Calif. charter school promises FFRF secular ceremonies

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has received a welcome promise from a California public charter school that all future school functions will be free from sectarian proselytization.

Several concerned parents of students attending Feather River Charter School in Meridian informed the state/church watchdog that during the Sequoia Grove Charter Alliance National Junior Honors Society induction ceremony a guest speaker delivered proselytizing remarks. Jeff Leikauf’s speech last October included several minutes with religious content, during which he quoted from the Christian bible and made derogatory comments about “unbelievers living among us.” Leikauf’s speech gave the message that Christianity is the “right” religion to follow, since it teaches the “correct” way of living.

It is well settled that public schools may not violate students’ First Amendment rights by showing favoritism toward or coercing belief or participation in religion, FFRF emphasized to the charter school.

“By subjecting students and their families to proselytizing and discriminatory remarks toward non-Christians, Feather River displayed clear favoritism towards religion over nonreligion, and Christianity above all other faiths,” FFRF Legal Fellow Samantha Lawrence wrote to Feather River Charter School Director Jenell Sherman. “This needlessly alienates the students and families who belong to the 37 percent of the American population that is non-Christian, including the almost 30 percent who are nonreligious.” At least one-third of Generation Z (those born after 1996) have no religion, with a recent survey revealing that almost half of Gen Z qualify as “Nones” (religiously unaffiliated).

Additionally, per section 47605(3)(1) of the California Education Code, all charter schools must be nonsectarian, FFRF pointed out. A guest speaker’s actions are attributable to Feather River Charter School.

Feather River must ensure that all future guest speakers are properly vetted and refrain from abusing their access to public school students by proselytizing, FFRF insisted.

The school has sincerely followed FFRF’s advice.

“As a nonsectarian charter school, we recognize that the message conveyed by Mr. Leikauf’s speech was not in line with our values and policies,” Sherman, the school’s executive director, recently responded. “Going forward, we will take steps to ensure that all guest speakers are aware of our school’s nonsectarian policy and are briefed on appropriate conduct while addressing our students. Feather River will preview all future speeches to be delivered to our students, ensuring that guest speakers are properly vetted and refrain from promoting their religious views in a manner that could be deemed as discriminatory or offensive.”

FFRF is gratified that school officials have taken its communiqué so seriously.

“We’re appreciative of the assurance that students and their families will not be subjected to such haranguing behavior in the future,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 5,000 members and local chapters in California. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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