A national state/church watchdog has called on the superintendent of Gallia County Local Schools in Patriot, Ohio, to recall and replace a 2014 elementary school yearbook whose cover features a large Latin cross inscribed with the word, "Believe."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has 21,500 members nationwide, including 600 in Ohio, wrote Superintendent Jude Meyers on Sept. 26, asking him to investigate and take action over a state/church violation that is "beyond comprehension" at Addaville Elementary. The horizontal arms of the cross on the bible-like cover carry the word "Believe."
"The inclusion of the Latin cross, which is the preeminent symbol of Christianity, on a public elementary school yearbook is illegal," noted Rebecca Markert, senior staff attorney for the Madison, Wis.-based advocacy group. "It is beyond comprehension that public school officials would have allowed this publication to be printed with sectarian religious imagery and then distributed to young elementary schoolchildren."
"Religion is a divisive force in public schools," Markert added. She said school sponsorship of a religious message sends the ancillary message to nonadherents (in this case any non-Christians or nonreligious students) that they are "outsiders," and an accompanying message to adherents that they are "insiders." More than a quarter of the U.S. population either identifies as nonreligious (20%) or practice a non-Christian religion (5%).
Markert listed a number of Supreme Court cases and other judgments against religious devotionals, messages or iconography in public schools. She noted that whether or not the yearbook was published by the district or a private entity is "legally immaterial."
Said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor: "What makes it especially shocking is that this involves such a young and impressionable group of students. The cover of this yearbook would be appropriate at a Catholic or sectarian school, but it's an egregious violation in our secular public schools, which must equally welcome students of any or no religion."