FFRF alerts Fla. superintendents to ‘dirty dozen’ state/church violations

In response to a never-ending stream of flagrant state-church violations coming out of the Florida public schools, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a memorandum today to all 67 Florida superintendents. The memo covers 12 of the most common complaints reported to FFRF.

The memo was signed by FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, as well as David Williamson, founder of the Central Florida Freethought Community, an FFRF chapter. It was principally researched by FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel and Law Clerk Neal Fitzgerald.

FFRF’s attorneys have written to Florida school districts about more than 65 violations in the past two school years. FFRF also sued one Florida district over bible distributions, a case that was satisfactorily resolved when the school district ended all outside distributions. 

The memo is intended to “help educate district staff on how to protect students’ rights of conscience by enforcing the Florida Constitution and Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

Today, 24 percent of Florida adults and 35 percent of millennials nationally identify as nonreligious. “It is well settled that, as government bodies charged with educating the children of every citizen, public schools may not advance or endorse religion,” the memo explains.

The violations common in Florida schools that FFRF identifies are:

  1. School events, including graduations and athletic events, may not include prayer.
  2. School staff, including teachers and coaches, may not organize, endorse, promote or participate in prayers with students. Nor may staff or nonschool personnel participate in religious activities of student clubs such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
  3. School events, including graduations, should not be held in churches.
  4. Schools may not organize, endorse, promote or participate in baccalaureate services.
  5. School clubs and athletic teams may not have a “chaplain” or religious counselor.
  6. Schools may not teach religious doctrine, including creationism or intelligent design.
  7. Schools must charge a fair rent to all organizations that lease school property; churches leasing school property must actually pay that rent and can only use school property during noninstructional time rental hours.
  8. Schools may not allow the distribution of bibles or religious literature on school property.
  9. Schools may not force students to stand for or recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
  10. Schools may not disallow atheist or nonbeliever clubs if other noncurricular clubs are allowed, regardless of whether a staff adviser volunteers.
  11. Schools may not allow religious displays on school property, including in classrooms and teachers’ displays.
  12. “Voluntariness” cannot excuse a constitutional violation.

Detailed explanations with citations to case law are included in the 8-page memo.

“We encourage districts to use this memo to educate teachers and staff on their constitutional duties and how they can better protect their students’ rights of conscience,” Gaylor commented.

“The rights of our children, especially those of religious minorities, are being neglected far too often. We hope this proactive effort is seen by district and school administrators for exactly what it is: an opportunity for them to better understand and correct violations that may be occurring at their schools with or without their knowledge,” said Williamson.

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with more than 22,700 nonreligious members, including 1,138 in Florida.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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