The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking a Wisconsin school district to restrain a school board member from promoting his personal religious beliefs at school events.
A concerned resident of Appleton, Wis., contacted FFRF to report that local media published an article stating that a member of the Appleton North High School Board, Alvin Dupree, spoke at the high school’s graduation as part of the program. Dupree’s speech promoted Christianity, referring to “Jesus Christ.” Dupree also gave a presentation to a local political party entitled “Placing God in the Classroom.”
In a letter sent to the Appleton Area School District, FFRF informed the district superintendent that it is unconstitutional for school district representatives to promote religion during school-sponsored events. “As a member of the school board, Dupree obviously speaks on the school district’s behalf when he speaks at a high school graduation,” writes FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne. “His presentation on ‘Placing God in the Classroom’ further suggests that Dupree intends to use his position on the school board to promote his personal religion to district students.”
Some of Dupree’s religious comments were made in reference to the family of a recently deceased student. FFRF notes that students who have just lost a classmate are uniquely vulnerable to religious coercion. Thus, it is particularly important for the school district to remain religiously neutral when discussing such a sensitive topic.
The Supreme Court has continually struck down religious promotion at school-sponsored events, including public school graduations. This matter is well settled: High school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students.
Local news coverage has described Dupree as “speaking for himself” at the graduation. FFRF disputes this. Dupree’s position as a school board member speaking at a district-sponsored event makes the district’s endorsement of his religious statements clear.
“Any reasonable person would understand Dupree’s Christian promotion to represent the beliefs of the entire school district,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This is divisive and alienates the 35 percent of millennials who are nonreligious during a salient moment in their years of education.”
FFRF is requesting a written assurance that Dupree will not promote religion while acting in his capacity as a district representative in the future. FFRF has also requested access to public records of Dupree’s remarks.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Wisconsin-based national nonprofit organization with roughly 30,000 members across the country, including more than 1,300 members in Wisconsin. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.