FFRF Legal Roundup: September 15, 2015

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s legal department has been busier than ever with the start of the school year! Below is just a small selection of FFRF’s recent legal activity. 


Cabell County Schools, W.V., promptly took down this painting of Jesus.

Cabell County Schools, West Virginia
A painting of Jesus was promptly removed from Altizer Elementary School just five days after Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent the school district a letter. Superintendent William A. Smith informed FFRF on Sept. 8 that the picture had been taken down. Smith also said the district was conducting a sweep of all schools and facilities “to make sure all are in compliance.”

Three Village Central School District, New York
After more than a year of stonewalling, Ward Melville High School this year finally gave a student permission to start a Secular Student Alliance chapter. Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to the district on July 23 urging them to stop violating the Equal Access Act and let the club form. The student planned to go to the school board’s September meeting to protest the denial, but got word of the club’s acceptance shortly before the meeting, so he attended anyway and instead thanked the administrators for approving the group.

City of Ocala, Florida
Ocala, Fla., has, in the past, used its discretionary fund to give grants to local churches. Last year, the Ocala City Council provided a grant to First Presbyterian Church of Ocala to help repair its steeple, and this year, St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church requested $10,000. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote a letter to City Attorney Patrick G. Gilligan, noting that such grants violate both the U.S. and Florida Constitutions. The Florida Constitution says in part, “No revenue of the state . . . shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church.”

While maintaining he disagreed with FFRF’s position, Gilligan informed FFRF on Sept. 8 that the city council withdrew the funding of St. Paul AME from its budget.

Corsicana Independent School District, Texas
The Corsicana ISD previously began all Corsicana High School football games with a prayer led by a clergy member. Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote a letter of complaint last November. Although FFRF never heard back from the school district, we received a report from a local resident that the game on Friday, September 4 had a moment of silence in place of the prayer.


FFRF submitted another amicus brief in a case regarding the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. ERISA regulates retirement plans, but exempts church plans from requirements such as paying insurance premiums, meeting minimum funding standards, and disclosing funding levels to plan participants. Cases have been brought around the country against large companies like Catholic hospitals that claim the exemption.

In its latest brief, to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, FFRF argues that the problem isn’t just that large companies are claiming this church plan exemption, it’s that the exemption exists at all. The brief follows amicus briefs submitted to the Third and Seventh Circuits over the same issue in May.


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