Students at Lakeside High School (Ashtabula, Ohio) will no longer be forced to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt informed Superintendent Joseph Donatone of this blatant First Amendment violation via an April 13 letter of complaint. She pointed out that some faculty members required that students participate in the pledge against their will. "Students have a constitutional right not to be forced to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or to be compelled to stand for its recitation," advised Schmitt.
Schmitt added that students should not be singled out, told they must stand, or otherwise be penalized for following their freedom of conscience.
Donatone promptly replied to Schmitt's letter on April 19: "We can assure you that we recognize our students' right not to participate in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and we have directed our staff accordingly."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has put an end to a Douglas County (Douglasville, Ga.) judge's inappropriate use of county resources to promote the Christian message.
The judge was using county supplies to collect new and used bibles and distribute them to "persons around the globe who do not have the resources to get bibles." She also solicited the bibles through the county newsletter and collected the bibles at the courthouse. FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt took issue with this flagrant violation. Schmitt sent an April 13 letter to Douglas County officials: "This use of County resources to solicit and distribute Christian bibles violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The sole purpose of the judge's endeavor is to benefit a religious organization — the Christian church."
Schmitt noted that the judge's actions also violated the Georgia Constitution. The law advises that "[n]o money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, cult, or religious denomination or of any sectarian institution."
A secretary for the Chief Magistrate promptly responded to Schmitt with positive news. During a phone conversation the secretary confirmed that bibles will no longer be accepted/delivered to the courthouse. She added that there will not be any more advertisements for the fundraiser.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a Feb. 17, 2012, letter of complaint to an Oklahoma City post office after a local complainant reported an egregious violation.
One of the postal workers distributed proselytizing Christmas messages in the mailboxes on his route. In her letter, Markert pointed out that this violated not only the Establishment Clause, but postal regulations.
Manager Kreg Stockstill responded April 11, apologizing for the inappropriate action and confirming that the office had “addressed all concerns raised with a thorough investigative process and ha[d] taken all corrective action as needed.”
Hagan Elementary School in Williston, N.D., will no longer permit representatives of Gideons International to distribute bibles to its youngest students.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation took issue with a particularly egregious situation that occurred in a fifth grade classroom. Students returning from music class found bibles placed on each of their desks. The teacher then led the class in a discussion of the bible. "It is unconstitutional for public school districts to allow the distribution of bibles during the school day. Courts uniformly have held the distribution of bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt in a letter of complaint to Superintendent Viola LaFontaine.
Schmitt maintained that Williston Schools may not allow Gideons or any other religious groups, to enter school property to distribute religious literature, or to engage in bible discussions.
In an April 9 response letter LaFontaine affirmed, "Please be assured this will not happen again and bibles will not be distributed in any of the Williston Public School District #1 Schools."
The University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison, Wis., will no longer allow Gideons International to unlawfully distribute bibles on public property, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt sent an advisory letter to UW Hospital President and CEO Donna Katen-Bahensky on March 22: "Permitting members of the Gideons or other bible distribution organizations the privilege of passing out their religious literature in the entrance of a state-run hospital constitutes blatant state endorsement of these Christian publications." A local complainant noted that security officers regulated the area in question, but claimed they were unable to take any action because it was in "a public space," even though it was by the main hospital entrance. Many of the security officers stated that "they were getting a lot of complaints" and admitted to being upset about the situation.
"A hospital entrance should be free from such distressing obstacles to ill patients and their worried relatives. Because of this undesirable result and the serious constitutional concerns that exits, the best policy would be to prohibit the distribution of any non-approved materials on the UW Hospital campus," noted Schmitt.
Katen-Bahensky sent a positive reply to Schmitt on April 9: "In re-eduating our Security Department on the non-solicitation policy earlier this year, we did discover that there had been some confusion with respect to the Gideons, but that confusion has been clarified. All solicitors, including members of the Gideons, will be asked to leave the area if they are soliciting there." FFRF had protested the practice on behalf of patients and staff, for many years.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has persuaded the City of Mt. Juliet (Tenn.) to stop promoting "the Great Easter Bash."
"The Great Easter Bash" was a Christian event set to take place on April 7 in a public park. The City of Mt. Juliet Parks and Recreation Department was the designated host, with Friendship Community Church as a co-sponsor. As host, the city advertised the event on the department's webpage and on mass distributed postcards. FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt took issue with this blatant blending of government and religion. She wrote to Parks Director Jay Cameli on April 4: "While organizing and encouraging citizens to attend family-friendly recreation is a laudable goal, advertising and co-sponsoring an event with a church constitutes government endorsement of religion and alienates those Tennessee residents who are not Christian and who are non-religious."
Schmitt received confirmation on April 6 that the city wisely removed all information about the Easter event. The parks department "removed the city logo, as well as all references to the 'City of Mt. Juliet' on the printed materials that will be distributed at the event." Employees were instructed to treat the event as they would any other.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has pre-empted any future Cleveland State University-sponsored "Faith & Family Day" from taking place on school grounds.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to CSU President Ronald Berkman on March 13 over the university's inappropriate endorsement of "Faith & Family Day." The event took place on Jan. 7, 2012, during a men's basketball game. The event was promoted using a logo consisting of numerous Christian crosses. "This promotion of religion, particularly Christianity, by a publicly funded university is inappropriate and unconstitutional," wrote Markert.
Markert pointed out that when a publicly-funded college "holds an event promoting a specific religious viewpoint, that statement sends a message that people adhering to certain religious beliefs are favored members of the community."
A representative of the university responded to Markert via a March 26 letter: "Immediately upon being notified of this, all posters, flyers and marquee messages within the Wolstein Center were removed... I am satisfied that appropriate steps have been taken to ensure that there will not be any future advertisements or promotional events sponsored by the university that will in any way suggest that the university endorses religion or any religious preference."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has put an end to an inappropriate and unnecessary church bulletin discount at the Fisherman's Quarters II in Asheville, N.C.
Fisherman's Quarters II habitually offered a 10% discount to church-going patrons. This particular promotion was at the top of the list on the restaurant's website along with its other discounts. FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt initially wrote to the restaurant owners on Oct. 17, 2011: "Fisherman's Quarters II's restrictive promotional practice favors religious customers and denies customers who do not attend church as well as nonbelievers the right to 'full and equal' enjoyment of Fisherman's Quarters II."
After receiving two additional follow-up letters, a representative of the restaurant verified that the unlawful practice would change. He maintained that the offer would be amended to apply to all patrons.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation ended an inappropriate and unnecessary use of employee email at the Harris County School District in Hamilton, Ga. Prior to FFRF's involvement, the school district allowed "principals and other leadership staff to send emails to their subordinates which include bible passages." One particular email correspondence took place between an elementary school principal and the school district's director of transportation. Theses emails contained "relevant" bible passages intended to "guide" the recipient.
FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote to Superintendent Craig Dowling on March 15: "No public school employee may urge religious points of view on students, parents, or employees. This includes bible verses and talking about 'following God.'"
Dowling responded to FFRF's complaint on March 23: "The Harris County School District will take such action as it deems appropriate regarding such communications to fulfill its responsibilities to avoid the advancement of religion and remain neutral in respect thereto," added Dowling.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has prevented a local minister from delivering another pregame prayer over the loudspeaker at Madisonville-North Hopkins High School in Madisonville, Ky.
A minister delivered an invocation over the public address system at the Region 2 Boys Basketball finals on March 6. A local complainant informed FFRF that the minister issued a Christian prayer, even after FFRF warned the school about illegal school prayer last fall. FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor sent out a statewide memorandum to all Kentucky superintendents prior to the 2011 athletic season. Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert followed up with Superintendent James Stevens in a March 12 letter: "As was made clear last fall, it is illegal for a public school to organize, sponsor, and lead prayers at public high school athletic events."
An attorney for the school district responded to Markert on March 20: "We have conducted an investigation into this matter and we are aware of the federal law which has been established on this issue. We appreciate your reiterating it to us and we have taken steps to ensure compliance with federal law on this issue. Superintendent James Lee Stevens will address this issue with all Principals and District level Administrators at the monthly administrators' meetings and will ensure compliance with federal law on this issue."