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Legal Advocacy Victories

Senior center to serve religious-free meals (June 8, 2017)

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.

South Carolina wrestling prayers silenced (June 7, 2017)

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.

Senior center reminded to keep meals secular (June 6, 2017)

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.

Delaware school cuts prayer from graduation (June 5, 2017)

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 terminates prayer at Arizona school (June 5, 2017)

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.

Arizona high school to end assembly prayers (May 30, 2017)

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.

Missouri school changes graduation policy (May 25, 2017)

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.

FFRF blows whistle on Kansas coach’s prayers (May 22, 2017)

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.

FFRF purges prayer from Georgia school ceremony (May 18, 2017)

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.

Indianapolis police to stop promoting religion (May 16, 2017)

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.

Georgia teacher to keep God out of classroom (May 15, 2017)

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.

South Dakota school keeps graduation secular (May 13, 2017)

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.

FFRF tells Texas school to keep evangelists out (May 12, 2017)

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 protects Texas student’s free speech (May 12, 2017)

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.

Pennsylvania schools end state-church violations (May 11, 2017)

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.

Florida city’s prayer breakfast gets updated (May 8, 2017)

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.

Religious poster taken down in Indiana class (May 8, 2017)

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.

Washington yogurt shop ends church discounts (May 5, 2017)

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.

Bible distribution in Texas school to stop (May 4, 2017)

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.

Texas teacher gets constitutional lesson (May 3, 2017)

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.

Religious hymns silenced at Connecticut school (May 3, 2017)

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.

Florida school ends religious baccalaureate (May 1, 2017)

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.

Texas school to address religious decorations (May 1, 2017)

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.

Georgia school won’t promote religious group (April 25, 2017)

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.

FFRF gets police station prayer display removed (April 13, 2017)

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.

Montana youth minister deterred from schools (April 7, 2017)

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.

Soccer coach to stay hands and prayer-free (March 30, 2017)

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.

Michigan town removes religious memorial (March 29, 2017)

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.

Prayers silenced by FFRF in Georgia school (March 23, 2017)

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.

FFRF shuts off Colorado school’s marquee (March 20, 2017)

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.

California schools’ religious promotion ends (March 18, 2017)

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.

New Mexico museum film to be properly replaced (March 14, 2017)

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."

FFRF stops promotion of creationist ‘science’ (March 13, 2017)

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.

Sheriff’s department deletes religious page (March 6, 2017)

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 teacher stops praying with students (March 3, 2017)

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.

FFRF ends Christian music at Texas school (March 1, 2017)

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.

School’s ‘debate’ over creationism ended (February 21, 2017)

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.

Georgia school won’t allow proselytizing (February 16, 2017)

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.

Texas school gets First Amendment lesson (February 15, 2017)

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.

Latin cross removed from Texas classroom (February 13, 2017)

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 gets Texas coaches to stop prayers (February 9, 2017)

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.

Virginia city cancels visit to ‘Ark Park’ (February 7, 2017)

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."

Angel statue removed from Indiana park (February 6, 2017)

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.

Religious program ends at Illinois school (February 3, 2017)

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.

Florida judge says to dismiss prayer case (February 3, 2017)

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.

Louisiana coaches warned about proselytizing (February 1, 2017)

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.

Illinois staff won’t join in school gospel choir (January 25, 2017)

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.

Religious promotion ended at Texas school (January 24, 2017)

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.

No more religious flyers in school district (January 24, 2017)

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."

Kentucky school educated on First Amendment (January 19, 2017)

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.

Louisiana city changes prayer breakfast (January 17, 2017)

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.

FFRF gets apology for coach’s public piety (January 13, 2017)

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."

Alabama school’s Christian promotion ends (January 12, 2017)

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.

Symbols removed from Nevada school (January 11, 2017)

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 gets Ohio council to change invocation (January 6, 2017)

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.

Ohio nativity display banished by FFRF (December 28, 2017)

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.

No more religious radio to be aired at school (December 22, 2016)

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.

Nativity scene removed from public park (December 22, 2016)

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.

FFRF reminds Maine school to stay secular (December 21, 2016)

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.

Nativity scene not displayed at manor (December 20, 2016)

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 stops school’s religious announcement (December 19, 2016)

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."

Coach-led prayers ended (December 16, 2016)

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.

Christian flag taken down (December 16, 2016)

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.

Pre-game prayer ceases (December 12, 2016)

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.

Gun show no longer favors churchgoers (December 12, 2016)

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.

School district does constitutional training (December 9, 2016)

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."

No more promotion of religious messages (December 9, 2016)

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.

Mississippi school ends bible study sessions (December 6, 2016)

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.

Religious sign removed from recycling center (December 6, 2016)

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.

Religious club to end meetings in schools (December 6, 2016)

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.

FFRF takes action over school religious event (December 6, 2016)

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.

Graduation prayer nixed (December 5, 2016)

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.

Dress code changed (December 1, 2016)

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.

Club won’t receive preferential treatment (December 1, 2016)

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 shuts down religious recruiting (December 1, 2016)

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.

No more school prayer (November 30, 2016)

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.

Religious promotion ends (November 29, 2016)

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.

High school team, ministry split up (November 23, 2016)

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.

Prayer breakfast ended (November 22, 2016)

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.

School participation in nativity event halted (November 22, 2016)

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.

Jehovah’s Witness display removed (November 16, 2016)

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.

Bible verse display removed from school (November 7, 2016)

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.

FFRF gets religious signs taken down (November 7, 2016)

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.

District rids classes of religious films (October 26, 2016)

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.

Baptism of player by coach leads to change (October 26, 2016)

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.

Ohio district’s team chaplain, prayer ended (October 24, 2016)

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.

License plate denial overturned (October 19, 2016)

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.

FFRF silences school’s religious hymns (October 18, 2016)

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.

Jersey school district adjusts school policy (October 17, 2016)

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.

Assembly prayer nixed in school district (October 14, 2016)

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."

No more coach-led prayers for Texas teams (October 3, 2016)

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.

Religious display removed from daycare (October 3, 2016)

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.

California coach-led prayer event stopped (October 3, 2016)

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.

FFRF shuts off Christian music station (October 3, 2016)

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.

Indiana county does the correct thing (October 3, 2016)

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."

FFRF stops school’s promotion of religion (September 28, 2016)

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.

Religious promotion ends for school event (September 28, 2016)

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.

School staff won’t join in prayer event (September 26, 2016)

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.

Employee convocations end at Texas school (September 25, 2016)

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.

California school removes church banner (September 22, 2016)

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.

College instructor halts sermonizing (September 16, 2016)

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.

School paints over Commandments display (September 13, 2016)

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 prayer ends at firefighter graduation (September 8, 2016)

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.

Grad prayer ends for kindergarten class (September 8, 2016)

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.

Judge: Catholic lot in Madison must be taxed (September 4, 2016)

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.

FFRF ends Louisiana prayer violations (August 31, 2016)

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.

Ohio commissioners to find secular inspiration (August 26, 2016)

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."

Elementary school bible club shut down (August 26, 2016)

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.

FFRF downs religious signs at Florida school (August 24, 2016)

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.

School district cuts religious presenter (August 23, 2016)

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."

FFRF quashes Utah school board prayer (August 23, 2016)

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.

Elementary school graduations secularized (August 23, 2016)

FFRF has put a stop to several egregious constitutional violations at a kindergarten graduation ceremony at Valley Elementary School in Pikeville, Ky.

The school's 2016 ceremony included a teacher-led prayer and the students singing, "Jesus Loves Me," which they had reportedly been singing in their music classes for most of the school year. "It is coercive and inappropriate for a teacher to lead a prayer at a school function, and then to order the performance of 'Jesus Loves Me' by the students," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a June 9 letter to the Pike County Schools.

General Counsel Neal Smith wrote back to FFRF on Aug. 23, saying he "cautioned our administration that open prayer at school-sponsored events should not take place and that faculty-led singing of hymns, such as 'Jesus Loves Me,' should also be avoided."

FFRF ends religious film screenings (August 22, 2016)

The Christian movie "Facing the Giants" won't be shown to Medina Middle School's seventh-graders in the future, FFRF has ensured.

A parent of a student at the Dyer, Tenn., school brought the issue to FFRF's attention. The film follows a struggling high school football coach who inspires his team to believe in the God and to use faith to win football games.

Showing "Facing the Giants" in a public school "promotes Christianity over all other religions and nonreligion and violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert informed the Gibson County Special School District.

Eddie Pruett, the district's director of schools, replied that the teacher was reminded that multimedia must be approved by the principal, and was told that "Facing the Giants" was not an appropriate movie to show the class.

Unconstitutional tie-up in preschool ends (August 19, 2016)

An unconstitutional tie-up between a Wisconsin school district and a parochial preschool has been nixed following an FFRF complaint.

In Beaver Dam Unified School District, 3-year-old public school students with developmental delays were often being sent to private preschools. FFRF's complainant, who has an eligible child, was offered only one choice: a Catholic school, St. Katharine's, whose preschool is named God's Little Miracles. To quote the school itself, its "program is based on the theme 'Thank you, God.' "

"It is wildly inappropriate for the School District to send 3-year-old public school students to private schools for religious instruction," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote in June to Stephen Vessey, superintendent of the Beaver Dam Unified School District.

The School District investigated the situation and told St. Katharine's what it would have to do to comply with the law and district policy. St. Katharine's decided to stop participating altogether in the 3K program rather than make any changes, revealing that religious instruction was its primary goal.

"After being advised of the changes that would have to be made to the 3K program, [St. Katharine Drexel] School indicated it no longer wished to provide the Early Childhood (3K) program to district students, and the district has accepted the school's withdrawal from participating in the program," Vessey recently replied. "Any students who were enrolled in the school's Early Childhood program by the district for the coming school year have since been moved to a program offered at a different site."

Lunchtime religious school group disbanded (August 16, 2016)

FFRF has gotten an outsider-led lunchtime religious group at an Illinois public school disbanded.

School administrators at Harrisburg Middle School were allowing a Baptist minister to lead a religious session during lunch hour. He offered free pizza and soda to students who joined the group.

It was inappropriate and unconstitutional for the district to offer religious leaders access to befriend and proselytize students during the school day on school property, FFRF stressed. No outside adults should be provided carte blanche access to minors — a captive audience — in a public school.

After waiting for months for a response, FFRF Legal Fellow Jayne sent a reminder letter, and this time Harrisburg School District Superintendent Michael Gauch responded.

"Following the school board's directive, school administration instructed the local minister that he would no longer be allowed to come onto school property and meet with students during the lunchtime or anytime during the instructional day," Gauch wrote.

FFRF gets religious group to pay fees (August 12, 2016)

FFRF has made certain that a Wisconsin religious organization will pay full rental fees at local public schools.

Mission of Hope has held several events at public schools in Waupaca, Wis. Among other activities, the events include a prayer tent staffed by local church members to "pray with and for" visitors. Records that FFRF obtained revealed that the School District of Waupaca forgave Mission of Hope the $180 facility fees and $100 nonprofit kitchen use fees for past such events at the Waupaca Learning Center Elementary School.

FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote earlier this month to Waupaca School District Superintendent Greg Nyen. FFRF's complaint was taken seriously and received an appropriate response.

"I understand your concern regarding the need for separation of church and state," wrote Nyen. "I am hereby providing you said assurance that in the future, charges for facility usage will be applied to Mission of Hope as it would any other outside organization."

Softball coaches leave prayer circle (August 11, 2016)

After receiving a letter from FFRF last year, West Virginia's Putnam County Schools has finally instructed softball coaches at Buffalo High School to stop praying with students. A photo from the state championship game showed players, coaches and fans holding hands in a circle around the field for a post-game prayer.

"While students may engage in prayer on their own, school staff, including coaches, cannot lead, direct or participate in such religious activities," FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert reminded the district in June 2015.

After FFRF followed up several times, the district replied on Aug. 11 that the incident was addressed by administrators and that the district was obtaining legal training on the Establishment Clause.

FFRF stops school’s Christian music (August 9, 2016)

Students in the weight room at Tecumseh High School in Tecumseh, Mich., won't be forced to listen to Christian music, thanks to FFRF.

FFRF received a report from a local resident that a physical education teacher played the religious music during workout sessions in the weight room during the summer. "Playing Christian music to an audience of students using the weight room is a violation of student and parental rights," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a letter to the Tecumseh Public Schools superintendent. "It is illegal for a district employee to promote Christianity through religious music while acting in his or her official capacity."

Superintendent Kelly M. Coffin thanked Markert for bringing the matter to the school district's attention and said that the school principal reminded the teacher of "his constitutional duty to remain neutral toward religion while in a public school setting."

Principal won’t pray with students (August 9, 2016)

Bakersfield High School Principal Connie Grumling will not pray with students in the future. Grumling had met with students to pray at the flagpole.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel lodged a complaint with the Kern High School District in Bakersfield, Calif., in August 2015. "Federal courts have held it is unconstitutional for public school employees to participate in the religious activities of their students," he said. This is "to avoid any perception of government endorsement of religion."

On Aug. 9, Seidel spoke with the district's general counsel, who said that the prayer was an "isolated incident" that had been addressed by the administration.

Teacher instructed to stop praying (August 8, 2016)

The Academy for Scholarship and Entrepreneurship in the Bronx, N.Y., will stop including teacher-led invocations in its graduation ceremonies.

The decision was prompted by a July 14 letter from FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert, who pointed out that the Supreme Court has specifically struck down prayers at public school graduations. "The district has a duty to remain neutral toward religion," Markert wrote. "By scheduling prayers at graduation, the district abridges that duty and alienates the 35% of young Americans who are not religious."

Carron Staple, superintendent of Bronx High School Districts 8, 9 and 11, responded that the teacher's actions were against New York City Department of Education regulations. Staple said the prohibition had been discussed with the school's administrative staff, who understood the invocation could not recur.

Florida police prayer event canceled (August 2, 2016)

The Ocoee, Fla., Police Department will no longer host a "Prayers for Police" event after FFRF sent a letter of complaint.

The department put on the event in May at a church, listing the purpose on a flier as "a period of unity as police chaplains, community leaders and members of the community join together to pray for the police profession." The event was advertised on social media and hosted on police property. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel notified the department that this entanglement with religion was unconstitutional. "Although we fully support remembering fallen police officers, it is OPD's constitutional obligation to find a religiously neutral means of doing so," said Seidel.

An Ocoee City Attorney responded on Aug. 2, saying the city would no longer host the event.

No more pastors at school bible club (August 2, 2016)

A bible club at a Nevada middle school will no longer be led by pastors, thanks to FFRF. A parent of a Bob Miller Middle School student contacted FFRF after reading the club's description in the yearbook: "Pastors come to the club every Tuesday and teach the students morals mentioned in the bible."

"It is illegal for public schools to allow adults to lead religious instruction on school property during the school day," wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler in a July 21 letter to the Clark County School District. The Equal Access Act forbids adult participation in student religious clubs.

General Counsel Carlos L. McDade told FFRF on Aug. 2 that administrators were "reminded that the bible club must be student-led and that the club must not be directed, conducted, controlled, or regularly attended by nonschool persons."

Prayer discontinued at N.D. graduations (August 2, 2016)

After including multiple prayers to Jesus at its 2016 graduation ceremony, Watford City High School in North Dakota has assured FFRF that the constitutional violation will not be repeated.

"High school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students," FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliot wrote to McKenzie County School District Superintendent Steven Holden. "It makes no difference how many students wouldn't want prayer or wouldn't be offended by prayer at their graduation ceremony. As the Supreme Court has said, 'Fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.' "

Holden responded on Aug. 2, explaining that, after consulting with the school board and school district attorney, the district would ensure prayer would not be part of future ceremonies or other school-sponsored events.

Apology given for denial of service (June 30, 2016)

A regional freethinkers group has received an apology for discriminatory denial of services during a recent protest at a religious theme park after FFRF sent a letter of complaint.

On June 30, Five Star Septic and Portable Toilet Rentals agreed to send portable toilets to a July 7 demonstration against the Ark Encounter park put on by the Tri-State Freethinkers. But when the company's office called Tri-State Freethinkers to get directions to the site, it asked whether the portable toilets were for the protest. Upon learning that they were, the office denied service, indicating that this was partially because it did not want its name associated with the atheists' protest.

It is unlawful for legitimate businesses to discriminate on the basis of religion, FFRF contended in a formal letter of complaint.

With such short notice, Tri-State Freethinkers had to hastily organize a shuttle caravan to a nearby gas station for the nearly 200 attendees needing to use toilets.
Arwood Waste & Demolition, with which Five Star Septic has been a subcontractor, said sorry to Tri-State Freethinkers and made a pledge that the inappropriate behavior will not recur.

FFRF gets religion off of fishing team (June 26, 2016)

The Cherokee County School District in Centre, Ala., has addressed several church/state violations occurring on the fishing team, after receiving a complaint from FFRF.

A concerned parent informed FFRF that the team's coach had shirts printed depicting an ichthys (Jesus fish) with a Christian cross inside. The school raised funds by selling the shirts, and students had to wear the shirts at competitions. The coach also encouraged students to pray and attend religious events.

The superintendent of the district called FFRF on June 26. He stated that the fishing coach "understands" her constitutional obligations and that the fishing team was approving new, religiously neutral competition shirts and that the problematic shirts would no longer be sold to the public.

Post office removes religious literature (July 25, 2016)

The post office in Morristown, Tenn., removed its Sign of the Times magazine rack after FFRF complained to the postmaster.

The rack was placed just outside the building on the post office’s property.

According to its website, the magazine “encourages readers to lead joyful Christian lives as they await the soon return of Jesus.”

Seven weeks later, the postmaster replied that “an investigation was made” and that “proper steps were taken to remove the rack and signage from postal property.

FFRF has complained to other Tennessee post offices about Sign of the Times magazine racks, most recently in Harrison.

Nativity scene won’t be redisplayed (July 21, 2016)

The Porum Police Department in Oklahoma has agreed not to redisplay a nativity scene in front of the department's building.

The scene, erected on public property, was displayed in November 2015 and faced Main Street.

"Displaying an inherently Christian message unmistakably sends the message that Porum Police Department endorses the religious beliefs embodied in the display," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in a letter to the police chief.

After nearly six months, FFRF received a reply denying that the holiday display was solely a nativity scene but agreed not to display it in the future.

Publicly run hotel rids itself of bibles (July 19, 2016)

Following an FFRF complaint, the Thunderbird Executive Inn in Arizona has removed the Gideon bibles that resided in all of its rooms.

The hotel is part of the Thunderbird School of Global Management, recently made a unit of Arizona State University. A concerned citizen contacted FFRF.

“Permitting members of outside religious groups the privilege of placing their religious literature in public university guest rooms also constitutes state endorsement and advancement of religion,” explaineFFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler. “Individuals, not the state, must determine what religious texts are worth reading.”

The hotel’s director informed FFRF on July 19 that religious materials would be removed from guest rooms.

Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t be at post office (July 12, 2016)

The United States Postal Service has responded to an FFRF complaint by promising to prevent Jehovah's Witness literature distribution at the Bay City Post Office in Texas.

A local complainant requested that FFRF take action to end the proselytizing practice. The Witnesses set up chairs, an umbrella and a stand with pamphlets next to the post office entrance.

FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler objected to the situation as a violation of both postal regulations and the United States Constitution. She pointed out that regulations prohibit "tables, chairs, freestanding signs or posters, structures, or furniture of any type... on postal walkways, . . . driveways, parking lots, or other exterior spaces."

FFRF was notified on July 12 that postmaster of the Bay City Post Office has reviewed regulations and that the regulations "will be adhered to in the future."

Band won’t return to Ark Encounter (July 18, 2016)

Williamstown High School will not be returning to the newly opened Ark Encounter in Kentucky.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel complained to the district on July 7 after the school's marching band performed at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Ark Encounter on July 5.

"There are . . . serious constitutional issues with public schools helping a private religious ministry to launch a park meant to convert people and collect a fair bit of money in the process," wrote Seidel. "It is unacceptable to expose a captive audience of impressionable students to the overtly religious atmosphere of Ham's Christian theme parks."

The attorney for Williamstown School District spoke with FFRF on July 18, stating that the there are no current plans for the band or any school group to visit the park in the future and that he would notify FFRF if any came up.

Church land transfers stopped for now (July 18, 2016)

FFRF has persuaded a Tennessee county to stop giving away land to churches.

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners had repeatedly transferred land to churches for nominal sums under a Tennessee provision that permitted this for nonprofits. For example, the county conveyed eight parcels of land to Memphis' Kingdom Fellowship Baptist Church in 2012 and a further four parcels to the same church in 2015.
FFRF informed the county that it was violating both the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions by its actions, no less than if it directly transferred taxpayer money to churches.

FFRF advised Shelby County that county property should never be transferred to religious institutions for less than fair market value, since this sort of action forces taxpayers of all faiths and of no religion to subsidize a particular expression of worship.

Shelby County heeded FFRF's advice. In a recent response, Kennedy acknowledged that FFRF's letter had made it reassess its actions and that as a result, Shelby County was suspending the land transfers for the time being.

FFRF sees end to school prayer club (July 14, 2016)

Yucca Valley Elementary School in the Morongo Unified School District in California does not plan to continue its after-school prayer club.

FFRF received a complaint from a local parent that a fourth-grade teacher was leading a Good News Club in her classroom directly after school, having her daughters encourage other students to pray, and using a whiteboard in the staff lounge to advertise her search for finding a new club leader. Additionally, FFRF received reports of teachers participating in the National Day of Prayer at the "old flagpole" on campus. Good News Club is a Christian program for 5-12 year olds with various bible-related activities.

FFRF received a reply from the district's attorneys on July 14. They informed FFRF that the teacher in question was no longer an employee of the district and that administrators across the district had been informed of "the limitations imposed on district employees by the Constitution."

District to stop showing religious films (July 12, 2016)

FFRF has convinced a Texas school district to take a harder stance against showing Christian propaganda and anti-evolution movies to students.

In Central Heights High School in Nacogdoches, Texas, two teachers showed their students questionable films. In a ninth-grade health class, an instructor screened "God's Not Dead," a movie blatantly Christian and proselytizing in nature. And in a ninth-grade science class, another teacher, remarking to his students that he didn't believe in evolution, played "Expelled: Intelligence Not Allowed," an intelligent design propaganda work that the New York Times described as "a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry."

FFRF contacted the Central Heights Independent School District in May to alert school officials that the teachers were out of line. FFRF received a letter stating that district staff members will be trained on First Amendment issues to educate them better on the separation of state and church.

Email signature now in compliance (July 11, 2016)

FFRF has persuaded an Ohio county commissioner to remove religion from her official email signature.

Crawford County Commissioner Jenny Vermillion used two inappropriate signature lines in her county email address. The first of these was a reference to an Old Testament verse, Jeremiah 1:5, along with the politically charged commentary "Choose LIFE!!" (The actual verse reads: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.") The second was a President Eisenhower quote that promotes religion and disparages atheists.

FFRF requested that Vermillion delete all these references from her email signature.

And she indeed did. In a terse but to-the-point letter a few days ago, Vermillion replied: "Dear Sir or Madame, It has been removed."

Teacher won’t show Christian film again (July 5, 2016)

A physical education teacher in the Tattnall School District in Georgia will not show "Woodlawn" or other Christian films to his class again after hearing from FFRF.

The film was shown at Reedsville Middle School over two class periods. The movie, produced by a Christian film production company, follows a struggling football team that unites over faith to make a run at the playoffs. It features quotes such as "This is what happens when God shows up," and "I'm asking you to choose Jesus. Can you do that? Will you do that? Right now."

In a letter of complaint, FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote, "When the district allows teachers to show Christian propaganda to middle school students, the district becomes complicit in an egregious constitutional violation and breach of trust."

The superintendent responded on July 5, saying that she had met with the relevant teachers and administrators and that the district would review its procedure for approving classroom-appropriate media.

School cuts ties to baccalaureate service (June 29, 2016)

The North Mac Community Unit School District in Illinois has promised not to promote or fund a religious baccalaureate service for graduating high school seniors. A letter written by FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover prompted the move.

FFRF first contacted the district back in 2014 to complain about the district's promotion of a religious baccalaureate service. At the time, the district replied that the service was organized by the North Mac Ministerial Association and assured FFRF that "no high school staff or administrators attended or participated in the event."

In June 2016, FFRF again contacted the district after a complainant notified FFRF that the district was promoting yet another baccalaureate service on both its website and Facebook page. The service included school-approved speech that quoted from the bible multiple times.

After the service had already occurred, the superintendent informed FFRF that the promotions were taken down.

Religious decals removed from cop cars (June 28, 2016)

A Kansas police department has removed religious decals after FFRF complained about them.

The police department in Harper, Kan., had placed a decal on the back of patrol cars stating: "Romans 13:4." The New Testament verse in question reads as follows: "For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" (King James Version).

Displaying a decal referencing this ominous Christian threat violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, FFRF had maintained. The Harper Police Department's choice of verse to display was particularly disturbing. There was something alarming about an official allusion to a verse that talks about "revengers," "bearing swords" and "executing wrath," when the job of the Harper Police Department is to protect and serve, not to mete out biblical punishments or divine anger.

"Placing decals referencing biblical quotes on the back of a law enforcement vehicle fails to respect either constitutional mandate of neutrality," FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Harper Police Chief Doug Murphy.

With FFRF's letter generating a flurry of media coverage, the city of Harper swiftly backed down.

California council nixes huge grant (June 23, 2016)

A California city council nixed a multimillion-dollar grant to a private religious school after FFRF objected.

The Santa Ana City Council was considering a $2.5 million grant to Mater Dei High School, a Catholic institution, for construction of a new building and parking garage. FFRF called attention to the fact that the funding would have been a violation of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the California Constitution.

"The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from supporting religious activities with public funds," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido and City Council members. "The city of Santa Ana violates this principle when it funds the expansion of a private parochial school."

Jayne additionally detailed how the California Constitution prohibits such funding and urged the Santa Ana City Council not to disburse any money to the Mater Dei High School.
After receiving FFRF's missive, the Santa Ana City Council had second thoughts.

"Please be aware that the City Council agenda item referenced in the letter from Mr. Ryan Jayne has been removed," Daniel Soto from the city manager's office responded in an email. "City staff has not suggested that the item be placed back on any future City Council meeting agenda for consideration."

Michigan roadside cross removed (June 17, 2016)

Thanks to an FFRF complaint, travelers on Interstate 69 near Bath Township, Mich., will not have to view a memorial with a Latin cross along the road.

The change proceeds from a letter from FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler in which she wrote, “It is unconstitutional to allow a religious symbol like a Christian cross to be displayed on a public roadside. The cross . . . unabashedly creates the perception of government endorsement of Christianity.”

The Michigan DOT replied on June 17, notifying FFRF that the cross would be removed in a timely manner.

Religious school message removed (June 17, 2016)

A large religious message in an Oklahoma public school was taken down after an FFRF complaint.

One of the walls in the teachers’ lounge in East Side Elementary School in Chandler, Okla., had a 5-foot-by-5-foot stenciled message that read: “Miracles alter flow unseen through our lives, so let us remember to thank God for our daily blessings.”

FFRF reminded school officials that this was a violation of the First Amendment.

“As you know, public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Wayland Kimble, superintendent of Chandler Public School District.

FFRF asked that the message be removed and the School District reacted swiftly and affirmatively.

“Thank you for informing me of this,” Kimble replied in an email within a day of receiving Seidel’s letter. “We have taken it [the message] down.”

Creationist movie removed from school (June 14, 2016)

An FFRF complaint about a creationist movie has made sure that it will not be shown again in a Colorado public school.

Carl Christianssen, a science teacher at Dakota Ridge High School, showed a video in class called “Unlocking the Mysteries of Life” that has been endorsed by the Campus Crusade for Christ. The video unequivocally endorses the false opinion that the natural universe “can only be explained by intelligent design.”

Teaching creationism or any of its offshoots, such as intelligent design, in a public school is unlawful, because creationism is not based in fact, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel reminded the Jeffco Public Schools system.

Jeffco Public Schools proved to be responsive to FFRF’s concerns. School officials confirmed FFRF’s account and stated that they’re making certain the video is removed from the classroom.

“The district staff members develop approved list of videos for curriculum content,” McMinimee replied to Seidel. “The video was not on our approved list, and, therefore, we have taken remedial actions designed to ensure that this video is not shown again.”

District cracks down on religious promotion (June 10, 2016)

A Texas school district has made important policy changes in response to FFRF's concerns with the McKinney Independent School District on several issues.

District employees were displaying crosses in a number of rooms at local high schools. A religious poster at a middle school read: "As Believers You Are Saved Forever by Grace through Faith" and continued with other religious description including "Baptized into Christ Jesus" and "Soldiers of Christ."

Additionally, a faculty member at McKinney Boyd High School solicited participation of students to read prayers, recite scripture and sing hymns at an upcoming baccalaureate service. And each year, the graduation ceremony the high school has taken place at in the church sanctuary at the Prestonwood Baptist Church decorated with traditional Baptist Christian symbols.

The School District promised to explore alternatives to the church for McKinney High School's graduation ceremony, and it assured FFRF it would keep the church's religious iconography covered as long as the building was used. The district will no longer organize, sponsor or promote baccalaureate services.

School ‘chaplaincy’ makes changes (June 10, 2016)

A California school district has taken a number of steps to conform with the U.S. Constitution following an FFRF complaint.

The Turlock Unified School District had a partnership with the Turlock Chaplaincy, a group of ordained ministers. Some of these ministers and other volunteers were labeled “school chaplains” and permitted to work with elementary school kids on school property during the school day.

FFRF raised objections to the partnership.

“It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the School District to offer religious leaders unique access to befriend students during the school day on school property,” FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Turlock Unified School District Superintendent Dana Salles Trevethan.

An attorney for the school district promptly phoned Ziegler after receiving the letter. He informed FFRF that the training for the program was completely secular, but acknowledged that the name of the program needed to be changed and that the volunteering opportunity needed to be available to everyone, not just religious people.

Trevethan replied in writing to inform FFRF that the School District is making several alterations to the program to make sure that it does not violate the First Amendment. This includes changing the branding (including on volunteers’ shirts) to “Character Coach” from “School Chaplain.” The district will also issue a new Religion in the Schools policy to emphasize neutrality in religion and will provide details of all these changes to the staff and community. Trevethan also assured FFRF that no religious affiliation would be required to participate.

School district halts proselytizer access (June 9, 2016)

FFRF and its Kentucky chapter have blocked a Christian organization’s infiltration into athletic programs throughout a Kentucky school district.

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes had embedded itself into athletic programs all over the Jefferson County Public Schools system (located in Louisville), including in elementary schools. The group sent adult representatives to lead “voluntary” chapel or religious services during athletic practices at district schools, in some cases with the role of an officially designated “team chaplain.”

In a letter to Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Hargens, FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert requested that the school district investigate the matter immediately and put a stop to such behavior.

In response, Hargens outlined in a letter to the head of the local chapter (Edwin Hensley) a number of steps it has put into place to curtail Fellowship activities in local schools.

FFRF ends multiple violations in Kansas (June 7, 2016)

Chisholm Public Schools in Kansas will no longer permit teacher-led prayer and has terminated an elementary school bible class thanks to objections from FFRF.

A student notified FFRF that a history teacher at the high school led all the students in praying for a different teacher who had fallen ill.

FFRF also noticed a fourth-grade teacher listing a bible class on his schedule. Seidel asserted, “These bible classes are unconstitutional. Public schools may not provide religious instruction…. The district may not take away from instructional time to indoctrinate students in Christian dogma.”

On June 7, FFRF received a response admitting that the prayer “was not handled appropriately.” The district said it has discontinued the class “to prevent any further confusion.”

FFRF stops prayer events in Kansas (June 6, 2016)

The Sylvan-Lucas Unified School District will no longer allow prayer at school-sponsored events following a complaint from FFRF.

A student at Sylvan-Lucas High School contacted FFRF after the class president read a pre-written prayer at prom and a teacher gave an invocation at the school’s award night. The prayer at prom ended with “through Jesus, our lord, we pray. Amen,” and the invocation referenced “our lord Jesus.”

“The district has a duty to remain neutral toward religion,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel. “By including prayers at school-sponsored events, the district abridges that duty and alienates the 35% of millennials–born after 1981, i.e., your students–that are nonreligious.”

The superintendent replied to FFRF on June 6 saying the principal, teacher and sponsors would no longer allow prayer at school events.

City removes itself as ChristFest sponsor (May 26, 2016)

The city of Muncie, Ind., is not listed as a sponsor of ChristFest 2016 after FFRF complained about sponsorship of the 2015 event.

ChristFest is an all-day event meant "to give praise, worship, and honor to the Lord Jesus Christ." It features "praise & worship teams, drama teams, and Christian comedians."

The event, which occurred on Aug. 15, 2015, at the Canan Commons, had the city of Muncie seal and the city's name listed as gold level event sponsors. Gold level sponsors must give a donation of at least $1,500.

"Even if the city of Muncie did not donate funds to ChristFest, it is improper to allow the city seal to appear on the ChristFest website," FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the city.

The city replied that it had not given any money to the event and were already attempting to have the seal removed. The city's name and seal are no longer on the 2016 event website.

Indiana religious sign taken down (May 24, 2016)

A religious public school marquee was quickly taken down after an FFRF complaint.

Morristown Jr./Sr. High School in Morristown, Ind., posted “MAY GOD BLESS YOU” as part of its 2016 congratulatory message for its graduating students. Public schools may not endorse a religious message, FFRF reminded the Shelby Eastern Schools Corporation.

FFRF asked that the message be removed from the school marquee. The school district responded immediately to FFRF’s request.

“Thank you for bringing this to my attention,” Evans emailed the day after receiving FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne’s letter. “The marquee will be changed promptly.”

School will move ceremony venue (May 24, 2016)

After FFRF contacted Cincinnati Public Schools, Covedale Elementary School will no longer hold its annual awards ceremony at a local church.

FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert contacted the school district on May 12 to complain about the civil-rights violation. “The selection of Western Hills Church of Christ as the site for the commencement ceremony demonstrates the school’s preference for religion over nonreligion, and more specifically, Christianity over all other faiths,” Markert wrote.

On May 24, FFRF received word that the Covedale principal was advised to identify a different venue for the awards ceremony in future years.

Texas school district withdraws from prayer event (May 23, 2016)

After hearing from FFRF, schools in the Gunter Independent School District in Texas won't be participating in future National Day of Prayer ceremonies

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to the district after receiving a report that Gunter High School students participated in a National Day of Prayer event that included prayer and scriptural readings, performing a hymn. The National Day of Prayer is a Christian event originally organized by Billy Graham to "mobiliz[e] the Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership."

In a May 23 response, the superintendent assured FFRF that Gunter ISD would no longer take student groups to perform at the ceremonies.

District won’t promote religious ceremonies (May 23, 2016)

A Texas school district has assured FFRF that it will stop publicizing private religion-infused baccalaureate ceremonies.

FFRF had contacted the Friendswood Independent School District with its concern that a baccalaureate service in Friendswood High School on May 22 has been advertised on the district's website and in a handout sent home with seniors.

The school district admitted that it had made a mistake in publicizing the event and said it has taken swift measures to rectify the blunder.

"In order to remedy any confusion, Friendswood High School Principal Mark Griffon has sent a memorandum to all senior students indicating that the prior notice was sent in error and that the event is not school-sponsored," the school district's attorney replied.

"Friendswood High School has also removed all references to the event from its calendar."

Coach prayers to end in Minneapolis (May 23, 2016)

Athletic directors across the entire Minneapolis Public School District have been reminded not to lead, initiate, require or facilitate prayer with students at any school athletic events.

FFRF lodged its complaint with the district in response to reports that the North Community High School football coach regularly gathered the team for prayer and participated in the prayer.

After more than five months, FFRF finally received a reply. The district sent a memo to all building athletic directors reminding them of their constitutional obligations promised to address the issue at a district-wide preseason coaches meeting.

FFRF silences loudspeaker prayer at Texas school (May 19, 2016)

Spearman High School in Spearman, Texas, is no longer including prayer over the loudspeaker at athletic events. The move follows a Dec. 1 letter sent by FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover.

"The Supreme Court has specifically struck down invocations given over the loudspeaker at public school athletic events," said Grover, referring to the 2000 Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe case.

A lawyer for the school district replied to FFRF on May 19, saying the district "will instruct those individuals providing announcements during football games, and other school sporting events, to refrain from reciting any prayer, Christian or otherwise," and promised corrective action if the instructions were disregarded.

California Denny’s no longer discriminates (May 17, 2016)

The Denny's restaurant in Hawthorne, Calif., no longer privileges churchgoers with a church bulletin discount after FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell contacted the restaurant on Dec. 18 to complain about the civil rights violation.

Cavell informed the restaurant that the discount, 20% off for bringing in a church bulletin, violated federal and state laws providing that places of public accommodation cannot discriminate on the basis of religion.

A restaurant worker phoned Cavell on May 17 to report that the restaurant would no longer offer the discount.

Fire department takes down sign (May 16, 2016)

A fire department in the state of Washington has agreed to stop posting religious messages on its outdoor marquee, following an FFRF complaint.

Grays Harbor Fire District #1 in Oakville had put up a sign last holiday season reading: “Unto us a savior is born, Merry Christmas.” It was temporarily taken down after a citizen complained, but was then put back up. FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler pointed out its inappropriateness and unconstitutionality in a letter to Oakville Fire Chief Kevin Witt in December. The department recently responded that it has complied with FFRF’s request.

“I am pleased to inform you that at the commission’s meeting in January 2016, it is noted in the minutes that there will not be any more religious messages on the Fire Department reader board,” replied Deanna Lindholm, secretary of the Oakville Fire Department. “It reads in the minutes that the Fire Department will uphold the laws of the state of Washington and the Constitution of the United States of America.”

Lord’s Prayer removed from ceremony (May 16, 2016)

A long-standing tradition of reciting or singing the Lord's Prayer at Ohio's East Liverpool High School's graduation ceremony has been corrected.

A complainant informed FFRF that the prayer has been recited at graduation for the past 70 years. In 2015, the school choir sang the prayer as part of the event's program.

"It is wholly inappropriate to put on performances of songs of worship in a public school setting," said FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a letter to the district. "The song has a devotional, biblical message, and thus would be appropriate in a church setting, but not in a public school. There are a multitude of secular songs that would be far more appropriate."

The Board of Education president shared his view with a news reporter in May. "When I was first on this board I expressed a concern about us singing. The comment made was that 'we know we are breaking the law, we will do it until we get caught.' Well, ladies and gentlemen, we got caught."

On May 16, the superintendent told FFRF that the prayer would not be included in this year's ceremony. Although the valedictorian then led the prayer of his own accord, the prayer was not school-sanctioned or on the ceremony program.

No more Christian revivals in school district (May 15, 2016)

A West Virginia school district changed its policies after FFRF objected to a Christian revival meeting held at one of its schools.

Evangelist Matt Hartley sermonized to students at Mingo Central High School in Williamson, W.Va., preaching to them about Jesus, mulling about whether being gay was a choice, and asserting that "God never made a mistake" in choosing a person's gender.

FFRF contacted the school district after receiving a complaint and the district quickly informed FFRF that it was revamping its policies governing such events.

"Steps have already been taken by the superintendent to ensure that such events will not occur in the future and that all staff are educated regarding the legal obligations of school systems when such issues arise," Denise Spatafore, legal counsel for Mingo County Schools, wrote back to FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.

Religious email signature removed (May 10, 2016)

An employee at the Eau Claire district attorney's office in Wisconsin has removed an inappropriate religious message from the signature line of her official email address, thanks to FFRF. The signature read, in part, "Joyful, Prayerful, and Thankful – Thessalonians 5:16-17."

"It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the district attorney's office or its agents to promote a religious message because doing so conveys government preference for religion over nonreligion," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote in a May 10 letter.

The next day, the office's manager replied that the matter had been resolved.

Nevada school to end violations (May 10, 2016)

A Nevada school district has agreed to halt several constitutional violations at a local high school after being alerted by FFRF.

Mojave High School Principal Antonio Rael and Grace Point Church Pastor Ty Neal were seen chatting in a video about the church’s “partnership” with the principal. Rael said he felt there was a “kingdom-moving opportunity inside the walls of Mojave.” Rael also spoke about bringing the Young Life organization (a Christian youth outfit) into the school to mentor the students, a move he claimed was “totally legit legally.”

“Principal Rael’s comments in this video raise many constitutional concerns,” FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote late last year to Carlos McDade, legal counsel for the Clark County School District (with a follow-up letter in April).

FFRF had requested that the School District (headquartered in Las Vegas) make certain that Rael abides by the restrictions that the U.S. Constitution places on him as the administrator of a public school. In addition, it asked that Mojave High School no longer permit Young Life or other such groups to preach to students, and ensure that Rael was not involved with student religious groups.

In a recent response, Clark County School District indicated that it had heard FFRF loud and clear.

“At the principal’s request, Grace Memorial Church has removed the video from vimeo.com,” McDade replied. “The Young Life organization no longer accesses the school during instructional time/schooldays but instead rents out space as an outside group. The district has also recently amended its regulation regarding student-led clubs and organizations.”

School to be more careful in music selection (May 9, 2016)

Following an FFRF complaint, the Modesto City Schools in California will exercise more care in choosing music for students to perform.

One section of a Winter Concert held at La Loma Junior High School was overwhelmingly religious. Most of the songs were devotional Christian songs.

In a May 9 response to FFRF, a school official said that the La Loma chorus director had “agreed to be more careful in the songs he chooses for future concerts. He will ensure there is more variety in the music performed at each concert.”

‘Follow Christ’ sign taken down at Ohio school (May 5, 2016)

The Genoa Area Local Schools in Genoa, Ohio, have removed a sign reading "Follow Christ" from Genoa High School, after receiving a letter from FFRF.

"It is unconstitutional for Genoa Area Local Schools to encourage its students to 'Follow Christ,' in effect encouraging non-Christian students to convert," said FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne on April 25.

The superintendent replied on May 5 saying the sign had been removed.

Florida district dissociates from religious camp (May 4, 2016)

After FFRF lodged a complaint, the Palm Beach County School District in Florida is no longer partnering with a religious sports day camp, SportsTyme.

The group claims that it creates a sports environment that "leaves God in," including bible lessons. Previously, the district permitted SportsTyme to advertise on school grounds and reportedly helped sign up students for the religious camps.

On May 4, the district notified FFRF that SportsTyme updated its website to delete PBCSD schools from their list of "partners" and added a disclaimer noting that it was not affiliated with or endorsed by the school district.

Tennessee schools to address violations (May 2, 2016)

A Tennessee school district is taking steps to ensure that state/church violations do not recur after hearing from FFRF about the violations.

A second-grade teacher at Highland Rim Elementary in Fayetteville, Tenn., helped students construct crosses as a class craft project. She also marked student assignments with a stamp that stated, "God Made You Special."

"Public schools have a duty to ensure that 'subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion' or use their positions of authority to promote a particular religious viewpoint, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Bill Heath, director of Lincoln County Schools.

Lincoln County Schools replied with a letter detailing a five-point action plan that the district is implementing.

Graduation in church halted (May 1, 2016)

A Nevada public school is no longer holding its graduation ceremonies inside a church, following an FFRF complaint.

For at least the past three years, Coral Academy of Science's eighth-grade promotion and senior graduation ceremonies had been performed in The Church at South Las Vegas, and it was scheduled to be the host again this year.

Coral Academy "will endeavor not to hold graduation ceremonies at that facility in the future, and has recently changed the site of its 2016 ceremonies from there to a secular venue on the UNLV campus," said Mark Gardberg, legal counsel for the school.

Kentucky town to discontinue nativity display (April 28, 2016)

A Kentucky town will stop displaying an overtly religious nativity scene in response to an FFRF objection.

FFRF had notified the city of Walton a number of times that a Christmas nativity panorama on the City Hall lawn was in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
After the December letter and a follow-up in April, FFRF has finally gotten an assurance that the town would take heed of the Constitution.

"I have discussed the legal issues raised in your correspondence dated Dec. 23, 2015, with Mayor Mark Carnahan and advised him accordingly," Walton City Attorney Timothy Noyes wrote back to FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne. "Based on that advice, the mayor indicated that future Christmas displays on city property, if any, will give due deference to existing law concerning separation of church and state."

FFRF resolves another issue in Orange County (April 26, 2016)

FFRF has resolved yet another issue in Florida's Orange County Public Schools. The district, the 11th-largest in the country, is FFRF's most-contacted school district.

This time, the district is ensuring that JROTC ceremonies at East River High School will not include prayer. The 2016 JROTC Awards and Change of Command Ceremony included an invocation listed on the agenda. Attendees were asked to bow their heads, although ROTC students were told in advance that a prayer would be given and if they did not believe in "God or Jesus" that they "just need to stand there and be silent."

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to the district's two attorneys, pointing out that even in the context of a state military college with older students, a federal court "held that school officials may not compel students to participate in a religious activity."

OCPS General Counsel and frequent FFRF correspondent Diego "Woody" Rodriguez responded on April 26, confirming that the prayer occurred and that there would be none at future programs.

Illinois teacher takes down religious ads (April 25, 2016)

A West Aurora High School teacher has taken down religious ads she posted around her classroom after FFRF sent a letter of complaint.

One poster advertised "See You At The Pole," a Christian prayer event, that included bible quotes. Another poster advertised the school's student prayer club.

On April 25, the district superintendent informed FFRF that the postings had been removed after hearing from FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne.

California school board drops prayer (April 25, 2016)

The Silver Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees no longer prays at its meetings, thanks to action taken by FFRF.

On April 25, attorneys for the school district “decided to voluntarily discontinue its prior practice” of including invocations, after hearing from FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler.

OK! Students no longer sent to ‘Spring Tea’ (April 25, 2016)

An Oklahoma school district has assured FFRF that its students will not be attending a moralistic sermon.

The "Spring Tea" is a highly religious annual event in Muskogee. In March, hundreds of middle school girls were preached to on such issues as abstinence, teen pregnancy, sexting and sexually transmitted diseases. Among those attending were students from two public magnet schools in the Muskogee school district.

Last year, FFRF had sent a notice to the district asking them not to have any involvement with the occasion or face legal action. Officials had assured FFRF that the district would abstain, but the organization recently learned that this wasn't the case.

The school district responded that this was all due to a misunderstanding. Drummond explained that the main middle school had explicitly been instructed not to take part, but that the school district had neglected to notify the two public magnet schools. This oversight has now been rectified.

FFRF gets Christian movie removed from school (April 22, 2016)

The Christian movie "Facing the Giants" will no longer be shown in South Dearborn Community Schools, thanks to a complaint lodged by FFRF.

The film follows a struggling high school football coach who inspires his team to believe in the Christian God and to use faith to win football games. South Dearborn Middle School reportedly had students watch it as a reward for finishing a test. When FFRF's complainants contacted the school, they were repeatedly told next time students would be allowed to opt out of watching such movies.

"The district may not require students to opt out of a movie screening, intended as a class reward, in order to avoid a school-sponsored religious message," wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne.

The school principal replied promptly, assuring FFRF that the film will not be shown again, and the school would "make sure that any film shown remains neutral toward religion."

Evangelist barred from Florida schools (April 21, 2016)

FFRF has had an ex-con proselytizer barred from a Florida school district.

Hillsborough County Public Schools had allowed a Fellowship of Christian Athletes representative, David Gaskill, who has a criminal record, to interact and proselytize with its students without restriction. Gaskill had been involved with the district’s sports programs since at least 2014 and appeared to be the schools’ sports chaplain.

FFRF had asked that Gaskill be immediately disallowed from Hillsborough schools. There are serious privacy issues when schools let outside adults pose for “selfies” and pictures with students, including with their arms draped around shirtless students, FFRF contended. The schools also permitted Gaskill to meet with students in “intimate locker room” settings with no other adults present.

Tennessee school’s choral program secularized (April 20, 2016)

Students at David Crockett High School in Jonesborough, Tenn., will no longer be compelled to perform "contemporary Christian concerts" as a part of their public school music instruction after hearing from FFRF.

FFRF received a report that music teacher Kelly Sams conducted blatantly Christian concerts, frequently performed in a church. The concerts consisted mainly of contemporary Christian music.

"These songs have devotional messages that would be appropriate in a church setting, but not in a public school," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a letter to the Washington County Schools.

The county attorney replied to FFRF on April 20, reporting that the superintendent and school principal had met with Sams, advising her that "holding a 'contemporary Christian concert' which contained solely religious songs was not consistent with" school policy.

Violations ended in Florida school district (April 19, 2016)

The Indian River County School District in Florida has instituted changes after FFRF contacted the district with reports of several constitutional violations.

The Vero Beach High School football and baseball teams reportedly employed a chaplain, pastor Joe Moore, who was also the director of the Indian River County Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Football players and cheerleaders participated in prayer breakfasts at First Baptist Church alongside their coaches. The breakfasts frequently involved ministers preaching to students.

In an April 19 response to FFRF, the district's lawyer stated that "the superintendent discovered a few employees who did not understand their duties and obligations regarding student prayer at school, and has corrected those misunderstandings. The superintendent has also reminded all principals at all schools regarding public employee duties and obligations involving student prayer at school."

Arkansas groups won’t get grants (April 18, 2016)

FFRF recently complained to the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District about the nearly $600,000 in grants it gave in 2013-14 to Ecclesia College in Springdale, Ark., an overtly religious institution.

Of the seven majors the college offers, five are theologically based; of its 14 emphases, nine are Christian. Students are promised they will be taught everything from a "biblical perspective" in a "biblical-based classroom."

FFRF sought assurance that the district would not allocate money in the future to Ecclesia College or other religious outfits. Joe Willis, executive director of the agency, promised in his reply to "make certain" that all future grants "will not be used to advance a religious purpose or cause."

Principal schooled on religious activities (April 14, 2016)

A Wisconsin elementary school principal has been instructed to stop imposing his religious beliefs on staff, students and parents.

The principal of Elm Lawn Elementary School in Middleton, Wis., reportedly prayed in front of teachers, students and parents while addressing disciplinary issues, and gave a devotional book to at least one parent during a student consultation.

FFRF lodged a complaint with the Middleton-Cross Plains School District on Jan. 11.

"It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for district administrators to distribute religious literature or to handle disciplinary issues by praying in front of students," Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne told the superintendent.

On April 14, the superintendent told FFRF that "the principal in question was informed of [the district's] expectations."

Staff won’t lead, promote religious club (April 11, 2016)

Tri County Area School District in Sand Lake, Mich., is making changes to a religious club that was previously run unconstitutionally.

Tri County High School's First Priority club, a Christian club, was often attended by a music teacher and a local pastor, in violation of the Equal Access Act. The music teacher also promoted the club in her classroom, even reportedly distributing fliers to students at lunch and telling them to take a flier because they "need Jesus."

An attorney for the school district wrote back on April 11, telling FFRF that it would ensure staff members would only participate as monitors in student-led religious clubs, and outside persons would not attend the clubs.

No more preaching at mandatory events (April 10, 2016)

A Texas public school district will stop preachers sermonizing during compulsory employee events, following a complaint by FFRF.

The Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District held a mandatory district-wide convocation at First Baptist Church of Euless on Aug. 14. During the event, Scott Sheppard, executive director of 6 Stones Ministries, led the assembled employees in a prayer. Sheppard reportedly admitted that he wasn't supposed to pray in his speech, but said that because "y'all are in my house," he was going to pray anyway.

The district's attorney, Deron Robinson, replied last month to assure FFRF that "the district administration has taken appropriate measures" to make certain future speakers are reminded of the district's policy and practice to not promote a specific religion."

Teacher stops peddling creationism (April 7, 2016)

FFRF has stopped a Garrettsville, Ohio, public school teacher from promoting creationism in his classroom.

In January, Garfield High School biology teacher Gregory Walker taught a lesson on creationism/intelligent design as a precursor to a unit on evolution. Walker had four crosses on display during the lesson.

"As a matter of fact, there has never been evidence of macroevolution," he said in a statement. "You can look at any fossil you want. There is no correlation, no go-between, from any organism to another. Ask any scientist."

"Teaching creationism or any of its offshoots, such as intelligent design, in a public school, is unlawful, because creationism is not based on fact," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote in a letter last month to Ted Lysiak, superintendent of the James A. Garfield School District.

"It's agreed that Walker will no longer teach intelligent design and the science involved in it," Lysiak writes.

After wavering, school board drops prayer (April 7, 2016)

Thanks to persistent action by FFRF, the Kings Canyon Unified School District Governing Board in Reedley, Calif., will no longer pray at its meetings.

FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler first objected to the practice in November 2015.

Superintendent Juan Garza replied on Feb. 24, informing FFRF that the board had passed a new invocation policy. The policy attempted to set up a system like that approved by the Supreme Court for local government bodies in its Greece v. Galloway case, and contained inclusive language, but still allowed for prayer at school board meetings.

"School-sanctioned prayer, even in the new, slightly more removed context, is unconstitutional," wrote Ziegler in a second letter on April 7. "Federal courts ruling on the matter have agreed that school boards fall within the school context, not in the realm of other government meetings."

On May 3, Garza informed FFRF that "the district has decided to discontinue its practice of invocation."

Gideons must follow same rules as others (April 1, 2016)

Gideons will now be forced to abide by the same literature distribution rules as all other groups in Georgia's Whitfield County Schools following an FFRF complaint.

A district parent said representatives of the men's ministry handed out bibles to Westside Elementary School students on Nov. 10, 2015.

FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote a letter to the district on March 28, informing the district of the unconstitutionality of the Gideons handing out bibles.

In an April 1 email, Superintendent Judy Gilreath informed FFRF that principals are told each year that they cannot allow Gideons on campus to distribute bibles, but may place a table in their schools where, without discrimination, people and organizations can place literature, unattended, for students to pick up.

FFRF takes on principal’s proselytizing (March 29, 2016)

After hearing from FFRF, the Conroe Independent School District in Conroe, Texas, has instructed the principal of Vogel Intermediate School to stop proselytizing to her employees.

An employee reported that the principal regularly sent emails with religious content, and even placed notes in each employee's personal mailbox with the message, "Jesus died for you."

On March 29, the district responded, denying all allegations, but stating that the principal had been provided with a guide to religion in the public schools to use during teacher in-service training at the beginning of the next school year, and would reinforce with the staff their obligation to remain neutral toward religion.

Library stays open on Easter Sunday (March 27, 2016)

FFRF persuaded the central library in Madison, Wis., to serve patrons on Easter Sunday.

FFRF had contacted Madison library staff last year to emphasize that Easter Sunday was neither a federal nor a Wisconsin holiday, and that the library was open otherwise on Sundays.

"It is unconstitutional and inappropriate for city libraries to close on this Christian holy day," FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Library Director Greg Mickells last May.

The library was open on Easter, where it did heavy business, and will remain open in future years.

FFRF has teacher cease sermonizing (March 23, 2016)

FFRF has made an Ohio public school teacher stop sermonizing to her students.

Green Middle School teacher Kelli Hunka was assigning religious projects to her students every month. In January, for instance, she had students "write and illustrate a prayer for the new year," while recently she asked students to "illustrate Isaiah 11:6."

"These assignments are not part of a study of comparative religion or the history of religion, but rather provide lessons in Christianity," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote in early March.

Hunka "has been instructed not to use any materials containing the religious references mentioned in your letter," Mary Jo Shannon Slick, legal counsel for the schools, recently replied, adding that Hunka had assured Green Local Schools Supervisor Jeff Miller she would abide by the directive.

Proselytizing ends in school district (March 17, 2016)

After an FFRF complaint, the Payson (Ariz.) Unified School District has directed teachers not to promote their personal religious beliefs to their students.

FFRF was notified of the situation by the parents of a local kindergarten student. The student had shared that his music teacher was telling the story of baby Jesus being born and that his homeroom teacher showed a movie about "baby God saving people" and that "he died doing it."

Multiple other issues were also addressed. The school promoted its winter concert with a flier that repeatedly referenced Christmas as "Christ"mas. Additionally, at the end of the concert, all of the teachers sang the hymn "Silent Night" on stage together.

On March 17, the district responded to FFRF that the principal had spoken to the music teacher and that they would amend future district-wide staff training to prevent teachers from promoting religious beliefs to their students.

Public transit ceases ad sponsorship (March 15, 2016)

The Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority in Ohio has agreed to FFRF's request that it cease weekly sponsorship of a religious advertisement in a local paper.

The ad, printed each Saturday in the Record-Courier with text promoting Christianity and a "Scripture Reading" selected by the American Bible Society, listed PARTA as a sponsor. "It is unconstitutional for PARTA to pay for a religious advertisement, or to endorse religion," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote in a letter to the organization.

On March 15, PARTA notified FFRF that it had directed the newspaper to ensure that PARTA ads no longer appeared in religion-themed sections.

Bible verse removed from email signature (March 8, 2016)

An inspector from North Carolina's License & Theft Bureau will no longer use a biblical verse as her email signature after FFRF contacted the department.

Her email signature included, "For the one in authority is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. Romans 13:4."

FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott called the department's attention to the signature in a letter dated Sept. 18, 2015. The department's human resources director responded March 8, informing FFRF that the employee removed the quote from her email signature.

District drops religious assemblies (March 8, 2016)

Shelby County School District in Alabama is taking steps to ensure no further inappropriate religious assemblies occur in its schools.

Presenters from Word of Life Redemption were permitted to hold assemblies at Montevallo High School and Montevallo Middle School on Feb. 12. The group lists its mission as "to influence students in schools and youth groups throughout the nation and to 'make a difference' in today's youth culture through music, drama, and worship that glorifies God and brings people to the cross."

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote the district on March 2, and on March 8, Superintendent Randy Fuller responded, noting that the district considered the incident a serious matter and was already addressing it with administrators.

Ohio bible study groups adhere to law (March 2, 2016)

Faith Memorial Church in Lancaster, Ohio, participated in bible study groups in a number of local public schools. The church listed such groups in eight public schools in its vicinity, including four high schools. Most of the clubs met during the schools' lunch breaks and were run by adults, according to the church's webpage (since taken down).

The courts have clearly decided over the years that public schools cannot advance, prefer or promote religion.

FFRF recently received a response from legal counsel for the four districts where the public schools are located. In its reply, the firm told FFRF that in the future any bible study clubs would conform to the law. "Principals are making sure that students leading bible study clubs are conducting those groups within the parameters of the Equal Access Act," the March 2 letter stated.

FFRF ensures students’ rights in Alabama (March 2, 2016)

FFRF has ensured that members of the Interfaith Club at Bob Jones High School will be permitted to hold meetings on any topic of their choosing, after Madison City Schools Assistant Superintendent Robby Parker prohibited discussion of Satanism, the planned topic at one of the club's meetings.

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover contacted the district's attorney on Feb. 17, noting that it's unlawful for a school to deny students the right to meet based on the "religious, political philosophical or other content of the speech at such meetings."

The district's attorney responded March 2, saying that administrators and other employees "will take all necessary steps to ensure that schools in the city of Madison comply with the statute."

Automated phone system misuse rectified (March 1, 2016)

The Jacksonville City Schools in Alabama has assured FFRF that the district's automated phone system will not again be used to inform parents of religious events.

Last summer, community members reportedly received calls and text messages from the school system to inform them of and invite them to prayer walks being held at the district.

"Future use of this phone system will be appropriate and within the guidelines of the law," Superintendent Mark Peterson wrote in response.

Bible distribution ends in 3 districts (February 29, 2016)

At the Cleveland County School District in Rison, Ark., the district superintendent confirmed to FFRF that the Gideons would no longer distribute bibles to students in classrooms at Rison Elementary School, and that the Gideon representatives would no longer be allowed to speak with students about their mission.

"Courts have uniformly held that the distribution of bibles to students at school is prohibited because it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott. "When a school distributes religious literature to its students, or permits evangelists to do so, it entangles itself with a religious message."

Invocations to be nonsectarian (February 26, 2016)

The Plano Independent School District Board of Trustees has dropped Christian invocations from its meetings in favor of "nonsectarian inspirational messages" after hearing from FFRF.

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover first wrote on Dec. 7, 2015, informing the board, "It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings."

When an attorney for the school district replied that the district did not intend to change its practices, Grover sent a rebuttal letter on Jan. 22. He pointed out that several courts have held that prayers at school board meetings differ from the legislative prayers that the U.S. Supreme Court has approved of, and that even in the legislative context, legislators themselves are not permitted to lead the prayers as the trustees were doing here.

In a Feb. 26 response, the Plano Board of Trustees attorney maintained his disagreement, but wrote, "Notwithstanding our disagreement, going forward the Plano ISD School Board intends on opening its meetings with nonsectarian inspirational messages delivered by board members."

‘Appeal to Heaven’ flag removed (February 25, 2016)

Shelby County, Ohio, is no longer displaying an Appeal to Heaven flag in a county building after hearing from FFRF.

Members of the Appeal to Heaven movement "honor the Lord by networking elected officials who are believers in Jesus Christ, who regularly attend and display a commitment to an evangelical, Gospel-centered church and who will commit to live and govern based on biblical . . . principles."

"This mission is clearly sectarian, and displaying the flag is a tacit endorsement of evangelical Christianity," wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne in a letter to the county.

On Feb. 25, the Shelby County Commissioners notified FFRF that the flag had been removed.

 

FFRF tackles football coach’s religiosity (February 25, 2016)

The coach of the Cannon County High School football team in Woodbury, Tenn., will no longer be permitted to conduct religious activities with his students.

The coach previously had taken his team to attend area churches for "team building," and also brought in a speaker to give the team a devotional with "faith-based life lessons" the day before every game.

FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter of complaint to the Cannon County School District on Nov. 24, 2015. The district "cannot allow a nonschool adult access to the children in its charge, and it certainly cannot grant that access to a religious speaker seeking to organize prayer for the students," Markert wrote.

On Feb. 25, Director of Schools Barbara N. Parker responded saying the issues have been resolved.

Kansas district drops creationism (February 22, 2016)

The Sylvan-Unified School District 299 in Sylvan Grove, Kan., will no longer permit the teaching of creationism.

A student contacted FFRF to relate that a science teacher at Sylvan-Lucas Junior/Senior High School had long been teaching creationism and presenting her biology students with "evidence" against evolution. The teacher's lesson plans listed "Arguements [sic] against Evolution notes" for two class periods, and she showed a video called "Unlocking the Mystery of Life," which claims that the universe "can only be explained by intelligent design."

"Teaching creationism or any of its offshoots, such as intelligent design, in a public school is unlawful, because creationism is not based in fact. Courts have routinely found that such teachings are religious, despite many new and imaginative labels given to the alternatives," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in a Feb. 9 letter to the district superintendent.

On Feb. 22, FFRF received a response from the district. Superintendent Jude Stecklein said the district investigated the situation and informed the teacher that she can no longer teach creationism.

Grad info session moved from church (February 19, 2016)

The Columbia Borough School District in Columbia, Pa., will not hold events in church any longer.

Last year, Columbia High School required graduating students to attend a graduation practice in a Christian church to receive caps and gowns, as well as information about the ceremony. FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler objected to the constitutional violation in a July 22, 2015, letter.

After FFRF followed up with the district twice, an acting superintendent for the district informed FFRF that the previous superintendent had recently resigned, and he had only just seen FFRF's letters. He apologized for the district's lack of response, confirmed that the situation had happened as FFRF described, and stated that he immediately directed the high school principal to cease the practice of distributing important graduation information in a church.

Graduation practice in church ends (February 19, 2016)

FFRF made a Pennsylvania public school discontinue graduation practice inside a church.

Columbia High School last year required its students to receive their graduation caps and gowns and ceremony information within a church.

School districts that have used churches for school functions have had the practice struck down by courts.

"A school's use of a church for school functions is problematic because it sends a message of approval of the church to impressionable students," FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote in a letter last July to Carol Powell, then-superintendent of the Columbia Borough School District.

On receiving no reply, Ziegler followed up with two more letters in November and last month. Finally, FFRF got a response a few weeks ago from Acting Superintendent Ken Klawitter, who took over in December. Klawitter told the organization that he first became aware of the issue through its February letter and acted swiftly.

"I immediately directed the high school principal to cease the practice," he wrote. "In the future, caps and gowns, as well as important graduation information, will be distributed in a secular setting."

‘In God We Trust’ picture taken down (February 18, 2016)

Kettle Falls Middle School in Washington has taken down a picture reading "In God We Trust" over the backdrop of an American flag, after FFRF complained.

FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to the Kettle Falls School District on Nov. 23, 2015. "This posting falsely equates patriotism with piety," she contended. "Young, impressionable students are apt to believe that the school endorses the religious message of the poster."

On Feb. 18, the district superintendent informed FFRF that the picture had been removed.

FFRF wins two battles in California district (February 12, 2016)

In California, Lake Elsinore Unified School District's "Student of the Month" luncheons with the local Chamber of Commerce will no longer be religious events, and a praying coach has been taken to task.

The monthly lunches that honored students for their academic achievements took place on school property and were attended by school staff and government officials. They also typically included a Christian prayer, and, one year, Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ was given to the honorees.

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the school district on July 23, 2015, asking the district to "discontinue prayer and the distribution of religious literature at future school-sponsored activities."

The district replied on Aug. 20, claiming that the Student of the Month events were not sponsored by the district. Seidel rebutted the letter on Sept. 15, pointing out that district employees were "volunteer administrators" and the district was thanked in the programs as a sponsor.

On Feb. 12, the district informed FFRF that changes had been made to the Student of the Month ceremonies. The district is no longer a sponsor, it vowed not to mandate or encourage student participation in prayers, and the chamber agreed to implement a "secular inspirational message" in lieu of prayer.

The district also noted that it had directed the Elsinore High School football coach to refrain from requiring prayer and participating in student prayers.

Graduation prayers ended (February 10, 2016)

The La Mesa-Spring Valley School District will no longer include prayers at graduation ceremonies.

FFRF objected to the practice in a Jan. 14 letter. "The Supreme Court has continually struck down prayers at school-sponsored events, including public school graduations," Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the district.

On Feb. 10, the district said that "steps have been taken to ensure that prayers or prayer-like speeches are not held at school-sponsored activities in the future."