FFRF commends Calif. school district’s swift action to protect atheist students

A photo of the teacher's mini-fridge in the classroom. The fridge has many magnets on it, including one that says Conservative, one that says unborn lives matter, lets go brandon, and several religious magnets.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is applauding the Tulare Joint Union High School District’s quick response to its complaint that a high school teacher was promoting religion in class and bullying nonreligious students.

FFRF recently reported that a teacher at Mission Oak High School in Tulare, Calif., had been using his position to promote his personal religious views to a captive audience of students. FFRF’s complainant reported that the teacher had placed several inappropriate religious and political displays, including on a fridge in his classroom, reading “Pray without ceasing,” “Unborn Lives Matter” and “Let’s Go Brandon,” a euphemism for “F… Joe Biden.” Additionally, on May 2, the teacher reportedly instigated a discussion with students about “666” being the “devil’s number,” which led to a student revealing their atheism. The teacher responded that an atheist is “a fool,” and students in the class reportedly made signs in the air of crosses or of praying.

“It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism toward or coerce belief or participation in religion,” FFRF attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Lucy Van Scyoc. “Further, courts have continually held that public school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools.”

FFRF iterated the district’s obligation under the law to make certain that its teachers are not violating the rights of its students by singling out students for their beliefs — or lack of beliefs, proselytizing or otherwise using their position to promote personal religious beliefs. Parents have the constitutional right to oversee their children’s religious or nonreligious upbringing. By imposing his religious beliefs on students, the teacher’s actions also alienated students who are part of the 49 percent of Generation Z who are religiously unaffiliated.

The district was receptive to FFRF’s message and took swift action.

Scyoc wrote to FFRF personally, informing the national state/church watchdog of the action taken. “The district immediately addressed the issue and the stickers have been removed or covered so that they are not visible,” she wrote. “The district has also spoken with the teacher about the items raised in your letter and we can assure you that the teacher understands the concerns.” The superintendent also provided a form in case the parents and student wish to pursue a more formal complaint.

“The district took expeditious and responsible action to protect the rights of conscience of its students, including a student belonging to a minority that is all-too-often and unfairly stigmatized in our society,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote. “This was an egregious situation and we are confident it will not recur.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 5,200 members and two 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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