A Wisconsin school district has revamped its field trip form and policies after the Freedom From Religion Foundation alerted officials to religious language.
A concerned Dodgeland School District community member contacted the state/church watchdog to report that students and parents were asked to sign a religious statement in a list of rules related to Dodgeland Middle School’s field trip to Washington, D.C., in mid-April. The only rule written in bold and italicized text stated, “REMEMBER AT ALL TIMES, AND IN ALL PLACES THAT YOU ARE REPRESENTING OUR GOD AND SAVIOR . . .” The district reportedly required students and parents to sign this document.
It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion, FFRF reminded the school district.
“In Lee v. Weisman (1992), the Supreme Court extended the prohibition of school-sponsored religious activities beyond classrooms to all school functions, holding prayers delivered by non-school personnel at public high school graduations an impermissible establishment of religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to Dodgeland School District Superintendent Annette Thompson. “Similarly, requiring students and parents to sign a religious statement as part of a school field trip violates the Establishment Clause.”
FFRF understood that the trip, and the statement of rules, involved both public schools and private parochial schools and presumed that the parochial schools were responsible for the religious language in the rules. It urged the school district to exercise more rigorous oversight in such matters to make certain that public school students were not being subjected to religious language or proselytizing.
The Dodgeland School District has acknowledged its lapse and pledged to FFRF that a principal or an associate principal will review such documents from now on. It has also promised to draw up a new form that will not have any religious references.
“That’s a part of what we do: notify school districts about violations of the Constitution that they themselves may not be aware of,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It always gives us special pleasure when officials swiftly take corrective measures in response.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Wisconsin-based national nonprofit organization with more than 31,000 members across the country, including over 1,400 members in Wisconsin itself. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters related to nontheism.