting personal religious beliefs after FFRF presented video evidence of a Harmony Grove School District football coach and a team chaplain leading his team in prayer before a game.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent Daniel Henley, informing him of the dual constitutional violations of district staff praying with students and athletic team chaplains in a public school setting.
In reply, Henley claimed that the prayer had been organized by a student-
athlete and that the coaches did not organize or participate in the prayer. Grover then presented two pieces of video evidence clearly displaying a pastor leading the players and coaches in a team prayer.
On Dec. 12, Henley stated in an email that, after reviewing the video evidence, he had met with the district's athletic director and head football coach and had been assured that coach-led prayer would cease.
FFRF was informed that the annual Gun & Knife Show in Cumberland County, Tenn., which is co-sponsored by the county, included an advertisement for free admission this past summer for anyone presenting a church bulletin. This kind of discount violates the federal Civil Rights Act.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Mayor Kenneth Carey, Jr., who was also the chair of the County Commission.
Carey responded in December, telling FFRF that he spoke with the facility manager to ensure this discriminatory promotion would not be used at future events.
An Alabama school district will have its staff undergo training to reacquaint them with constitutional principles.
FFRF contacted the Blount County School District in November 2016, after a parent at Hayden Primary School informed it that a second-grade teacher there asks the "class leader" of the day to lead a prayer when the class lines up for lunch.
FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Blount County Schools Superintendent Rodney Green
The school district proved to be very responsive to FFRF's concerns.
"We have every reason to believe that our teachers in the Blount County System understand what the law requires," the school district's legal counsel replied. "However, Superintendent Green advises he and his staff will conduct professional development with Blount County teachers in January 2017 on board policy and the Establishment Clause."
During the 2015 holiday season, the Roopville Elementary School in Georgia posted a religious message on its marquee, reading, "For God so loved the world, He sent his only Son. Merry Christmas."
FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Superintendent Phillip Hartley to ask that he ensure that the school is aware of the constitutional prohibition of displays of religious messages in public schools.
Hartley replied on Dec. 9, informing FFRF that he had discussed the requirements with the principal and assistant superintendent.
It was brought to FFRF's attention that the Gulfport (Miss.) School District staff was regularly propagating their personal religious belief to students in the public school. Several counselors had been handing out Christian-based informative packets to students, and every week staff members held a bible study with students.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent Glen East to complain about the multiple violations. FFRF's complainant reported that the district had complied with FFRF's request by removing posters advertising religion, ceasing to pass out Christian materials during school hours and ending bible study sessions.
A Centerville, Ga., resident contacted FFRF to report a city-owned recycling center displaying a sign reading, "Pray for our nation." The sign was in full view for anyone using the center.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Centerville City Clerk Krista Bedingfield, and City Attorney Rebecca Tydings wrote back to inform him that the sign had been removed from the recycling center.
A concerned community member in the Camden County School District in Georgia informed FFRF that district employees had involved themselves in a religious student club at the high school and middle school. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes was meeting before school on Tuesdays with district employees and outside adults leading, regularly attending and participating in the meetings, in violation of the Equal Access Act.
FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Camden County Schools Superintendent William Hardin to remind him that public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion.
Hardin wrote back on Dec. 6, informing FFRF that he had discussed the constitutional violations with the principals of both schools.
Adults in the Sarasota County School District in Florida organized and participated in "See You at the Pole" events put on by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at county schools in November. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel contacted Superintendent Lori White about the violation.
White wrote back on Dec. 6 informing FFRF that she had instructed district administrators to remind the school principals not to allow staff promotion of religion in the schools through student clubs.
FFRF's persistent efforts persuaded an Indiana school district to remove prayer from the local high school's graduation ceremony.
Jennings County High School in North Vernon, Ind., had prayers as part of its graduation ceremonies in both 2015 and 2016. FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Jennings County Schools Superintendent Terry Sargent about the violation.
Initially, Jennings County Schools replied in a legalistic manner, but after FFRF sent a number of follow-up letters, it did the right thing.
"Please be advised that Jennings County School Corporation will no longer incorporate prayer as an official aspect of any program," the school district's legal counsel writes in a recent letter.
After FFRF's involvement, Madisonville High School in Texas has made changes to its spiritually discriminatory and unconstitutional apparel policy.
FFRF received a complaint from a student at the high school, who had been told by the school's vice principal, Kathleen Golden, to remove an inverted cross necklace and pentagram ring and was threatened with expulsion if he did not. Golden allegedly told the student that he should "practice his bloody religion somewhere else."
The school dress code had banned attire that could be interpreted as promoting or insinuating demonism, such as satanic symbols. Grover wrote to the Madisonville CISD informing the district that it could not draw a distinction between student religious expression and which religion they choose to express.
On Dec. 1, Madisonville High School Principal Heath Brown called to inform FFRF that the district would remove discriminatory language in its dress code.
After receiving a complaint that the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Montana's Rockwood School District was receiving special treatment in its advertising, FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler contacted Superintendent Eric Knost.
The club was given preferential treatment by being displayed on a permanent board at Eureka High School, a privilege that other clubs were not allowed.
Knost replied on Dec. 1 informing FFRF that Rockford school administrators would be reminded that religious-related student groups are not to be given preference over other noncurricular student groups.
FFRF has put an end to church advertising through an Oklahoma public school district after Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel contacted Superintendent Brad Overton.
A local district family informed FFRF that Cordell Public Schools had partnered with several local churches to provide school supplies to children. The churches were taking advantage of the school's charitable goal by using the partnership to recruit church members.
Overton wrote back, informing FFRF that changes had been made to the supplies distribution system to eliminate any religious endorsement.
Action was taken by FFRF after it was informed that Hartford (Kan.) High School's mandatory drunk-driving awareness assembly had opened with a prayer, led by the school's Athletic Christian Team sponsor Mike Watkins.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Superintendent Michael Argabright to inform him of the violation.
A response dated Nov. 30 informed FFRF that the principal of the building where the assembly had been held had addressed the issue with Watkins and that the prayer would not happen again.
The Gunter Independent School District in Texas has been educated on its obligation to uphold the Establishment Clause of the US. Constitution after violations made by staff members.
FFRF took action after receiving a report that a social studies teacher at Gunter High School, Kerry Clement, had shown his ninth-grade class the trailer for the 1991 movie "Not Without My Daughter" when teaching about Islam. Clement supplemented the trailer with statements that all Muslims have multiple wives and that they are "hateful" and "wife beaters." In contrast, Clement spent two days discussing Christianity with the class and teaching the tenets of Christianity as factual information by presenting a video about the miracles performed by Jesus in the bible.
Grover wrote to the school district asking it to ensure that its employees not promote religious beliefs in the classroom.
On Nov. 29, FFRF received a response from a firm representing Gunter ISD stating that Clement would ensure that all religions are represented in a historically and culturally accurate manner in the future. Christian ad removed
A sign advertising a Christian after-school program, Kids Beach Club, has been removed from the wall of Wester Elementary School in Texas after FFRF took action.
The sign, which read "Making Jesus cool at school!" had been permanently posted on the cafeteria wall of the public elementary school.
Grover expressed the FFRF's objection to the district's appearance of a government endorsement of a religious message to Lubbock Independent School District Berhel Robertson.
"When a school permanently displays a sign on its property advertising a Christian club, it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message," wrote Grover.
An attorney representing Lubbock ISD informed FFRF on Dec. 22 that the advertisement had been removed from the school and communicated that the district had agreed that it never should have been put up.
A Missouri high school basketball team will not continue to partner with a religious ministry in its summer camp program, thanks to FFRFs involvement.
FFRF was informed of a constitutional violation occurring in the Eldon School District after the high school basketball team announced that it would be partnering with Sports Crusaders to host summer athletic camps for fourth- through eighth-grade students.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent Matt Davis asking that the district end its school's partnership with the religious ministry.
On Nov. 23, an email from Davis was sent to FFRF informing the legal staff that he had visited with the basketball coach to ensure this legal violation would not happen again.
The city of Lakewood, Calif., will no longer be sponsoring a prayer breakfast held annually by the city's mayor.
A concerned city resident informed FFRF about an email that had been sent out inviting residents to congregate with Lakewood Mayor Jeff Piazza and the Lakewood City Council, along with a gathering of religious leaders and groups, in a "celebration of faith, unity and community spirit."
FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote to the city saying the event was a constitutional violation.
On Nov. 22, FFRF learned from the city manager that the city would no longer be sponsoring the prayer breakfast and that the breakfast would no longer be carried out in the name of the city.
FFRF complained last year about schools in Wake County, N.C., participating in the Apex Nativity Celebration, an annual Christmas festivity that a local Latter Day Saints church puts together. FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliot wrote to the legal counsel for the Wake County Public School System with his concerns.
After learning that the schools were still planning to participate, FFRF contacted the district's legal counsel again and requested further records. That did the trick. The schools pulled out.
"After continued review of the invitation under applicable legal standards, we regret to inform you that Wake County public school students will no longer be participating in this year's celebration," Cathy Moore, Wake County Public Schools deputy superintendent, wrote to event organizers in an email shared with FFRF.
After FFRF got involved, a Jehovah's Witness display with religious pamphlets has been removed from the side of a commuter bike path in Madison, Wis.
A concerned resident contacted FFRF to report a "sandwich board" display that was standing in Glenwood Park at the side of the bike path. The display held religious literature advertising the Jehovah's Witnesses Christian sect.
In a letter to the Parks Superintendent on Nov. 10, FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne informed the city of the display.
"This religious display stood as an advertisement to bikers and other users of the commuter path," wrote Jayne. "FFRF and our members are concerned that displays at this location will be a hindrance on others' use of the park and bike path."
FFRF received a response on Nov. 16 from the Department of Public Works Engineering Division City Engineer Robert Phillips, who wrote that the sign had been removed and was not permitted by the city.
Jumoke Academy, a public school in Connecticut, will be upholding its obligation to keep school and religion separate after a constitutional violation was reported by a school employee to FFRF.
The employee noticed that an academic assistant at the school was displaying a bible verse on her profile outside of one of the school's classrooms.
Managing Attorney Rebecca Markert informed the school board that the display was an unconstitutional display of religion, and especially inappropriate given that nearly 30 percent of Americans and 44 percent of Millennials are non-Christian, either practicing a minority religion or no religion.
"The display alienates those nonreligious students, families, teachers, and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the messages being promoted by the school," wrote Markert on June 24.
FFRF received a response on Nov. 7 from the charter school's executive director, Troy Monroe. Monroe wrote that the employee who had been displaying the bible verse had been met with and the religious display had been removed. Furthermore, Monroe informed FFRF that the school-based leadership team was informed of the expectations to ensure Jumoke Academy stays in compliance with the regulations involving the separation of church and state.
After FFRF's objection, two religious signs are no longer visible during school days at a public elementary school in Woodbridge, Va.
A community church in the town that rents the school building for its Sunday services was regularly leaving up signs promoting church services in front of Penn Elementary School. The signs were being displayed throughout the school week and were placed near the driveways to the school.
FFRF contacted Prince William County Public Schools Superintendent Steven Walts asking that action be taken to ensure the church signs would not be placed in front of Penn Elementary School.
FFRF was informed by the school system on Nov. 7 that the signs had been removed from school grounds.
Thanks to FFRF, the Vernon Independent School District in Texas has enacted policies to end the promotion of religious ideologies to students through film.
FFRF received a complaint that teachers in the school district had been promoting their personal religious beliefs to students during class through religious films. FFRF was informed that a teacher at Vernon Middle School had shown a class of sixth-graders the Christian drama film "God's Not Dead." Furthermore, FFRF was told that a former teacher at Vernon High School had shown numerous religious films to his Teen Leadership class.
Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Vernon ISD Superintendent Gary Harrell on Oct. 20 to ask that the district ensure that its employees do not use the classroom to evangelize.
"Teachers have access to a captive student audience due to their position as public educators," wrote Grover. "The district has a duty to prohibit religious proselytizing by teachers in the classroom."
In a response dated Oct. 26, the district told FFRF that the teachers who had shown religious films in class were no longer employed by the school district. The letter also informed FFRF that Vernon ISD had enacted policies to ensure that any film containing religious messages that was to be shown to students in the future would be approved by a campus principal.
A football coach at a public high school in Newton, Miss., will no longer be promoting his religious beliefs to student athletes after FFRF objected to the coach's baptism of one of his players.
Coach Ryan Smith reportedly organized and performed a baptism on one of his players in front of the Newton High School football team. Before the ritual, the coach had given religious remarks to the team promoting Christianity. This included telling his players how God was calling to him, what scripture teaches about being a man, and the importance of accepting Christ as a savior.
Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Newton Municipal School District Superintendent Virginia Young on Oct. 13 to ensure the school district investigated the situation. Grover reminded Young that public schools are not to advance or promote religion, nor are they to organize, sponsor, or lead religious activities at public high school events.
"Coach Smith's actions are especially problematic in the context of athletics, given the pressure players feel to conform to their coaches' expectations so as not to disappoint coaches or hurt their standing on the team," wrote Grover.
The Newton School District attorney informed FFRF that Young had met with Coach Smith and that the district did not expect that its staff would promote their personal religious beliefs to students in the future.
An Ohio school district won't be promoting religion through its coaching staff after FFRF got involved.
A concerned parent notified FFRF that either a coach or a team chaplain had led some of the Warren Local Middle School and High School athletic teams in prayer prior to games. In a letter to the school district, FFRF Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert informed Superintendent Kyle Newton that it is unconstitutional for public school employees, such as coaches, to participate in the religious activities of their students.
Markert also informed Newton that having a spiritual leader for the football team is unconstitutional.
Newton responded in a letter on Oct. 24 informing FFRF that he would instruct the district's coaches that they are not allowed to participate in team prayer or to permit a chaplain or other nonstudents to lead the district's athletic teams in prayer.
A short-lived battle over the denial of a license plate has ended successfully for FFRF member Jeff Prebeg of Pennsylvania.
Prebeg wanted one of three license plates: ATHE1ST, NO GOD or N0 G0D. All three of these plates were available, according to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Motor Vehicles' personalized registration plate availability website. However, Prebeg received an Oct. 11 letter stating, "We are unable to process your application because the department reserves the right to deny issuance to any requested personalized plate." Under the enclosures line, it read, "DENIED . . . ATHE1ST, NO GOD, N0 G0D."
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel got involved and sent a letter to Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards. But before Richards had even responded to Seidel's letter, Prebeg found out his first choice for a license plate was approved.
He had heard from TribLive reporter Natasha Lindstrom, who was working with Prebeg on the story. She had contacted the PennDOT to inquire about why Prebeg was turned down. "They told her that it was an employee error and that they've tried calling me and are sending me a letter to tell me they will issue ATHE1ST to me," Prebeg wrote in his blog.
Then he got the official word it had been accepted. "Scott from PennDOT wished to inform me that they noticed I requested a vanity plate, and that after an 'internal review,' they deemed it was denied in error and that my plate would be issued," Prebeg wrote.
Thanks to FFRF, the Waikoloa Elementary and Middle School in Hawaii has ended its practice of having students stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing religious songs.
FFRF received a complaint in September that students at the school were being forced to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and stand to sing "The Star Spangled Banner," "America the Beautiful," and "God Bless America," on scheduled days of the week. FFRF was also informed that students who refused to stand had been disciplined by the school's teachers.
"Students have a constitutional right not to be forced to participate in patriotic exercises," wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler to Superintendent Art Souza.
"Students may not be singled out, rebuked, told they must stand or otherwise penalized for following their freedom of conscience."
Ziegler also informed Souza that "America the Beautiful" and "God Bless America" were inappropriate songs for the public school to schedule students to sing because of the religious lines in the songs that wrongly equated patriotism with piety.
On Oct. 18, FFRF received a reply from Souza who wrote that students would no longer be participating in singing the problematic songs. FFRF was also assured that teachers at the school had been told that students were not to be forced to stand or participate in the pledge or the national anthem.
A New Jersey public school district in the Montgomery Township has revised its policy to remove what appeared to be the promotion of prayer in schools after FFRF stepped in.
Proposed revisions to the Montgomery Township School District’s policy on religion in public schools would have allowed for prayer during classroom time and at graduations and other school events.
In a letter sent on Oct. 14, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel informed the Montgomery Board of Education that the policy was written to unconstitutionally endorse religious practices.
The board responded on Oct. 17 to inform FFRF that the policy wording was adjusted to acknowledge the student’s constitutional rights. The school board adopted a majority of FFRF’s suggested policy on religious expression in public schools.
FFRF has made sure that public school employees in an Indiana school district will not continue to impose prayer during school gatherings.
Back in April, a school guard at the Rise Up Academy (the alternative high school in South Bend, Ind.) delivered a prayer at a school-wide assembly. The prayer included the following: "We thank you for being the alpha and omega, the beginning and end. I want you all to say, 'Thank God! Thank God! Amen!'" The reference to alpha and omega is taken from the New Testament's description of Jesus in several verses and shows the prayer to be specifically Christian.
"The Supreme Court has continually struck down formal school-led prayer in public schools," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to South Bend Community Schools Superintendent Carole Schmidt.
The South Bend school district took FFRF's complaint seriously and launched an investigation.
"The South Bend Community School Corporation has a number of policies in place prohibiting religion in the classroom and in the curriculum," the district's counsel said in a recent phone message. "The issue in question was a spontaneous response by an employee, not part of our curriculum. It was not planned, and we were as surprised by it as anyone else. The issue has been addressed with that employee."
FFRF ensured that two Texas football teams will not have future coach-led prayers.
FFRF was informed that at a football game played on Sept. 16 between New Boston High School and Pewitt High School, coaches had gathered players from both teams and led them in a group prayer. Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to the school districts on Sept. 23 regarding the constitutional violation, asking representatives of the schools to not organize, lead or participate in prayer with students.
FFRF received responses from the school districts on Oct. 3 and Oct. 6 and they agreed to ensure prayer is not promoted in the future.
A city-run day care in Edinburgh, Ind., has taken down a display that read "PRAY BELIEVE FAITH."
FFRF received a complaint on Sept. 13 from a parent who was concerned about the display in the main room of an afterschool day care program facilitated by the town's Parks and Recreation Department. The religious message was spelled out with tall wooden block letters and sat on top of kitchen cabinets in the day care.
In a letter sent Sept. 16 to Town Manager Wade Watson, FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote that the display was unconstitutionally promoting religious beliefs and practices on behalf of the town and asked that it be taken down. A letter response on Oct. 3 from the town's attorney informed FFRF that the signage had been removed.
Thanks to FFRF, a California public high school football coach will no longer be hosting "prayer breakfasts" for players.
FFRF received a complaint from a parent of a San Pasqual High School football player that the coach was hosting a "Friday Morning Prayer Breakfast" each week for the athletes at his home. Attendance at these breakfasts was incentivized with free food and speeches from former NFL players.
In a letter sent on Sept. 21, FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler informed Superintendent Steve Boyle that public school athletic coaches who lead their teams in prayer send a message of school endorsement of certain religious practices.
"It is no defense that students voluntarily participate in the prayer breakfast. The potential for subtle coercion is extremely high in the context of high school sports," wrote Ziegler. "Players feel immense pressure to conform to what coaches expect of them so as not to affect their playing time or otherwise lose favor with the coaches."
Boyle responded on Oct. 3 that, after an investigation on the coach, the school district has directed that no coach or staff member should host religious events.
An Arkansas elementary school bus driver has been told to stop playing religious tunes while transporting students.
A worried parent of a student in the Siloam Springs School District informed FFRF that the bus driver was playing music from a local Christian station for students taking the bus to and from school. FFRF objected to the promotion of religious beliefs through music or radio programing.
"Students on the bus are a captive audience and cannot avoid listening to broadcasts that the driver selects," wrote Staff Attorney Patrick Elliot in a letter to Superintendent Ken Ramey. "Given the content of the programming and its proselytizing nature, young and impressionable students can not be forced to listen to such programs."
Ramey responded on Oct. 3 to inform FFRF that strict action had been taken to ensure the bus driver would not play a Christian radio station while transporting students in the future.
An Indiana county has taken a wisely secular action in response to FFRF's complaint.
After opening its courthouse lawn to an FFRF display and a variety of religious panoramas last winter, Franklin County has passed a new ordinance prohibiting all private exhibits on its courthouse lawn. Commissioners cited "interference with the courthouse operations" and the "unexpected undue burden" on county resources as the reasons for closing the forum.
FFRF suspects that the actual motive of the Franklin County commissioners may have been a bit more complicated.
"I assume that the real reason they're closing the forum is because the lawn became such a circus once it became widely known that anyone could place a display there," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Last winter, they tolerated about a dozen Christian exhibits. FFRF's Winter Solstice banner, which was slashed to ribbons and replaced, was actually one of the most season-appropriate displays on the lawn."
"We're pleased to learn that after six years of letter writing and two lawsuits, Franklin County has finally done what we first requested in 2010," notes FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover. "Limiting use of the courthouse lawn to government displays should ensure that the lawn remains an open and welcoming space for all community members to enjoy—regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs."
Thanks to FFRF, Arizona's Dysart Unified School District will not plan, promote or participate in "See You at the Pole," a Christian prayer event put on by a religious club. The school district will uphold their constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion.
An email sent from a Valley Vista High School employee asked all school district teachers and staff to join in for "See You at the Pole" on Sept. 28. The email explained that the event was "a day committed to global unity in Christ and prayer for your generation."
In a letter to DUSD Superintendent Gail Pletnick, FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler informed the school district that a public school employee must not lead, direct or encourage students to engage in prayer.
Ziegler informed Pletnick that it is also unconstitutional for public school employees to participate in the religious activities of their students.
FFRF received a response on Sept. 28 from the executive director for human resources at Dysart Unified School District, Patti Buck, who wrote that the school staff had been informed that staff members must not participate in the school religious event.
The Midway Independent School District in Texas has taken steps to ensure that it will stop promotion of a specific religious worldview in its "Shattered Dreams" event to combat drinking and driving.
FFRF received a complaint from a student over the event during which a local pastor addressed the students asking them to bow their heads in prayer. Student "obituaries" were read by the pastor and scripture was cited.
Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to the Midway Independent School District Superintendent Christine Badillo asking that future Shattered Dreams events be free of prayer, religious remarks, and references to scripture.
Badillo responded on Sept. 28 assuring FFRF that future productions of the event would not include references to scripture or contain religious overtones.
The Ponderosa High School staff in California has been told to remain neutral and not participate in an annual Christian prayer event called "See You At The Pole."
A concerned parent of a student at the school contacted FFRF about the prayer event listed on the school's bulletin stating that all students and staff were welcome.
In a letter sent Sept. 26, FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler informed El Dorado Union High School District Superintendent Stephen Weher that the event violated the constitutional obligation of public schools to remain neutral toward religion.
"It is well settled that a public school employee may not lead, direct, or encourage students to engage in prayer," wrote Ziegler. "Staff participation in religious events alienates non-Christian students, teachers, and parents whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school staff, including the one-in-three young Americans who are not religious."
Ziegler reminded Superintendent Weher that any religious event, such as See You at the Pole, must be entirely student-initiated and student-run and that staff members must refrain from participating in religious events.
Weher responded on Sept. 26 informing FFRF that the school had revised the bulletin for the prayer event and would inform staff of their obligation to remain neutral and uninvolved in the event. He also assured FFRF that "See You at the Pole" was student-driven.
An employee at a public school district in Brazoria County, Texas, alerted FFRF about an opening prayer given at an employee general session. At a start-of-the-year meeting, employees were directed to rise and pray in a convocation led by a staff member.
In a letter sent Aug. 5, Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Brazosport Independent School District Superintendent Danny Massey to ensure prayer would not be scheduled or endorsed at future school district events. After receiving no response, FFRF was informed that during a mandatory Brazosport ISD staff meeting on Aug. 15, a religious leader from a Christian group was introduced to lead a "voluntary" prayer.
In a second letter to Massey, Grover addressed the changes the school district had made in its opening prayer and maintained that the practice was still unconstitutional.
Grover also informed Massey that declaring the prayer "voluntary" did not make it so. Employees were still required to be in attendance, and asking non-Christian employees to spotlight their beliefs in an effort to avoid a Christian exercise is inappropriate, Grover wrote.
A legal firm representing the school district responded on Sept. 25 informing FFRF that Massey had been spoken to about the school district's legal obligations regarding the employee convocation and that no further issues were anticipated.
Thanks to FFRF, a church banner on an elementary school fence in Long Beach, Calif., has been removed during school days.
A concerned community member informed FFRF that the MacArthur Elementary School was displaying a church banner on its fences for a church that meets at the school on Sundays. The banner was being left up during the school day when children were present.
"When a school displays a banner on its property advertising a worship service, it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message, here a Christian message. This alienates those non-Christian students, teachers, and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the religious messages being promoted by the school," Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Long Beach Unified School District Superintendent Chris Steinhauser.
Steinhauser responded on Sept. 22 writing that the school had removed the sign and that the school's principle informed the church that posting its signage is only allowed during the church's use of the school facilities on Sundays.
A sermonizing Wisconsin community college professor has agreed to mend his ways following the FFRF's intervention.
Madison College Professor Hiep S. Van Dong, an instructor in the School of Business and Applied Arts, had been encouraging students in his Leadership, Ethics and Development course to add religion to their lives, both verbally in class and via email. Van Dong explained to a student in an email that he has "discovered it isn't about do's and don'ts, it is about a personal relationship with a living God."
"Federal courts have upheld public universities' restrictions on a professor's religious expression in the classroom and other like settings," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote in August to Madison College School of Business and Applied Arts Dean Bryan Woodhouse. "These restrictions do not abridge the professor's free speech rights."
Woodhouse recently responded that he had conducted an inquiry and had asked Van Dong to modify his teaching approach.
"Instructor Van Dong and I have discussed that as public servants we cannot take a position of any kind for or against religion, and that our classrooms are filled with persons of all perspectives and that we have a great responsibility to maintain a classroom environment that welcomes all opinions," Woodhouse wrote back.
After hearing from FFRF, a wall displaying the Ten Commandments has been painted over at O'Donnell High School in Texas.
The superintendent of O'Donnell, Dr. Cathy Amonett, released this statement:
"After consultation with legal counsel, community members and students, I have decided as the superintendent of O'Donnell ISD that the Ten Commandment mural will no longer be on display beginning Sept. 16, 2016. Although the district's students and community members strongly support the preservation of the mural as it is, I have decided that its continued display in the commons area of the school is not in the district's best legal interests."
The community showed strong support for the display at a public meeting on Sept. 13, following a legal warning issued by FFRF.
Christian prayers will not be scheduled at future city firefighter academy graduation in Littleton, Colo.
FFRF received a complaint from one of the city's firefighters after attending a graduation ceremony for firefighter recruits. At the end of the ceremony, graduates were invited to participate in a prayer given by a Christian pastor. The graduation was an official city event with attendance from several city officials.
"Including prayer at city events such as graduation ceremonies raises constitutional concerns, particularly if the event includes sectarian or proselytizing devotions. It is a fundamental constitutional principle that publicly funded institutions cannot support, promote, or otherwise endorse religion or engage in religious exercises," wrote Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel to Littleton Fire Rescue Department Chief Christopher Armstrong. '
A response was received on Sept. 8 from a Littleton city attorney informing FFRF that the city has discontinued the practice of scheduling prayer as part of any future firefighter graduation ceremonies.
An Indiana public elementary school will stop prayer at its kindergarten graduation ceremonies after FFRF got involved.
The ceremony in May at Springs Valley Elementary School in French Lick, Ind., included a prayer delivered by a kindergartener. The prayer was listed on the schedule.
FFRF reminded the school district that the prayer was unconstitutional and totally inappropriate.
"Including religious rituals, such as prayer, in school-sponsored functions shows school endorsement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Springs Valley Community Schools Superintendent Tony Whitaker last month.
The practice of prayer is especially egregious when it is delivered to a captive group of impressionable schoolchildren as young as 5 years old, FFRF emphasized. Parents, not public schools, are responsible for the religious upbringing of their children.
Whitaker was convinced by FFRF's reasoning.
"Springs Valley School Corporation will eliminate from any future kindergarten graduation ceremonies the section on prayer and will not allow any prayer at the graduation," he recently replied.
A Dane County, Wis., judge has ruled that the Catholic Church must pay taxes on a multimillion-dollar lot it owns in downtown Madison.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Rhonda Lanford decided on Oct. 4 that a 1.3-acre lot in Madison owned by the Catholic Church is not exempt from property taxes. The Church sued the city last year to recover taxes it paid on the lot, which amount to nearly $100,000 per year.
FFRF filed an amicus curiae brief in June supporting the city of Madison. FFRF's brief questioned how St. Raphael's could retain an exemption while it was really just holding on to the lot as a future site of a $50 million cathedral.
"All Madison taxpayers should not have to pay more taxes while St. Raphael's invests in its other property holdings in Madison and holds the St. Raphael's lot for future development," FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote. "It is precisely for this reason that property must be used to maintain an exemption."
The court granted summary judgment in favor of the city of Madison, holding that land that is tax exempt must be "necessary for the location and convenience of buildings" under Wisconsin law. Since there are no church buildings on the lot, it is taxable.
Thanks to FFRF, the Calcasieu Parish Public Schools have resolved two constitutional violations. Westlake High School will no longer broadcast prayers at football games. Vinton Elementary School will not repeat an incident that occurred on Aug. 7, when the community was invited to come to the school for prayer and a tour of the facilities.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover first wrote to the school district in September 2015 about the football prayers, receiving no response despite several follow up letters. Grover wrote again on Aug. 26 about the elementary prayer event. "Hosting a prayer event at a public school alienates non-religious students and families, as well as those who practice a minority religion," he said. "A public school district should seek to be inclusive of all students and families, not just those in the religious majority."
Gregory Belfour, the school's attorney, responded just a few days later this time. He said the superintendent would communicate the "constitutional limitations" on government-sponsored prayer to the Vinton principal, and school administrators at Westlake had been advised to stop promoting prayers at football games.
The Lorain County Board of Commissioners in Ohio is replacing invocations with secular quotations at its meetings after hearing from FFRF.
Christian prayers and bible readings by the commissioners were prior staples of the meetings. "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 Board of Commissioners members clearly do," FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert said in a letter to the board.
Markert explained that unlike the prayers by outside religious leaders approved by the Supreme Court in Greece v. Galloway, federal courts have struck down prayers led by commissioners themselves.
A county attorney said the board disagreed with FFRF's position, but had decided to discontinue the prayers anyway, replacing them with a secular "quote of the day."
FFRF has caused a religious club to be disbanded at a California elementary school.
Club Monarch, an afterschool bible club, was run in part by teachers and routinely given preferential treatment at Mariposa Elementary School in Brea, Calif. The club was mentioned in the weekly newsletter and listed in the school calendar. There were posters around the school exclusively advertising the club. At a back-to-school night, the principal effusively praised and recommended the club.
FFRF reminded the school that this sort of collaboration was unconstitutional.
"It is a well-settled principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion," FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Brea Olinda Unified School District Superintendent Brad Mason back in March.
After reviewing school records obtained through an open records request, including over 2,500 pages of emails about Club Monarch going back only two years, FFRF wrote a follow-up letter in May stating that its apprehensions had been confirmed.
FFRF has now received confirmation that its advice has been followed. "Club Monarch has ceased to operate at Mariposa Elementary School and does not operate at any other district school sites," the school district's legal firm has written to FFRF.
The Osceola County School District is now limiting church advertising on its property.
The My Grace Fellowship Church holds its services at the Westside K-8 School, and previously was permitted to leave lawn signs promoting the services on the school's grounds. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel objected to this practice in a June 13. "Advancing, preferring, and promoting religion is exactly what a school does when it allows a church to prominently place a permanent advertisement for students, parents, school employees, and anyone passing by to see," said Seidel. "[The church] must put up the signs no earlier than when the rental time begins and take them down when the rental time ends."
An attorney for the school district reported the matter resolved on Aug. 24.
Staff in the Little Rock (Ark.) School District won't be subjected to religious lessons at staff meetings in the future.
At Mabelvale Middle School's Aug. 9 teaching staff meeting, the school invited a Baptist pastor to give a presentation, which included retelling biblical stories and other religious remarks. FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott called out this unconstitutional presentation in an Aug. 18 letter. "By imposing religious messages on its employees at district-sponsored events, the district is violating constitutional limits on government religious endorsement," he wrote.
Replying promptly on Aug. 23, an attorney for the school district acknowledged that part of the presentation could be perceived as an endorsement of religion, and said the superintendent would send a written notice to all district principals "to remind them not to allow presentations at mandatory teacher meetings or in-service training which endorse a particular religious position or message."
The Wasatch County Schools in Heber City, Utah, have reluctantly agreed to stop praying at School Board meetings.
Previously, meetings regularly included Mormon-style prayers delivered by the superintendent, School Board members, and other district employees. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Superintendent Terry Shoemaker and School Board President Mark Davis on May 3. "Federal courts have struck down school board practices that include this religious ritual," he said, citing several cases, including FFRF's recent victory against the Chino Valley (Calif.) Unified School District's praying school board.
Superintendent Paul A. Sweat replied Aug. 23 that he believed the cases FFRF cited were "wrongly decided," but said the board had stopped conducting prayer for the time being. Sweat concluded by expressing his hope that the Supreme Court would soon extend the Greece v. Galloway decision approving of some prayers at meetings of legislative bodies.