FFRF insists Wis. teachers stop taking part in religious club

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting that teachers at a Wisconsin high school end their involvement in a student religious club.

A concerned member informed FFRF that School District of Onalaska employees participate in the student religious club Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Onalaska High School. Local media have stated that both Josh Lichty, freshmen football coach and fifth-grade teacher at Northern Hills Elementary, and high school teacher Amanda Steele “participated in the discussions” about prayer with students at a recent Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting in Steele’s classroom. Lichty reportedly asked students “how and why they prayed,” and counseled them that “a big step is praying before an event with your team. Then you as a team are playing for something bigger than a ‘W.’ What you are doing is showing His light everywhere.” Lichty went on to recommend that students pray in the morning rather than getting extra sleep.

It is unconstitutional for district employees to participate in student religious clubs, even if those clubs meet during noninstructional time.

“It is well settled that public schools may not advance, prefer, or promote religion,” FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne writes to Superintendent Fran Finco. “Students are permitted to form religious clubs, but the district may not endorse, or appear to endorse, those clubs. To avoid the appearance of endorsing a religious club, the district may not allow teachers or outside adults to be involved in student religious clubs beyond a supervisory capacity.”

FFRF adds that the Equal Access Act, which allows the Fellowship of Christian Athletes club to form, requires that “employees or agents of the school or government are present at religious meetings only in a nonparticipatory capacity.” Any school religious groups must be bona fide student clubs that are both student-initiated and student-run.

FFRF is asking for assurances that Lichty and Steele will not be present at future Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings, and that any staff members who chaperone club meetings in the future will not participate. Since Lichty and Steele freely admitted their transgression to the local media, FFRF also requests that the club be assigned a new faculty sponsor who will adhere to the Equal Access Act and the U.S. Constitution.

“It is important for teachers to not flout constitutional principles,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The school district needs to enforce that.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Madison-based national nonprofit that works to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. It represents more than 28,000 members across the country, including 1,400-plus in Wisconsin.


Freedom From Religion Foundation

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