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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

Quehanna Boot Camp, an adult correctional facility in Karthaus, Pa., will not include prayers in future graduation ceremonies. Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote the camp Feb. 3 to object to the pastor-led prayers.

The Department of Corrections responded Feb. 13, writing that the invocation and benediction portions of the ceremony would be removed.

Haskins Learning Center, a K-8 public school in Pratt, Kan., is presenting in-service training to teachers about religious proselytizing after FFRF again objected to the school's practices.

Just six weeks earlier, the school had agreed to stop prayer at school events. But the day after the first response, FFRF received a report that teachers had distributed gifts to students with attached tags quoting the biblical John 3:16.

An attorney for the school told Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel on Feb. 9 that he had in-services scheduled with instructional and administrative staff.

Ravenswood Middle School in Ripley, W.Va., has taken down crosses that were previously displayed on school property.

Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote Jackson County Schools on Jan. 20 after learning that multiple crosses were placed in a garden near an entrance to the school. One included the word "FAITH" and two verses from the New Testament.

"We are sensitive to the possibility that the crosses and angels are meant as a memorial. However, it is the school's constitutional obligation to find a religiously neutral means of expressing remembrance in a memorial display," wrote Elliott.

The district responded Feb. 6 to say that the crosses had been removed.

Unified School District 219 in Kansas has stopped a Minneola Elementary School teacher from distributing bibles to students. In a letter sent Jan. 30, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel informed the district, "When a school distributes religious literature to its students, it entangles itself with that religious message."

Superintendent Mark Walker responded Feb. 6: "The district has taken prompt action to visit with the teacher and inform the entire staff that allowing the Gideons to distribute Bibles on school property is not allowed and should not happen again."

The Higginsville, Mo., Parks and Recreation Department has in the past displayed a large nativity scene in a public park with a sign saying "The Savior is Born."

Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent the department a letter after a local resident complained: "By displaying this sign, the Department is praising the Christian god and proclaiming Jesus as savior. This is in direct violation of the Constitution."

The department responded Feb. 4 that the nativity will not be put up in the future.

The public school district in Aberdeen, S.D., which showed a Catholic version of a sex education program to students, is taking steps to correct the violation after getting a Jan. 9 letter from Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.

The health curriculum at Central High School included "Romance without Regret," a religious presentation promoting sexual abstinence and "chastity" from a Catholic perspective. The presenters prayed and made religious references such as "Realize that purity is a gift from Jesus, we have to ask him of it, and he'll give it to us."

It also denigrated students, particularly girls, who had had sex, describing a man who has sex with a woman as "robbing her purity" and watching pornography as "looking at the corpse of a woman's heart." It also quoted many debunked and misleading health statistics.

The superintendent called Elliott two weeks later to say that the video was shown mistakenly instead of a secular version of the presentation. She reviewed both versions of the film in full and assured FFRF that she recognized the Catholic version was inappropriate for public schools and would not be shown again.

A field trip to a church-run pumpkin patch will not reoccur at Randolph Elementary in Centreville, Ala. Kindergartners and first graders were given nametags reading, "Hay there, Jesus loves you" with a bible verse underneath.

Students' finger paintings also had bible verses printed at the top. The students posed for a photo beneath two large signs with bible verses on them.

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote the district Nov. 24: "It excludes non-Christian and nonreligious students for a public school to schedule a trip to this type of sectarian establishment."

On Jan. 23, the superintendent of Bibb County Schools responded that this was the school's first visit to the pumpkin patch, admitting it had not been properly vetted. She said the district would not send students there in the future.

Del Norte County Unified School District stopped a teacher at Crescent Elk Middle School, Crescent City, Calif., from holding a bible study as part of an overnight field trip to her home.

"When a school allows a teacher to lead students in a devotional bible study, the school becomes complicit in an egregious constitutional violation and breach of trust," wrote Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in a letter sent Jan. 26.

Superintendent Don Olson responded the next day, saying that he "directed staff to stop this practice immediately," and would work with the district's legal team, thanking FFRF for making him aware it was happening.

Fayette County Public Schools, Lexington, Ky., received FFRF complaints about several state/church violations.

Leestown Middle School held a "retreat" for sixth graders at two churches. Students were given T-shirts at the retreat that advertised TurningPoint Church and its website. They were told to wear shirts to a mandatory school assembly, which was supposedly secular, put on by the church's lead pastor, Joshua Mauney. He had children write down information, including their addresses, on cards. FFRF's complainant then received mail from the church.

Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the school district Nov. 13. "Allowing a church leader unique access to a captive audience of schoolchildren and permitting him to turn students into walking billboards for his church is inappropriate and unconstitutional, and his predatory conduct should raise many red flags."

Markert continued, "Moreover, public school employees cannot distribute or wear religious T-shirts while at school, nor can they require or encourage students to wear them."

The district responded in February, informing FFRF that speakers would be prohibited from using students as a platform for a religious message on social media and from requesting names and addresses of students in the future. The district also agreed to request advance approval of anything put on donated items.

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