FFRF notches up many constitutional wins in Ohio


The Freedom From Religion Foundation has obtained multiple victories for our secular system in an Ohio school district.

The state/church watchdog initially wrote in early March to Indian Creek School District about a March 19 event at Hills Elementary School, where representatives from Samaritan’s Feet were scheduled to give shoes and socks to students and then wash the students’ feet.

The washing of feet is a ritual steeped in religious significance, FFRF pointed out. The act is modeled after John 13:1–17 in the New Testament, in which Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and instructs them to wash each other’s feet. Samaritan’s Feet is a Christian missionary organization. The organization’s founder, Pentecostal minister Manny Ohonme, describes shoe distributions as “a tangible way to present the love of Christ.” Samaritan’s Feet is unapologetic and unsubtle about its goal: “The shoes is [sic] just a hook, just the bait,” explains Ohonme. “Because those shoes will wear out. There is a [spiritual] transaction that happens . . . that we hope those kids will never forget. And that’s what this stuff is about.”‘

If the district allowed these outside adults to have this “spiritual” interaction with students, then Samaritan’s Feet would have essentially bought access, at a school-sponsored event, to proselytize the children in the district’s care, FFRF underlined.

“It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion,” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent T.C. Chappelear. “In Lee, the Supreme Court extended the prohibition of school-sponsored religious activities beyond the classroom to all school functions, holding prayers at public high school graduations an impermissible establishment of religion. Even if this shoe giveaway takes place outside the normal school day, it still violates the Constitution as a school-sponsored religious activity.”

The district cancelled the event as a result of FFRF’s reasoning.

“Understanding the event more fully now, the district has determined that the event will not be on school grounds or during the school day,” the district’s legal counsel replied.

This isn’t the only constitutional success that FFRF has attained in the district.

A concerned area resident informed FFRF that Indian Creek Middle School had been allowing a pastor on campus during the school day to preach. Bobbyjon Bauman, a pastor and president of the Valley Youth Network (which describes itself as “a network of concerned people and organizations who seek to reach out to area students with the gospel of Jesus Christ”), reportedly proselytizes students every Friday during school lunch under the guise of an “FCA [Fellowship of Christian Athletes] Bible Study.”

“Allowing church representatives regular, or even one-time, access during school hours to proselytize is a violation of the Establishment Clause,” Line wrote to Chappelear. “The courts have protected public school students from overreaching outsiders in similar situations.”

In a recent response, the district says that it has effectively barred Bauman from its schools (and taken care of residual FFRF concerns about the foot-washing event).

“The district will ensure that Mr. Bauman does not regularly lead or attend student group activities in the district’s schools,” the school’s legal counsel informs FFRF. “Additionally, the district will ensure that Mr. Bauman will not proselytize to students during the school day.”

FFRF is pleased that the separation of state and church will now be honored in the Ohio school district.

“We’re always glad to be of constitutional service,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “However, it should not fall upon us to ensure that public schools follow the law.”

She added that FFRF is particularly concerned about missionaries being allowed to target the youngest and most impressionable students, in these instances elementary- and middle-school-aged children. Public students are a captive audience, and school officials are obligated to protect their constitutional rights.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization that represents more than 32,000 members and has 20 chapters across the country, including more than 800 members and a chapter in Ohio.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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