Prescott, Ariz., Public Schools has ended its practice of including invocations and benedictions at Prescott High School graduation ceremonies. Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote the district May 27 after FFRF received word that the public high school had prayer as part of official graduation ceremony program.
“A prayer taking place at a ‘regularly scheduled school-sponsored function conducted on school property’ would lead an objective observer to perceive it as state endorsement of religion,” Elliott wrote.
The district responded June 3 that “the District does not intend to include prayer as part of any school-sponsored events in the future, and appropriate administrators will be so advised.”
Dixie County Schools ordered removal of classroom posters that proclaimed “Dixie County High School — God Can Do Innumerably More Than We Can Ask or Imagine,” after getting an FFRF complaint about the display at the school in Cross City, Fla.
On Nov. 12, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the district about rampant religious promotion at the school, including adult-led organized prayer, teaching creationism, bible verses on display and religious bullying. The district corrected those violations swiftly but failed to remove several of the religious posters.
After Seidel wrote again on April 10, the district agreed to remove the last of the religious posters.
Nevada’s Clark County School District will update its teacher handbook and reinstruct teachers not to promote their own sectarian beliefs to students. On May 21, a teacher at Victoria Fertitta Middle School in Las Vegas played the Christian movie “Amazing 3D Adventures: The P.U.S.H.” for students during instructional time. The message of the movie is to “Pray Until Something Happens” and features a religious rodent protagonist attacking a reasonable reptile.
The movie “teaches students that planning, foresight, and determination are less important to success than the belief and obedience to a god,” wrote Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel on June 5.
On June 15, the district assured FFRF that the school would take steps to remind teachers they are not permitted to proselytize students.
Two California school districts have promised to take steps to ensure teachers will not use district resources to promote religious events after getting letters from FFRF.
A teacher at Modesto City Schools’ Downey High School used his district email address to coordinate and advertise the Modesto Area Educators’ 7th Annual Prayer Breakfast, a privately sponsored religious event that took place at the school. A teacher at Sylvan Union School District’s Somerset Middle School also promoted the event with a district email address.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the districts June 12, explaining that “statements of school employees made using official resources are attributable to the school. This endorsement of a Christian event offends the nearly 30% of American adults and the 37% of California adults that are non-Christian.”
Modesto City Schools responded June 16, promising to enforce its “acceptable use” policy and to review the policy to ensure employees comply with the Constitution. On June 23, the Sylvan Union School District assured FFRF that it would remind its staff on proper use of district technology.
Pender County Schools in North Carolina will put a stop to the classroom display of bible quotes. A Topsail Middle School teacher in Hampstead wrote bible quotes on a dry-erase board in his classroom, in full view of his students, and changed the quotes on a weekly basis. A concerned parent contacted FFRF.
“Religious postings are strictly prohibited in public schools,” wrote Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott in a May 28 complaint. “Matters of faith, or absence of faith, are best left outside of the classroom.”
FFRF received a response June 18, stating that the district provided staff with guidelines for selecting appropriate quotes and will further provide staff with “training on compliance with First Amendment principles of religion in public schools.”
Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns, Fla., will stop illegal athletic prayer and will no longer show a religious video to students. A student reported to FFRF that the school’s football coach was participating in student-led prayers and that the school had shown students a video on safe driving that was “absolutely infested with Christian messages, bible verses and talk of prayer.” The video featured a local student who had been injured in a driving accident and credited prayer as the secret to his recovery.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel complained to the St. Johns County School District on April 30. The district promptly commenced an investigation and informed FFRF on June 26 that both issues would be corrected. The school’s football coach now understands that he cannot pray with players at school functions, and the school assured FFRF that it will not show any videos promoting religion.
Bethel High School’s Naval Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps in Bethel, Conn., has taken several steps to keep religion out of its instruction. A concerned student reported to FFRF that a mandatory military ball included prayers said “in the name of Jesus.” Students were also forced to recite a statement that included the phrase “May God grant me the strength to always live by this creed,” and a classroom displayed a “God Bless America” poster.
Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote a complaint letter June 15 regarding all three issues.
Attorney Rebecca Santiago responded June 29 and said future military balls would not include prayers, the “God Bless America” poster would be removed and that students would not be required to recite a religious creed.
The city of Bayard, N.M., will no longer close its doors on Good Friday or Easter Monday. A resident reported to FFRF that city offices, the public library and the municipal court were closed in 2014 on Friday, April 18, and Monday, April 21, “in observance of the Easter holiday.”
Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the mayor Feb. 27: “Easter is neither a federal holiday nor a New Mexico state holiday. It is unconstitutional and inappropriate for city offices to close for this Christian holy day.”
The mayor responded June 1 and agreed to remove the days from the city’s holiday schedule in future years.
FFRF reminded the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District in Missouri that schools are not allowed to take time off to observe religious holidays. Colby Cantrell, a teacher at Woodland Elementary School, sent an email to parents saying that students did not have school April 3 “in observance of Good Friday!” FFRF was notified about this incident and sent a letter to the district May 26.
“This practice violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it not only promotes religion over nonreligion, but also impermissibly favors Christianity over all other faiths,” wrote Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert.
The district’s attorney assured FFRF on June 2 that the district would ensure Cantrell understood that the school was not closed for the religious holiday.
The La Farge, Wis., School District in Wisconsin agreed to stop including prayers at athletic banquets and other school-sponsored events after getting a May 7 letter from Staff Attorney Sam Grover.
FFRF had learned that a pastor invited to speak at La Farge High School’s athletic banquet delivered a lengthy Christian prayer. “School events must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students,” Grover wrote.
An attorney for the district told Grover on May 8 that there would be no prayers at future school-sponsored events.