FFRF sends fourth complaint to Ohio school district

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent another letter of complaint to the Licking Valley Local School District in Newark, Ohio, its fourth letter since September.

The latest letter details a report that the Licking Valley High School football program employs a chaplain, a youth pastor who is allowed access to players to evangelize and lead the team in prayer.

“The appointment of team chaplains, formal or de facto, for a public high school athletic team violates the Constitution,” said Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert, writing that public school chaplains constitute government endorsement of religion.

FFRF sent its first letter to Licking Valley on Sept. 23 after the high school band wore T-shirts featuring the word “Salvation” across the chest and performed a piece called “Salvation Is Created.” The second letter, sent a week later, protested football coaches’ practice of praying with students. And a third letter, sent Oct. 31, raised concerns about an assembly at Licking Valley Elementary School put on by a group called Jubilee Gang, whose self-described goal is “to see as many Men, Woman [sic], Boys, and Girls make a legitimate decision to follow Jesus and be BORN AGAIN.” 

The school has stopped coaches from praying with students, but has not taken any further action on the complaints. There has been much local outcry against FFRF’s efforts to uphold the separation of church and state in Licking Valley. Community members planned a public prayer at an October football game, and the owner of a lot across the street from the high school put up three crosses that are 10 to 15 feet tall.

FFRF’s letters were sent pursuant to complaints made by multiple local complainants. “FFRF is deeply troubled that in the last few months we have heard from several different residents about religion in the District schools,” wrote Markert in the latest letter.

“The football program appears to have a culture of religion, particularly Christianity, that is not only inappropriate, but also unconstitutional in a public school. The entire program must be evaluated to ensure every aspect complies with constitutional dictates. Furthermore, a training for all public school employees on their obligations under the Constitution is in order.”

FFRF is a state/church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., with more than 21,500 members nationwide, including over 600 in Ohio.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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