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Legal Advocacy Victories

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."

FFRF again gets rid of ‘Jesus is My Hero’ shirts (February 9, 2016)

FFRF has again ensured that staff at Akron Public Schools in Ohio will not be permitted to wear "Jesus Is My Hero" T-shirts in school. FFRF first dealt with the shirts in 2013, which promoted the Buchtel Community Learning Center's athletic program.

The district notified all staff in October of 2013 that wearing the donated shirts was a violation of policy. "Unfortunately," said Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a letter to the district's attorney, "I'm writing again because our complainant informs us that these T-shirts have made appearances once again, worn by coaches at football practices."

On Feb. 9, the district's attorney told Markert that the district's athletic director and the school principal were notified, and told staff "that, while acting in their official capacity as school officials, they are prohibited from engaging in actions that could be seen as an endorsement of religion, in violation of board policy."

School officials to be neutral (February 8, 2016)

The Morgan County Schools in Alabama have reminded a coach and a band director to keep state and church separate after FFRF stepped in with a written complaint.

A Danville High School student informed FFRF that, after the end of football games, the team's coaches gathered the players together at the center of the field and led both teams in a Christian prayer. In addition, the drum major, on the instruction of the band director, led prayers at the halftime of each game and at practices.

"It is, of course, unconstitutional for public school athletic coaches or band directors to lead students in prayer, participate in student-led prayer, or instruct students to lead prayers," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover in a letter to the district.

An attorney for the school district informed Grover by email on Feb. 8 that the coaches and band director had "been told of their obligations to remain neutral, including that they should not organize or direct students in prayer."

Bible distribution ends in Ohio (February 8, 2016)

After receiving a complaint from FFRF, the River View Local School District in Warsaw, Ohio, also will no longer permit the Gideons to distribute bibles.

Students were reportedly separated into groups who wanted and did not want to receive bibles. The children who elected not to take one were instructed to wait in a separate line until the Gideons were finished distributing bibles to other students.

"Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion and to protect the rights of conscience of young and impressionable students," wrote Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a letter originally sent June 5, 2015.

The district finally informed FFRF on Feb. 8 that it would not permit the distribution of bibles on school property.

Library open during Dalai Lama event (February 4, 2016)

The public library system in Madison, Wis. decided in February not to close its central downtown branch for a March private event for the Dalai Lama. FFRF, whose office is located across the street from the library, was one of the community voices objecting to the planned event.

"We write to express concerns that granting this proposal would raise the appearance of government-religion entanglement, and also would be a disservice to the local community," said FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne in a letter to the library's board of directors.

The board unanimously voted the proposal down on Feb. 4.

Florida charter school gets default notice (February 3, 2016)

FFRF had warned the Duval County School Board in Florida in January that the Seacoast Charter Academy seemed like a thinly disguised religious establishment.

The institution, which was run as part of a private Christian school for almost 20 years, became a kindergarten to fifth-grade charter entity in 2011 for financial reasons.

Also, Seacoast hosted a Veterans Day program inside the academy's auditorium, which features a large Latin cross at center stage and lots of religious iconography. It is also used for Seacoast's chapel services, so it serves the same role as a church.

"We're pleased the school district investigated and issued the default," said FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel. "Both the district and FFRF will continue to monitor these schools."

Religious mural on wall painted over (February 3, 2016)

The Holy Land Experience, located in Orlando, painted a mural on a retaining wall that turns the corner from Interstate 4 in the direction of the religious amusement park. This interchange and retaining wall are government property that the Florida Department of Transportation maintains, and Holy Land sought no permits or permission to put up the mural.

The mural featured religious imagery, showing two angels unrolling a scroll that signifies humankind. The message conveyed was that God created us all — an inescapably religious notion, says FFRF.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Florida public officials last November when FFRF was alerted to the mural by its local chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community.

FFRF has learned that the Holy Land Experience has finally painted over the mural in a neutral tan color.

Superintendent pulls back on Twitter (February 2, 2016)

The superintendent of Dalton Local Schools in Ohio will no longer post religious messages on his official school Twitter feed, after FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote the school district's attorney a letter on Jan. 25, 2016. The tweets called for prayer, encouraged belief in God, and promoted Christian church events. "Anyone viewing this school-sponsored Twitter feed would understand that the superintendent is endorsing his personal religion over all others," said Jayne.

Attorney Susan C. Hastings responded on Feb. 2 informing FFRF that the superintendent would establish a separate Twitter account for personal communications.

No religion for Adopt-a-Cops (February 2, 2016)

The Johnson City Police Department in Tennessee is taking steps to ensure it is abiding by the Constitution regarding its "Adopt-a-Cop" program.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter on Dec. 8 objecting to the program, in which community members "adopt" a police officer, and includes praying for the officer every day.

In a Feb. 2 response, an attorney for the department acknowledged that the department could have done more "to dispel the public's perception that the department itself was operating and 'pushing' this program," and assured FFRF that the department recognized its obligation to separate church and state.

Thou shalt not post the Ten Commandments (February 1, 2016)

Officials in Itawamba County, Miss., removed a courthouse display of the Ten Commandments in response to a recent letter from FFRF.

"The Ten Commandments display violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution," FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott stated in the Jan. 27 letter. "The religious message of the Ten Commandments is obvious. By placing this display directly inside the county's governmental offices, the county is unmistakably sending the message that it gives the display its stamp of approval."

Elliott added that the government's biblical display was striking a blow against religious liberty, forcing taxpayers of all faiths—and of no faith—to support a particular expression of worship.

On Feb. 1, county supervisors agreed to modify the presentation, according to news reports.

FFRF appreciates the supervisors' decision to get rid of the Ten Commandments, but voiced concerns about the substitution.

"We're pleased that the county's unconstitutional Ten Commandments display will be removed from the courthouse," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "But it's regrettable that the county supervisors sought out another religious statement to replace the Ten Commandments. Elected officials should not use their government position and government buildings as a place for promoting their religious views."

Coach won’t organize prayers (February 1, 2016)

A Michigan public school softball coach will no longer lead team members in prayer.

In May 2015, FFRF sent a letter to North Branch Area Schools Superintendent Thomas English alerting him that high school softball coach Willie Deshetsky was leading his team members in prayer. FFRF sent English photos of Deshetsky's team prayerfully holding hands with him.

"It is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their team in prayer," FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote.

FFRF finally received a response in February informing the organization that the coach had been asked to desist.

"Coach Willie Deshetsky was officially informed he cannot organize, advocate or lead the softball team in prayer," North Branch Athletic Director James Fish said in his reply.

Bible distribution ends in Texas (February 1, 2016)

And at West Orange-Stark Elementary School in Orange, Texas, FFRF got involved when it had heard from parents that bibles were being handed out to students.

"There is no excuse or justification for this practice. It is unnecessary, offensive and illegal," FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote in a Jan. 6 letter to West Orange-Cove School District Superintendent Rickie Harris.

In a response dated Feb. 1, lawyers for the school district said that they had counseled the school about the rules governing such issues. "We anticipate no further issues in the future," the legal firm stated.

Seniors spared from prayers (January 29, 2016)

Seniors at the Easton Area Lifestyle Campus in Easton, Pa., will no longer be subjected to prayers by center staff. Previously, staff recited prayers, asked people to join in an "amen" chorus accompanied by piano, and sung Christian hymns.

"Federal regulations prohibit senior centers receiving federal funding to engage in religious activities at government-sponsored functions such as senior lunches," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel on Jan. 12 in a letter to the center.

On Jan. 29, FFRF received a response from the Northampton County Department of Human Services, noting that it had distributed a policy memo to the county's senior centers. The memo said that "all senior centers operated by the county of Northampton, or funded even partially by funds from the [Area Agency on Aging] are, effective immediately, precluded from offering prayers."

Kentucky coach to stop prayers (January 28, 2016)

FFRF recently got a Kentucky school district to stop a public high school football coach from leading his team in prayer.

Last September, FFRF had sent a letter to the Bowling Green City Schools asking that Coach Kevin Wallace cease from having his team worship before games. The complaint included a photo of Wallace with his students in a prayer circle, as well as his quote in the local paper acknowledging that he was engaged in the practice.

In a follow-up letter last month, FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert expressed concern that the school district had failed to take any action.

Finally, FFRF received a response in March from Bowling Green Independent Schools Superintendent Gary Fields acknowledging the receipt of the two letters. "I have addressed the concerns contained in your letters and consider the matter to be resolved," Fields replied.

FFRF ensures Michigan festival’s secularity (January 27, 2016)

In response to an FFRF complaint, North Township, Mich., will be careful to avoid all religion in future events it sponsors with religious entities.

On Sept. 11, 2015, the Northfield Township Police Department sent an e-mail to local residents promoting a Kids' Day event. A local church that co-sponsored the event wrote the content of the e-mail, which included religious sentiments like "Christ wishes to save all of us."

"The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages," wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne in the letter. "The government violates this principle of neutrality."

The township manager responded on Jan. 27, saying that he typically tells the church that co-sponsored events must be free from religion, and would speak with the police chief to make sure it would not happen again.

Gideons distribution stopped by FFRF (January 27, 2016)

FFRF has ensured that Gideons will not be allowed to distribute bibles to West Side Elementary School students in Woodbury, Tenn.

In response to a parent’s complaint that a teacher invited the Gideons to distribute bibles and speak to students about the book, FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the Cannon County School District on June 8, 2015. “When a school distributes religious literature to its students, or permits evangelists to distribute religious literature to its students, it entangles itself with that religious message,” said Markert.

FFRF followed up with the district in September, but did not receive a response until Jan. 27, when the director of schools e-mailed a reply saying, “The Gideon bible distribution complaint has been addressed. I am sure there will be no further concerns with this issue.”

Sheriff’s Office drops ‘death book’ sponsorship (January 26, 2016)

The Lee County Sheriff's Office in Alabama will no longer be part of the sponsors page of a Christian memorial book titled "Lift Up Thine Eyes," thanks to FFRF.

The book, which a funeral home provides for the grieving, features colored illustrations of iconic bible stories. "We write to ensure that the Sheriff's Office ceases its sponsorship of this Christian book, which creates the appearance that the office endorses Christianity over all minority faiths and over nonreligion," said FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover in a letter to the Opelika, Ala., law enforcement agency.

Sheriff Jay Jones phoned FFRF on Jan. 26, informing Grover that the wording in the book had been changed to reflect that the sponsorship was made by him personally, and not by the department.

Meals on Wheels tells proselytizer to stop (January 26, 2016)

FFRF was able to stop an employee of Meals on Wheels from proselytizing, which then prompted a permanent policy of non-proselytization for California's Contra Costa County division of the group.

FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to the organization's CEO on Jan. 19 to report a Meals on Wheels employee who "aggressively promotes religion while in [a] recipient's home, despite being repeatedly asked to stop because the recipient is not religious."

Jayne pointed out that Meals on Wheels receives federal funding, which means it is subject to regulations prohibiting "inherently religious activities, such as . . . proselytization." Jayne also pointed out that program recipients "are in a vulnerable position and should not be forced to endure religious proselytizing in order to receive benefits."

Meals on Wheels CEO Elaine Clark called FFRF on Jan. 26 and said she was supportive of FFRF's concerns and that proselytizing is very much against the group's policy. Clark placed a disciplinary note in the employee's file, and pledged to fire her if she continued to proselytize. In addition, after noticing that the handbook given to drivers doesn't specifically address proselytizing, Clark said she would update it right away.

FFRF stops distribution of bibles by Gideons (January 22, 2016)

After FFRF complained, Wichita Public Schools is taking steps to ensure no further inappropriate bible distributions will happen on its grounds.

On Nov. 1, 2015, several members of the Gideons, a Christian men's group, handed out bibles to East High School students as they got off their buses. "The district may not allow Gideons, or any other religious groups, to enter school property to distribute religious literature," wrote Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in a Dec. 3 letter. "In allowing Gideons to distribute bibles to students, the district is impermissibly endorsing religion by placing its 'stamp of approval' on the religious messages contained in the bible."

Seidel acknowledged that the district may have had no prior knowledge of the distribution because Gideons "operate by deliberately avoiding superintendents and school boards. They advise their members to seek permission at the lowest level of authority." In a response on Jan. 22, the district's attorney said that this was the case, and acknowledged that "neutrality commands that the Gideons not be permitted to distribute bibles on school property."

Bible readings, posters removed from school (January 13, 2016)

After FFRF stepped in, Alabama's Blount County Schools has stopped having students read a bible verse over the PA each morning.

"A daily bible reading, even by a student, violates the Constitution," said FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in his Jan. 7 letter to the school district's attorney.

In addition, religious messages were regularly posted on the school walls. In response, some freethinking students put up posters saying "God's not real," which were torn down and replaced with further religious posters. "Given the law, and the acrimony caused by this poster battle, the prudent course is to remove all religious and irreligious posters from the school," wrote Seidel.

FFRF's complainant reported on Jan. 13 that the bible readings had stopped and all religious posters were removed. In addition, after students proposed a secular club, the school took the drastic move of banning all non-curricular clubs. In response, students started a science club.

FFRF stops proselytizing display (January 13, 2016)

FFRF has gotten the Ten Commandments and other religious displays removed from the walls of Mansfield High School in Mansfield, Ark.

In addition to the decalogue, pictures with bible quotes lined classrooms and hallways. "Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott on Jan. 13.
The Mansfield School District's attorney wrote back the next day, saying simply, "The objects you identified have been removed."

FFRF teaches school a history lesson (January 12, 2016)

Sunset Elementary School in Anadarko, Okla., has taken down a framed picture titled "The First Prayer in Congress" from the school office after receiving a letter from FFRF. The portrait showed members of the Continental Congress with heads bowed in prayer during a September 1774 session.

"This picture depicts an obscure historical event, which makes it seem likely that it was chosen for display because of its religious significance and not its historical significance," wrote Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel. "This is especially true if one understands the actual history: that the preacher, Jacob Duché, was a traitor to the revolution who fled to England after slandering the Congress he led in prayer."

Seidel pointed out that the prayer was opposed by the first two chief justices of the Supreme Court because, as John Adams said, "We were so divided in religious sentiments." By Adams' admission, the prayer was approved for its political value, Seidel wrote. In addition, Duché was opposed to American independence, vilifying the Continental Congress and calling soldiers cowards. "Is this really a man to be venerated in a public school or ought he to rank with the other traitor of that era, Benedict Arnold?" Seidel asked.
An Anadarko School District representative informed FFRF on Jan. 12 that the district decided to remove the print.

FFRF halts prayers by coach in Minnesota (January 11, 2016)

The Albany High School football team in Minnesota will no longer be subjected to prayers led by their coaches, following a complaint lodged by FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.

Elliott wrote to Albany Area Schools on Dec. 21, 2015. Citing a litany of cases, Elliott noted that the Supreme Court had repeatedly "struck down school-sponsored prayer because it constitutes a government advancement and endorsement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment."

Superintendent Greg Johnson responded promptly to notify FFRF he was looking into the matter. On Jan. 11, Johnson thanked Elliot for the letter and assured FFRF that the school district had investigated and "taken appropriate steps to ensure that any coach involvement with prayer activities will not occur."

Church withdraws request for public funds (December 24, 2015)

After FFRF objected to a Vermont board's proposal to give a grant to a church, the church has rescinded its request. The Waitsfield Select Board had voted to place an item on the Town Meeting ballot in March 2016 to give $1,500 to the Waitsfield United Church of Christ.

"The government may not fund projects for religious worship," wrote Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne on Dec. 8. Jayne also pointed out that the Vermont Constitution prohibits funding of places of worship.

A Valley Reporter article published Dec. 24 said that to avoid controversy, the church representatives withdrew their request at the board's Dec. 21 meeting — though not before castigating FFRF's complainant for inviting "this crackpot Midwestern group into the discussion."

FFRF brings equality to prison website (December 20, 2015)

In Pennsylvania, the York County prison system's website featured a direct link to the website of Good News Jail & Prison Ministry, a Christian organization, despite the fact that several other organizations operate in the prison. However, the county stopped promoting the group on its website after FFRF got involved.

Staff Attorney Sam Grover contended that posting the link solely to one organization "creates the impression that the county impermissibly favors the ministry's religious message, which violates the Establishment Clause."

FFRF's complainant reported on Dec. 20 that the county had removed the link.

Evangelists removed from high school (December 18, 2015)

After FFRF sent a complaint, Barnum Public Schools in Minnesota will no longer allow evangelists access to students at school.

Adults affiliated with the evangelical Christian group Campus Life had been permitted to come into the lunchroom weekly to recruit students to come to church events, a Barnum High School student told FFRF. The group states is purpose as to “minister in the name of Jesus.”

“The presence of Campus Life ministers in the school supports their mission of proselytizing,” said Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott in a Dec. 16 letter. “No religious organization should have direct access to students at school. This predatory conduct should raise red flags, especially since these adults are conversing with students without parental knowledge.”

Superintendent David J. Bottem responded promptly on Dec. 18, informing FFRF that the district had severed its relationship with Campus Life, “effective immediately.”

Police station won’t display nativity again (December 17, 2015)

Next holiday season, the city of Belle Plaine, Minn., will not allow a longstanding nativity scene on public land as it previously had. A local church will display it instead.

Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott and Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne sent the city a letter of complaint on Dec. 15 to protest the nativity display, which the city allowed the Rotary Club to place on the lawn of the police department for at least 60 years. In addition to pointing out the legal issues with the nativity, FFRF requested to put up its own banner if the nativity was not removed. The request was granted, although FFRF's banner was later stolen.

FFRF's local complainant reported on Dec. 17 that the Rotary had been told it would have to move the nativity from 2016 onward.

FFRF quashes Texas teacher’s prayers (December 17, 2015)

Teacher-led prayers are no longer part of the lunch hour at Alpha Charter School in Garland, Texas, thanks to action taken by the FFRF.

A parent reported their child's second-grade teacher to FFRF for leading her students in prayer every day before lunch. The school principal had not taken action despite being made aware of the situation.

Public schools "must not promote decidedly religious messages to a captive student audience, thereby isolating and excluding those students who are non-Christian or nonreligious," Staff Attorney Sam Grover told the school. Grover also pointed to FFRF's recent successful lawsuit against praying teachers in Emanuel County, Ga., declaring, "FFRF is committed to defending the rights of students in public schools. Given how young and impressionable these students are, this violation of the law is particularly egregious."

The school responded on Dec. 17, saying that they had investigated the situation and met with the teacher in question, who now "understands her responsibility in regards to separation of church and state."

Religious club no longer teacher-led (December 17, 2015)

The Appleton Area School District in Wisconsin is taking steps to ensure that a Christian club is truly student-run.

FFRF learned that Appleton East High School circulated a flyer for a religious student club, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, but listed a teacher's school email and cell phone number as the contact. "We are writing to ensure that the FCA is entirely student-initiated and student-run, as required by federal law," wrote Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne in a Dec. 7 letter to the school district. "In our experience, adults often organize and participate in FCA events. If the FCA club is not student-initiated and student-run, AEHS should dissolve it."

"School and district administration have met with the FCA supervisor and reviewed FCA meeting practices for club operations," wrote Superintendent Lee Allinger in an emailed reply on Dec. 17. "We also took this opportunity to reinforce legal and district requirements."

Allinger also stated that the objectionable flyers had been removed and future flyers would not contain supervisor contact information, and thanked FFRF for sharing its concerns.

Good News Club gets bad news from FFRF (December 15, 2016)

Good News Club meetings will no longer take place during the school day in the Lincoln County School District in Newport, Ore., after FFRF got involved in December 2015.

The Good News Club, an evangelical Christian children's ministry, was previously allowed to meet at several elementary schools during lunch. FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler informed the superintendent, "It is illegal for the district to allow the Good News Club to meet at schools during the school day."

Ziegler pointed to the McCollum Supreme Court case holding that bible classes in public school were unconstitutional, in which the court said, "Here not only are the state's tax-supported public school buildings used for the dissemination of religious doctrines. The state also affords sectarian groups an invaluable aid in that it helps to provide pupils for their religious classes though use of the state's compulsory public school machinery. This is not separation of Church and State."

On Dec. 15, Superintendent Steve Boynton told Ziegler the School Board had revised its rules on community use of school district facilities, and would restrict access to schools by non-school groups during school hours. FFRF's parent complainant confirmed that Boynton presented the changes at the January School Board meeting.

Idaho nativity replaced with secular display (December 14, 2015)

A painted nativity display was removed and replaced with a secular display in the window of the Rupert Post Office in Idaho after FFRF lodged a complaint.

Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler protested the display, which also included the words "Christmas begins with Christ," in a Dec. 4 letter to the postmaster. "United States postal regulations prohibit the display of religious materials, other than stamp art, on postal property," Ziegler wrote. Furthermore, "by displaying a nativity scene and religious statement on its grounds, the Rupert Post Office is illegally demonstrating a preference for religion over nonreligion, and Christianity over all other faiths."

On Dec. 14, FFRF's complainant reported that the religious scene had been removed, and had been repainted with a display reading "Peace on earth, good will toward men." (Maybe next year they'll include women!)

Michigan post office removes religious poster (December 3, 2015)

The Alden Post Office in Michigan has removed religious propaganda from the counter in the lobby following a complaint from FFRF. Proselytizing materials subtitled "Evidence for God's Existence and Identity" had been regularly available in the lobby.

Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Postmaster Lynnette Derror on Nov. 23, quoting postal regulations providing that no literature other than official postal materials could be deposited anywhere on postal premises, and regulations prohibiting the display of religious materials.

On Dec. 3, Derror said she had posted Post Office regulations and "will take steps to insure that there is no literature on the counter daily."

Second set of religious displays removed (December 2, 2015)

After persuading the Frisco Independent School District in Texas to remove a sign reading "Pray more, worry less" from the Roach Middle School front office in September, FFRF has prompted the district to remove further unconstitutional religious displays from district property.

Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a complaint to the district on Nov. 19 to object to religious displays in the school district's Student Opportunity Center. One sign read, "The will of God will never take you where the Grace of God will not protect you," while another proclaimed that "Prayer does not change God – it changes me." The office also contained two crosses with scriptural quotes on them. "All students deserve to learn in an environment free from religious proselytization and endorsement," Grover wrote.

The district's attorney informed Grover on Dec. 2 that the displays had been removed, and that all staff had been reminded to ensure there were no religious displays on school grounds.

Prayers ended at faculty meetings (December 2, 2015)

After years of prayers "in Jesus' name" at Missouri's Montgomery County R-II School District faculty meetings, FFRF has ensured that future meetings will be secular.

Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott called the prayers "unnecessary and divisive," pointing out that they alienate non-Christian and nonbelieving employees. "Their participation in these mandatory meetings is adversely affected by these types of prayers, which turn them into outsiders in their own community and workplace," he wrote.

An attorney for the school district wrote on Dec. 2, saying the district had taken measures to comply with the law regarding religious endorsement at district events.

County clerk removes religious poster (December 1, 2015)

A Colorado county clerk has removed an overtly religious poster from the office where citizens, including same-sex couples, get their marriage licenses, following a complaint by FFRF.

The poster was removed the day after FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel asked Elbert County Clerk Dallas Schroeder to put him in touch with his attorney.

"We're glad that the poster, which was meant to intimidate LGBT citizens and promote Schroeder's personal religion, has been removed from government property," Seidel said. "The government must remain neutral on matters of religion and quoting the bible is hardly neutral."

In an email exchange between several county clerks discussing how to handle same-sex marriage licenses, Schroeder wrote on Aug. 9: "It is a picture of a bride standing on a hill with the groom walking up the hill to meet her. On the bottom I have a portion of the verse in I Corinthians where Paul says, 'Each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.' And cite the verse."

But after being sent several letters from Seidel and asking to speak with his lawyer, Schroeder apparently relented and removed the poster, at least from the sight of county constituents.

No more religion in Kansas publications (December 1, 2015)

After receiving a letter from FFRF, Unified School District #436 in Caney Valley, Kan., will ensure that religious material is no longer printed in its yearbooks or newspapers.

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote a letter of complaint after a student forwarded a picture of the 2014-15 Caney Valley High School yearbook with a single large Christian cross on its cover. FFRF also complained about a section from the school's newspaper quoting two students and a faculty member selecting their favorite bible verses and recommending Matthew 28:18-20, which is a command to convert "all people in the world" to Christianity.

"School publications, including yearbooks and school newspapers, must remain neutral toward religion," wrote Seidel. The yearbook cross and newspaper section dedicated to bible verses both create "the appearance that the district prefers religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all other religions."

New superintendent Blake A. Vargas thanked FFRF for "bringing to light practices that could be considered a violation of the First Amendment and the Establishment Clause," and assured FFRF that he would review current practices and ensure that the school would be neutral on religion in the future.

FFRF removes religion from post offices (November 30, 2015)

The Carver, Mass., post office has removed a religious poster from its bulletin board after FFRF pointed out the sign's illegality.

The poster was titled "The Pledges," and in addition to the Pledge of Allegiance, printed a "Pledge to the Bible" and a "Pledge to the Christian Flag." FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler lodged a complaint with the office on July 22, 2015, pointing out that in addition to being unconstitutional, "United States postal regulations prohibit the display of religious materials, other than stamp art, on postal property."

On Nov. 30, FFRF received word from an interim postmaster that the postmaster to whom the letter was addressed had retired, and the poster on the bulletin board had been removed.

Future veteran’s events to exclude prayer (November 30, 2015)

Coleman High School in Coleman, Wis., will not include prayers in future Memorial Day and Veterans Day assemblies after FFRF sent a letter to the superintendent. Ceremonies for the last two years at least have reportedly included religious prayers and videos.

"We ask that you take action to ensure that future assemblies do not include prayer and otherwise remain neutral toward religion," wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne in a Nov. 19 letter to Superintendent Douglas P. Polomis.

"We will make every effort to ensure that future assemblies do not include prayer and remain neutral toward religion," Polomis responded on Nov. 30.

FFRF stops concert’s religious script (November 24, 2015)

Missouri's Iberia Elementary School previously planned on including a recitation of the "biblical meaning" of verses in "The Twelve Days of Christmas" at its Christmas program. However, after receiving a letter from Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott, the school changed the script prior to the concert.

The religious script claimed religious meanings for each of the verses in the popular, secular holiday song, including claims that Jesus is the "true love" referenced in the first day, the two turtle doves represent the Old and New Testaments, and the six geese a-laying are "the six days of creation."

Elliott's Nov. 10 letter informed the Iberia R-V School District that "having young elementary school students recite the purported 'biblical meaning' to a gathering of elementary school students, teachers and parents gives the appearance that the school endorses the religious message." Moreover, "the content of the script is demonstrably false," and thus, "if music instruction in the District is meant to educate, the Christmas program script is doing a disservice by spreading false and unsubstantiated claims."

FFRF's local complainant reported on Nov. 24 that the program's script had been changed to a secular version.

Ohio district ends ties with fundraiser (November 24, 2015)

New Lebanon Local Schools in Ohio will no longer fundraise for the Samaritan's Purse, a religious organization headed by Franklin Graham.

FFRF learned that Dixie Elementary School in New Lebanon has asked its students to participate in a donation drive for "Operation Christmas Child," a project of Samaritan's Purse, for at least three years. The school sent home pamphlets to children explaining, "Operation Christmas Child partners with churches worldwide to reach boys and girls with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. After receiving shoebox gifts, many children are discipled through our Bible study course, The Greatest Journey, where they learn to become faithful followers of Christ and share their faith with others." The pamphlet also instructs readers to, "most importantly," pray for the gift recipient.

"While it is laudable for a public school to encourage young students to become active and involved in their community by volunteering and donating to charitable organizations, the school cannot use that goal as an avenue to fund a religious organization with a religious mission," wrote Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a Nov. 19 letter to the school district.

On Nov. 24, Superintendent Greg Williams notified Markert that the school district's attorney "has led district administration to conclude that it is not appropriate to continue with this project."

Senior center stops mealtime prayers (November 24, 2015)

Thanks to a series of letters from FFRF, tax-funded senior centers in Maryland have been reminded of their duties to not require prayer for the seniors in their care.

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent letters to three Maryland senior centers about reports of unconstitutional prayers at mealtimes, typically over a PA system. FFRF's complainant reported feeling as though "kitchen staffers hold our tax-subsidized lunches hostage" until a prayer was said. Seidel also sent letters to the two counties where the three facilities are located, writing to the Baltimore County Department on Aging and the Anne Arundel County Department of Aging and Disabilities. The Maryland Department of Aging also received a letter from FFRF objecting to prayers.

"Government-run or -funded facilities should not host, organize, or facilitate prayers," wrote Seidel. "Not only does scheduling or permitting public prayer to be imposed on all diners at these meals raise concern that the government is endorsing religion, it also violates citizens' rights to be free from religious proselytizing."

FFRF's complainant confirmed that the pre-meal prayers had stopped.

FFRF halts Ohio band competition prayer (November 24, 2015)

After a complaint by FFRF, Louisville High School in Ohio will no longer include invocations at its annual marching band competition. The 2015 event reportedly began with a minister leading attendees from seven different Ohio public schools in prayer.

Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the Louisville School District on Oct. 21. "Federal courts consistently strike down school-sponsored prayer in public schools because it constitutes a government endorsement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and interferes with the personal conscience of students," Markert wrote.

An attorney for the school district informed FFRF on Nov. 24 that the superintendent had reminded "the appropriate parties" of the law on school invocations.

Reciting prayers halted at school (November 20, 2015)

Pursuant to a Freedom From Religion Foundation complaint, Decatur City Schools in Alabama will ensure that students are not required to recite prayers in the future.

During a grandparents' day event on Sept. 11 at Walter Jackson Elementary, a kindergarten teacher led students in the prayer, "Thank You for the World So Sweet," in front of their assembled guests. The students had been taught the prayer with hand movements to accompany each line.

Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote Superintendent Ed Nichols on Oct. 29, pointing out that not only have the courts struck down prayers in school, but one court even specifically struck down "Thank You for the World So Sweet" even after the school removed the words "God" and "Amen" from the prayer.

William E. Shinn, Jr., attorney for the school district, admitted that FFRF's account of the prayer was "substantially correct." Shinn said the district would "start by providing principals additional education on constitutional restrictions relating to school prayer," and that the principals would be directed to make a similar presentation to staff members.

A long legal challenge by FFRF Life Member Carole Beaton paid off in November as the City Council in Eureka, Calif., voted unanimously to eliminate prayers to start its meetings as of Jan. 1. Attorney Peter Martin filed a lawsuit in January 2013 on Beaton's behalf to get the council to stop praying and to stop Mayor Frank Jager from using his position and city resources to promote his annual Mayor's Prayer Breakfast.

City officials wouldn't say if the change was due to the suit. "I don't think the city wants to give us the satisfaction of having been right on this one," Martin told the Eureka Times-Standard on Nov. 20.

The city agreed to a September 2014 settlement that barred use of its resources, city seal and the title of mayor to promote or support prayer breakfasts and paid the plaintiff $16,500 for attorney's fees.

FFRF stops Louisiana school’s prayer (November 19, 2015)

Students at Mansfield High School in Mansfield, La., are no longer being subjected to prayer each day at mandatory morning assemblies.

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to the Desoto Parish School System in August 2015 objecting to the school's practice of selecting a student to lead the prayer, which was projected to all students in the room. Students were also reportedly required to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

"The Supreme Court has continually and consistently struck down prayers offered at school-sponsored events, even when led by students," Grover said. A public school "must not organize a means for students to promote a decidedly religious message to a captive student audience, thereby isolating and excluding those students who are non-Christian or nonreligious."

On Nov. 19, FFRF's complainant confirmed that a moment of silence had replaced the prayers, and no students were being forced to stand for the pledge.

Alabama district updates prayer policy (November 17, 2015)

Dallas County Schools in Selma, Ala., took action to end prayers over the loudspeaker before football games after hearing from FFRF.

FFRF sent the district a letter on Sept. 30. "The Supreme Court has specifically struck down invocations given over the loudspeaker at public school athletic events, even when student-led," wrote Staff Attorney Sam Grover, citing the 2000 case, Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. "Like the prayer practices in Santa Fe, the prayers at Dallas County High School football games are also inappropriate and unconstitutional."

Christmas Y. Green-Williams, Dallas County Schools attorney, wrote a response on Nov. 17, noting that the school had updated its policies to reflect the state of the law. "We appreciate any individual or organization that makes us aware of an alleged violation" of the law, Green-Williams said.

Texas principal won’t attend prayer event (October 14, 2015)

Prosper (Texas) High School Principal Greg Wright will no longer participate in See You At The Pole, an annual Christian student prayer event, after hearing about the issue from FFRF. Wright's involvement in a religious student club is also ending, and a cross and plaque about God displayed by an assistant principal have been removed.

FFRF notified Prosper Independent School District Superintendent Drew Watkins of these constitutional violations in a letter on Sept. 28. "It is important that PISD staff members understand that, as government officers and state actors, their personal rights of free exercise and free speech are not unlimited," said Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel. He pointed out that even See You At The Pole's official website acknowledges that it is illegal for adults to lead the gatherings.

In addition, damning admissions on Facebook that Wright was founding a First Priority Club for students meant any claim that the club was student-led as required by law was "disingenuous," said Seidel. Also, "Public schools may not display religious messages or iconography," the letter stated.

On Oct. 14, an attorney for the school district informed FFRF that all complaints had been resolved. Principal Wright will not speak at future See You At The Pole events or form the First Priority Club, and school officials will no longer display religious materials in the school. (See student activist on page 8.)

Kansas school district ends bible distribution (November 13, 2015)

Geary County Schools in Kansas will no longer allow Gideons to distribute bibles following an FFRF complaint. FFRF first dealt with this issue in 2012, but it resurfaced this year. FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a request for records on distribution policies on Nov. 6. Prompted by the records request, parent action, and an additional complaint from the American Humanist Association, the school district’s attorney sent written assurance on Nov. 13 that the district would “no longer facilitate the Gideons in distributing bibles in our school district.”

Reciting prayers halted at New York school (November 10, 2015)

The Greece (N.Y.) Central School District Board voted 5-4 against a proposal Nov. 10 to consolidate polling sites from 11 elementary schools to two churches and a fire station. The proposed church sites were at Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Parish and Hope Lutheran Church.

Linda Stephens, FFRF Life Member and co-plaintiff in Town of Greece v. Galloway, alerted FFRF to the proposal Nov. 10 and spoke against it at the public hearing that night. Four residents spoke against the plan. No one spoke in favor.

A school district release said: "Some were concerned consolidation could make it more difficult for voters to get to the polls; others feared voting at non-school sites could influence the vote."

Stephens commented to FFRF legal staff after the meeting: "Maybe speaking out at public hearings does work sometimes?"

FFRF took no action due to late notice about the proposal and because the board voted it down but will continue to monitor the situation.

Standing for pledge no longer required (November 9, 2015)

Teachers within Plaquemines Parish Schools in Louisiana will no longer force students to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance after FFRF wrote two complaints on behalf of a Belle Chasse High School student.

Previously, students who refused to stand had been informed they were required to stand, taken out of class, and punished. In addition, prayers at football games, Veterans Day events, and other school events will not occur in the future.

"Students must not be singled out or punished in any way for choosing not to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance," wrote Staff Attorney Sam Grover in a letter on Oct. 1. "The Supreme Court ruled over seventy years ago that compelling a student to recite the Pledge and salute the flag infringed upon a student's First Amendment rights."

Superintendent Denis Rousselle called Grover on Oct. 7 and said that he "took care of the situation" immediately after receiving FFRF's letter. Rousselle said he would not tolerate students being punished for exercising their free speech rights, even though he doesn't agree with the decision.

Grover wrote about the unconstitutional prayers on Nov. 6. "While it is laudable for Belle Chasse High to organize an assembly to honor veterans, it is unconstitutional to allow any religious message or prayer to be part of a school-sponsored event," he said.

Rousselle responded by email on Nov. 9, telling Grover that the district would no longer include prayers at school events.

Illinois school board to end meeting prayers (November 9, 2015)

The Windsor Board of Education in Illinois will no longer pray at its meetings after getting a complaint from FFRF. Local clergy typically led the Christian prayers.
"It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings," wrote Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne in a Nov. 2 letter. "Federal courts have struck down school board practices that include this religious ritual."

Superintendent Gavin Sronce told FFRF on Nov. 6 that the school board would not include prayer at its next meeting, and said that although the board had not yet discussed the topic at a meeting, he anticipates the board would permanently cease the practice.
Religious posts from school come down

Facebook posts and pictures promoting a See You At The Pole event at Kings Manor Elementary School in New Caney, Texas, have been removed after FFRF complained in a letter.

One post invited readers to join "us" for See You at the Pole, describing it as a time to "pray with our children." A photo of the event showed adults holding students' hands in a group prayer.

"Any religious events in any of the district's schools must be entirely student-initiated and student-run," Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote in a letter to the New Caney Independent School District. "When a school district promotes religious events to its students, it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message."

An attorney for the school district responded on Nov. 9, informing FFRF that the posts had been removed.

No more mealtime prayer at senior center (October 29, 2015)

Seniors at the city of Chandler Senior Center in Chandler, Ariz., will no longer be subjected to prayers at meals after FFRF got involved. A senior center employee had led the prayers in the past, and later started selecting a member of the audience to do so. “Federal regulations prohibit senior centers receiving federal funding to engage in religious activities at government-sponsored functions such as senior meals,” wrote Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne. “The center cannot engage ‘in inherently religious activities, such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization.’ ”

FFRF’s complainant reported on Oct. 29 that the center had replaced the prayer with a moment of silence.

School prayer stopped in Alabama school again (October 26, 2015)

A third Prattville Primary School teacher has been stopped from praying with students after FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover ensured that two praying teachers at the school were educated on the Constitution in February. FFRF’s local complainant reported in September that a third teacher was also praying with students before lunch.

“Needless to say, we are concerned about how quickly Prattville Primary has had this same issue resurface,” Grover wrote to the Autauga County School District’s attorney. “Given the district’s earlier representation that Prattville Primary administrators had addressed this issue, we would expect all school employees to be aware of their obligation to remain neutral on matters of religion.”

Attorney James R. Seale wrote back to FFRF on Oct. 26. The principal “addressed your concerns with the staff at Prattville Primary School,” wrote Seale. “I trust that your concerns will have been resolved and I do not anticipate you will receive any additional complaints.”

Gideons no longer allowed in district (October 21, 2015)

The McConnellsburg, Pa., school district has banned the Gideons from repeating the unconstitutional distributions of bibles in the future after FFRF alerted the Central Fulton School District of the illegal act.

Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote a letter on Oct. 15 objecting to Gideons roaming the halls at McConnellsburg Elementary with a cart of bibles and Principal Alicia Mellott's statement to students that anyone interested could take a bible.

Superintendent Dixie M. Paruch wrote to Cavell on Oct. 21 saying that the Gideons would not be distributing bibles in the school district in the future.

Religious sign removed from class (October 19, 2015)

After receiving a letter from FFRF, a teacher at Indian Springs Elementary in Blountville, Tenn., has removed a sign from her classroom that read, "I can do all things through God who strengthens me."

The Sullivan County Schools District "violates the Constitution when it allows its schools or public school employees to display religious symbols or messages," said Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert on Oct. 6. "This display alienates those nonreligious students, families, teachers, and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school."

Director Evelyn Rafalowski informed FFRF by email on Oct. 19 that the bible verse had been removed.

Students spared more bible distributions (October 19, 2015)

The Bienville Parish Schools in Arcadia, La., will ensure that schools do not allow Gideons to distribute bibles to students after FFRF alerted the district to the constitutional violation. Members of the evangelical Gideons group passed out bibles to Crawford Elementary School students on Sept. 22, physically placing a bible on each student's desk.

"When a school distributes religious literature to its students, or permits evangelists to distribute religious literature to its students, it entangles itself with that religious message," wrote Staff Attorney Sam Grover in a letter to Superintendent William Britt.

Britt assured FFRF on Oct. 19 that he would "meet with school principals/administrators to insure compliance with court decisions regarding the distribution of Bibles in public schools."

FFRF secularizes school’s pep rallies (October 16, 2015)

On Aug. 26, 2015, Little Elm High School in Texas began a pep rally with a prayer from the pastor of a local church, but it won't happen again after FFRF got involved.
An Aug. 27 letter from Staff Attorney Sam Grover reminded the Little Elm Independent School District that it is unconstitutional for a school to invite a preacher, or anyone else, to lead a prayer at a school event.

Superintendent Lowell Strike told Grover on Oct. 16 that he had discussed the matter with the planners of the pep rally and "ha[d] been assured this will not be repeated in the future."

Coordinated signups for religious club ended (October 12, 2015)

Audubon Park Elementary School in Florida will no longer coordinate signups for the Good News Club, an evangelical Christian children’s group, after FFRF filed complaints with the Orange County Public Schools, one of the largest school districts in the country.

FFRF has lodged many complaints and even filed a lawsuit against OCPS over the past several years. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent the latest letter on Sept. 23 to the district’s two attorneys objecting to a permission slip from the Good News Club, which directed students to return the form to an assistant principal at the school.

“When school employees collect registration forms for a religious club, that teacher appears to endorse that club,” Seidel said.

Attorney John C. Palmerini informed Seidel on Oct. 12 that the principal would no longer facilitate registrations for the Good News Club.

Godly decals removed from sheriff’s cars (October 8, 2015)

The Houston County (Ala.) Sheriff's Office has removed Matthew 5:9 "Blessed are the Peacemakers" decals from patrol cars. Staff Attorney Sam Grover informed Sheriff Donald Valenza in late July that the display "undermines the credibility of the sheriff's office in the eyes of the nonreligious and minority religious citizens."

According to an Oct. 8 Dothan Eagle news story, County Administrator Bill Dempsey advised Valenza to remove the stickers. "Of course neither the commission or anyone here supports that request, however we contacted our liability insurance carrier and their attorneys said if we take this to court they said we're going to lose," Dempsey said. "The county would be looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses."

"We're disappointed the county is only doing the right thing to avoid a losing lawsuit, but are very pleased to secure this victory on behalf of our Houston County members and supporters," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State had also lodged complaints.

FFRF ends longtime grotto violations (October 1, 2015)

Several Oregon public schools will no longer be performing during a holiday chorale concert at a Catholic shrine. Local families alerted FFRF in 2013 about numerous public school districts that scheduled students to perform during the Festival of Lights event in Portland at the 62-acre Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, aka "The Grotto."

In his December 2013 complaint letters to 24 school districts, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel said the issue is twofold: "They're taking students to a church, and courts have said schools can't do that. The second reason is that The Grotto is making money off the backs of public school children." The facility, run by the Servite Friars, charges for parking, money which goes to fund religious activities.

"The stage is also flanked by two religious statues, one on either side," noted Seidel. "Murals depict different moments in the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Via Matris or seven sorrows of Mary, and the massive center mural is named 'the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mother in heaven.' Visitors sit in pews marked with crosses and the building is crowned by a golden dome and cross."

Jollee Patterson, Portland Public Schools general counsel, sent an email to administrators in September: "Even if PPS singing groups perform songs from a variety of religious traditions, the strongly religious setting during the Festival of Lights could create a perception that the school is endorsing and supporting a particular religious tradition."
Of the 24 districts contacted by FFRF, it appears that five (Aberdeen, Bend-LaPine, Longview, Washougal and West Linn-Wilsonville) did not participate in the 2014 concert.

FFRF sent follow-up letters Oct. 23 to districts that have not complied.

Alabama primary school will no longer lead students in prayer (October 1, 2015)

A kindergarten teacher at Arab Primary School in Arab, Ala., will no longer lead students in prayer after FFRF sent the superintendent a letter of complaint.

The teacher lined up the students before lunch and made them recite, "God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for this food. By his hands, we all are fed, give us Lord our daily bread. Amen." Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Arab City Schools Superintendent John Mullins on Sept. 25 objecting to this practice. "Public school teachers may not lead their students in prayer, encourage students to pray, participate in student-initiated prayer, or otherwise endorse religion to students."

On Oct. 1, Mullins informed FFRF that "a brief investigation into this matter confirmed the validity of the complaint. We have corrected the situation and educated our kindergarten teachers to assure future compliance with the Establishment Clause."

FFRF curbs coach’s religious comments (September 29, 2015)

FFRF reminded the Kenmore High School football coach in Akron, Ohio, about school policies on the promotion of religion after his comments at an event at which the team received a gift of new uniforms.

A complainant alerted FFRF to Coach Kemp Boyd's religious comments such as talking about "honoring God with your abilities."

"These comments raise concerns about Coach Boyd crossing the constitutional line while he's acting in his official capacity as a public school representative," wrote Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in an Aug. 21 letter.

General Counsel Rhonda Porter replied Sept. 29, noting that she met with Boyd and reviewed school policies. "Coach Boyd assured me that he fully understands the importance of keeping his personal religious beliefs separate from his duties as a coach," Porter said.

Religious messages removed from school (September 29, 2015)

Bible verses posted by school officials have been removed from Germantown High School in Madison, Miss., following an FFRF complaint.

A note reading "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. Colossians 3:23" and signed "Your assistant principals Syl Burrell & Nason Lollar" was posted on the high school gym doors.

"This is an egregious violation of the Establishment Clause and of students' rights," wrote Staff Attorney Sam Grover. The school district "must ensure its employees are not unlawfully promoting their personal religious beliefs to students by using its schools as a platform to proselytize."

In a letter of response on Sept. 29, an attorney for the school district denied that a constitutional violation had occurred, but noted that the message had been removed and said the district would "monitor any messages left in the school and remove any message that is proselytizing for any particular religion."

Texas students freed from praying more (September 25, 2015)

The Frisco (Texas) Independent School District removed a display reading “Pray more, worry less” from the Roach Middle School front office after getting Staff Attorney Sam Grover’s letter Sept. 11.

The district informed FFRF on Sept. 25 that the display was removed from public view.

San Diego libraries to stay open on Easter (September 29, 2015)

San Diego public libraries, typically open on Sundays, will no longer close on Easter. "Easter is neither a federal holiday nor a California state holiday," wrote Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a June complaint letter. "As a matter of policy, the library should remain open on Easter to continue to provide San Diego residents with library services, as it does on [other] Sundays."

Library Director Misty Jones notified FFRF on Sept. 29 that all San Diego libraries would remain open on Easter Sundays.

Christian-only prayer policy scrapped ( September 21, 2015)

The Coolidge (Ariz.) City Council, during a hastily called meeting Sept. 21, voted unanimously to back away from a proposal to allow only Christians to pray before council meetings, the Arizona Republic reported.
 
Robert Hudelson, the council member (also a Baptist minister) who sponsored the resolution to limit prayer to Christians, spoke before he voted against his own proposal:
“History will look back on us and say, ‘There is a city council who stood for Christ and Christ alone.’ For that, we should never be ashamed.”
 
The council then unanimously voted to let representatives of any religious group within the city limits offer a prayer before meetings. “Now we have a legally defensible position, and everyone will have a seat at the table,” claimed Mayor Jon Thompson.
After learning that the council had voted 4-2 on Sept. 14 in favor of the Christian-only policy, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a complaint letter Sept. 17 to Thompson: “If the council insists on continuing to host prayers at public meetings, it must not discriminate against any person wishing to give a prayer.” 
 
The letter pointed out that last year the U.S. Supreme Court in Town of Greece v. Galloway upheld prayers at city council meetings on the understanding that the town “at no point excluded or denied an opportunity to a would-be prayer giver.” Seidel wrote, “Members of minority religions and even the nonreligious and must be permitted to deliver invocations.”
 
During the Sept. 14 discussion, Councilman Gary Lewis said that if any non-Christian were to give a prayer, “I wouldn’t sit here and listen to it, I would walk away.”
Seidel chastised Lewis, noting that “this type of intolerance is not only despicable in a government official, but also patently unconstitutional when codified in city laws and policy.”
 
FFRF’s letter said that ideally, the council would do away with prayers altogether. FFRF recently filed lawsuits against the Chino Valley School Board in California and Brevard County in Florida for their invocation practices.

Religious posters removed from classroom (September 21, 2015)

A religious poster has been taken down from a sixth-grade teacher's classroom in Texas after FFRF contacted the school district.

A teacher at River Valley Intermediate School in Woodway, Texas, had a large poster in his classroom reading "In God We Trust," which also included a bible verse and a proselytizing advertisement: "If you would like to know Jesus as Lord and Savior, call Need Him Ministry at 1-888-NEED-HIM."

"The District violates the Constitution when it allows its schools to display religious symbols or messages," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover in a letter to the Midway Independent School District. "A poster promoting Christianity violates this basic constitutional prohibition by creating the appearance that the District prefers religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all other faiths."

"The poster in question has been removed from the classroom so that the biblical verse and proselytizing advertisement noted in your correspondence can be removed," wrote Superintendent George E. Kazanas in a Sept. 21 reply.

School employees don’t have to hear prayers in meetings (September 16, 2015)

Prayer will no longer be included in employee meetings in the Dickinson Independent School District in Texas after FFRF sent a complaint letter to the school district.

A district employee informed FFRF that a mandatory teacher in-service training included Dickinson High School principal Billye Smith asking all employees to stand while she prayed.

"Federal courts have held that mandatory meetings for government employees cannot promote religion and specifically that school districts cannot include prayer during teacher in-service trainings," wrote Staff Attorney Sam Grover on Sept. 3.

An attorney for the school district informed Grover on Sept. 16 that the district has advised all campus administrators that leading prayer at staff meetings is unconstitutional.

No more prayer at ‘Super Fun Day’ (September 15, 2015)

Future "Super Fun Day" events, Special Olympics-style events held at Neal High School in Brewton, Ala., will be free from prayer after FFRF contacted the school district. At the 2015 event, students, staff, volunteers and participants were asked to bow their heads while a prayer was given in Jesus's name.

"It is unlawful for any school-sponsored event to include prayer," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover in a letter to Escambia County Schools Superintendent John J. Knott. "The district has a duty to remain neutral toward religion. By including prayers at an event sponsored for its own students, the district abridges that duty and alienates the one in three young Americans who are not religious."

On Sept. 15, Superintendent Knott informed FFRF that he had directed that future district-sponsored events were not to include scheduled prayer.

Illinois school district ends school board prayer (September 15, 2015)

Because of a letter sent by FFRF, Teutopolis Community Unit #50 Board of Education will no longer open with a prayer.

In a letter sent Aug. 28, Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote, "It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings. Federal courts have struck down school board practices that include this religious ritual."

Superintendent Bill Fritcher, who often led the prayers, responded on Sept. 15, the entire body of his letter reading: "Teutopolis Unit #50 will discontinue starting school board meetings with a prayer."

Last Supper has last day at Kansas school (September 14, 2015)

After FFRF protested, Haysville Public Schools in Kansas removed a print of Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" from the cafeteria of Nelson Elementary School.

"As you are certainly aware, the display of religious messages in the school setting violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the school district. "When a district promotes religion over nonreligion, it impermissibly turns non-believing students, parents, and staff into outsiders."

Donna L. Whiteman, attorney for the school district, informed Seidel on Sept. 14 that the print had been removed.

Graduation prayer taken off the schedule (September 10, 2015)

At the Iberia High School (Mo.) graduation in 2015, a reverend gave a heavily Christian invocation and benediction. Thanks to the FFRF, this constitutional violation will not recur.

"The Supreme Court has settled this matter—high school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott. "It makes no difference how many students 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.'"

The Iberia R-V School District published a statement on Sept. 10 acknowledging that, despite the opinions of the board members and administrators, it was obligated as a public entity to "follow the directives of the Supreme Court." The district also noted its duty to be a good steward of its funds, and not use taxpayer funds on unnecessary lawsuits.

FFRF complaint removes Jesus painting (September 8, 2015)

A painting of Jesus was removed from Altizer Elementary School, Huntington, W.Va., just five days after Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent the school district a complaint letter. Cabell County Schools Superintendent William Smith informed FFRF on Sept. 8 that the picture had been taken down, adding that the district was conducting a sweep of all facilities “to make sure all are in compliance.”

Letter stops grants to Florida churches (September 8, 2015)

The city of Ocala, Fla., has in the past used its discretionary fund to give grants to churches. Last year, the Ocala City Council provided a grant to First Presbyterian Church to repair its steeple. This year, St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church requested $10,000.

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote a letter to City Attorney Patrick Gilligan, noting that such grants violate the U.S. and Florida constitutions. The Florida Constitution says, “No revenue of the state . . . shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church.”

While maintaining he disagreed with FFRF’s position, Gilligan responded Sept. 8 that the council withdrew funding for St. Paul AME from its budget.

 

Board agrees to approve secular club (September 8, 2015)

After more than a year of stonewalling, Ward Melville High School, Setauket, N.Y., finally gave a student permission to start a Secular Student Alliance chapter. FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to the district July 23 urging them to stop violating the Equal Access Act and let the club form.

Thomas Sheedy, who had tried for two years to start the club, planned to go to the Three Village Central School District board meeting in September to protest the denial, but got word of the club’s acceptance shortly before the meeting. He attended anyway to thank administrators for approving the group.

Thomas will speak at FFRF’s annual convention and receive the $5,000 Beverly and Richard Hermsen Student Activist Award.

No prayers at school employee meetings (September 8, 2015)

FFRF has ensured that prayers will not be given during future mandatory faculty meetings in the Montgomery Independent School District in Texas. The school district had brought a Christian pastor to give a prayer at an Aug. 18 employee meeting, and the dean of academics also offered a prayer.

"Federal courts have held that mandatory meetings for government employees cannot promote religion," FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote. "This type of religious endorsement unfairly isolates non-Christian and nonreligious employees and could also be perceived as workplace harassment."

A response from the superintendent on Sept. 8 said that the district "has addressed these incidents with the appropriate personnel and have taken steps to be proactive in training our administrative staff on the complexities inherent in protecting the constitutional principle of separation between church and state."

Teacher kicked out of religious club (September 8, 2015)

A teacher at Colonial High School in Orange County (Fla.) Public Schools will no longer have a leadership role in CONFRA: Hispanic Christian Action, a religious club, following involvement into the issue by FFRF.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote the district on Aug. 27 about the teacher's conduct. She posted on Facebook in Spanish: "I'm super happy and grateful to God because it pleases Him to use me as His instrument, placed in my heart to open a CONFRA at the school where I work . . . For the first meeting I invited 14 young leaders to start and they all came."

"As you know, the district cannot allow its faculty to form religious student groups, or to participate in religious exercises with students," Seidel wrote.

In a Sept. 8 response, OCPS attorney John C. Palmerini told FFRF that the teacher had been informed that she cannot participate in the club's activities.
Texas school's social media secularized

Staff at the Lake Dallas Independent School District will no longer promote religion on official school district social media pages after FFRF contacted the district regarding the issue.

A student reported to FFRF that the school district's Twitter feed had re-tweeted a prayer. "Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion," FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover reminded the district. "The district must make certain that it does not unlawfully endorse religion, either in the classroom or through social media."

"From this point forward, I will ensure that staff is better educated in the subject through more thorough professional development sessions and public school law sessions," wrote Superintendent Gayle Stinson in a Sept. 14 response. "Our goal is to provide an inclusive environment for all students."

Classroom prayers nixed in North Carolina (September 4, 2015)

A teacher in the school district of Perquimans County in Hertford, N.C., will no longer be permitted to lead her first-graders in prayer after FFRF contacted the district and informed it of the constitutional violation.

Susan Jordan, first-grade teacher at Perquimans Central School, previously led her class in prayer every day before lunch. "Public school teachers may not lead, direct, or ask students to engage in prayer," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott on Sept. 2. "The School District of Perquimans County has an obligation under the law to make certain that 'subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion,'" wrote Elliott, quoting a Supreme Court case.

The school district's attorney, Richard A. Schwartz, promptly informed FFRF on Sept. 4 that the superintendent had investigated FFRF's allegations and met with the teacher. "School officials are confident there will not be any further problems," Schwartz said.

Bible class discontinued at Alabama school (September 2, 2015)

Blount County School District in Oneonta, Ala., did not offer a bible study elective class for the 2015-16 school year after FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel lodged a complaint about the unconstitutional class.

The class was taught by a teacher and a local Baptist pastor. Class topics included "How we got the bible; Doctrine issues and how they apply to the bible; How to find Christ in the Old Testament — How the Old Testament relates to the New Testament." The translation used in the class was described as providing "the most recent evangelical Christian bible scholarship."

Seidel quoted the 1948 Supreme Court case McCollum v. Board of Education, in which the court wrote, "Here not only are the state's tax-supported public school buildings used for the dissemination of religious doctrines. The State also affords sectarian groups an invaluable aid in that it helps to provide pupils for their religious classes through use of the state's compulsory public school machinery. This is not separation of Church and State."

The district's attorney, Donald B. Sweeney, Jr., informed Seidel on Sept. 2 that the class was discontinued for the following school year.

Prayer with students removed in Tishomingo ( August 28, 2015)

Teachers in the Tishomingo County Schools in Iuka, Miss., have been reminded that they cannot participate in religious activities with students. A parent informed FFRF that on the first day of school this term at Tishomingo County High, faculty joined students at the flagpole to pray. Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter Aug. 21 that quoted a federal court ruling: “If while acting in their official capacities, employees join hands in a prayer circle or otherwise manifest approval and solidarity with the student religious exercises, they cross the line between respect for religion and the endorsement of religion.”


Attorney Nathaniel Clark wrote back Aug. 28 to say that he personally hosted a discussion with high school staff to reiterate that they could not endorse any religious practice while on campus, adding that “mistakes, if any, [were] made in good faith and will be corrected immediately.”

School cross, Jesus painting taken down ( August 26, 2015)

Guthrie Upper Elementary School took down a cross in a classroom after getting Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel’s Aug. 26 letter to Guthrie (Okla.) Public Schools: “When a school erects crosses on its property, it unconstitutionally promotes a religious message, specifically a Christian message.”
An Aug. 27 response from Superintendent Mike Simpson said the cross had been removed.

Graduation prayer won’t be repeated (August 20, 2015)

The Collinsville (Texas) Independent School District will not schedule prayer at future graduation ceremonies. Staff Attorney Sam Grover in an Aug. 12 letter to the school district said, “Graduations are not the place for personal religious promotion, just as it would taint the occasion if a speaker promoted his or her personal political beliefs while speaking to those assembled.”

An attorney for the school district responded that future graduations would not include invocations or benedictions in order to comply with the law.

City drops Gospel Fest sponsorship (August 19, 2015)

The city of Jonesboro, Ga., ended its unconstitutional involvement in Gospel Fest after getting an FFRF complaint letter. concert. While claiming that it disagreed with FFRF’s position, the city officially “relinquished sponsorship of the concert.”

The event was advertised with Christian imagery on the city’s Facebook page. Residents were encouraged to “enjoy some all night Saturday revelry in anticipation of a feverous day of Sunday worship and prayer.”

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel cited state and federal constitutional restrictions and court precedent that bar city participation.

Steven Fincher, attorney for the city, responded that the city had turned control of the concert over to two ministers’ groups, and noted that the city did not own the property or the stage where the concert was to be held. The city also removed all ads for the festival and informed residents by email of the new hosts.

Jonesboro, in central Georgia, has about 4,600 residents.

Christian care ad off school website ( August 17, 2015)

An ad for the Christian Community Center’s child care services has been removed from the South Lewis Central School District website. “Advertising for the CCC on the District website crosses the line because anyone viewing [it] would understand that the District endorses any organization given a section of the website,” wrote Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a complaint letter.


Superintendent Douglas Premo responded Aug. 17 that the offending material had been removed.

FFRF letter curbs meeting in church ( August 17, 2015)

Keller (Texas) Independent School District’s mandatory employee meetings will not include proselytizing and employees who do not want to attend the meeting, which takes place in a church, can attend remotely.


At the most recent meeting, religious literature was distributed to employees and a pastor was allowed on stage to advertise the church’s ministries and to invite staff to attend services.


“If KISD permits a church to distribute religious pamphlets or gives a pastor time to promote the church’s services to a captive audience of employees during KISD-sponsored events, a reasonable employee will conclude that the district is endorsing religion,” Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote in a complaint letter Aug. 5. FFRF requested that staff meetings not take place in religious settings.


In an Aug. 17 response, school attorney Amanda Bigbee said the district would allow remote attendance for the upcoming meeting and religious speakers would not be allowed to speak or distribute religious literature.

Band’s religious music gets scrutiny (August 17, 2015)

Winchester Community High School in Indiana will no longer perform religious routines after getting an FFRF complaint lodged with the Randolph Central School Corp.
The band’s 2015 performance of “With Trumpets and Cymbals” was based on Psalm 150 and included a narrator reciting “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary!” Stained glass props served as a backdrop.

“WCHS has a responsibility to ensure that performances by school-sponsored groups do not impermissibly promote religion over nonreligion or Judeo-Christianity over all minority faiths,” wrote Staff Attorney Sam Grover.

Steven Murphy, attorney for the school district, “acknowledge[d] the concerns expressed in [FFRF’s] letter” and said that separation of church and state would be “considered and addressed on all future performances.”

Private sector gets Wisconsin crèche (August 15, 2015)

The city of Elkhorn, Wis., will not put up a nativity scene on public land this December. Previously, a large nativity was displayed annually in Veterans Park and illuminated at night.

FFRF started objecting to the display in 2012. After FFRF asked to display its own banner this year alongside the nativity scene, Staff Attorneys Patrick Elliott and Sam Grover were invited to meet with attorneys for the city. The city then decided to move the crèche to a location on private property.

In response to the city’s action, FFRF withdrew its request to put up a freethought banner.

Prayer, ants deemed unwelcome at picnic ( August 13, 2015)

Dalton (Ohio) Middle School football coach Dennis Finley was warned about engaging in inappropriate religious activity at school for asking a student to lead a prayer at a school picnic. Senior staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter of complaint Aug. 10.
 
School attorney Susan Hastings responded Aug. 13 that the superintendent for Dalton Local Schools made it clear to Finley that he cannot lead his team in prayer or invite a student to do so. “In addition to addressing this specific concern, the District will be scheduling professional development with all of its staff and coaches regarding the separation of church and state and, more specifically, the prohibition on leading, sponsoring or encouraging prayer in school at school sponsored events,” Hastings’ letter said.

School staff warned about prayer pole (August 11, 2015)

This year’s “See You at the Pole” prayer events will not be organized or promoted by the Huffman (Texas) Independent School District. In 2014, a newsletter sent to all district staff documented SYATP events at several schools, indicating that staff, parents and community members participated in the events.
 
“Any religious events in any of the District’s schools must be entirely student-initiated and student-run,” wrote Staff Attorney Sam Grover in a Sept. 26 letter, noting that “the best place for an adult to pray on the day of See You at the Pole is not on campus with the students but at alternate locations.”
 
After following up several times, FFRF finally received a response Aug. 11. It stated that district staff would not be involved in organizing or promoting future SYATP events and said administrators would review staff obligations during staff development meetings before the start of the 2015-16 school year.
 

Church must clean up its leavings ( August 7, 2015)

 

Hoover High School in the North Canton (Ohio) City School District can continue to rent space to Mission View Church, but the church will no longer be allowed to leave materials behind after services.


The church had left behind signs, brochures, offering envelopes and ads for a “crisis” pregnancy ultrasound center. “When a school allows a church to leave religious, proselytizing materials displayed on its property, it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message, here a Christian message,” Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert reminded the district in a letter.


According to an Aug. 7 reply from attorney Mary Jo Shannon Slick, the superintendent told the church it needed to clean up the area after renting the space.