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October 9-11, 2015

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

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.

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.

Gregg County Clerk Connie Wade, Longview, Texas, removed a collection of more than 20 crosses from her county office after getting a July 2 letter from FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert. A local resident alerted FFRF to the violation.

County Judge Bill Stoudt told the Longview News-Journal that the collection belonged to one of Wade’s employees. It was in full public view. “The employee voluntarily took the crosses down,” said Stoudt, noting he didn’t order them removed.

“If the crosses have been removed, we consider that a victory for state/church separation,” Markert said. She pointed to several cases in which federal courts upheld restrictions on displays of religious materials in workspaces, even including in some private cubicles or offices, since posting religious displays in areas the public can access could reasonably be seen as government endorsement of religion.

Wade has been in the news for refusing to issue a marriage license to Patrick Franklin and his 16-year partner Sailor Smith, citing the lack of a gender-neutral application form.
“Wrong side of history. Thanks,” Franklin told Wade after being turned down.

FFRF’s complaint letter made the city of Casselberry, Fla., cancel a planned partnership with an evangelical Christian church. Camp Casselberry, a city-run youth program, was scheduled to partner with Church Together for “Friday Fun Day” at a park June 26. Pastor Andy Searles and church volunteers planned to participate in and facilitate the event.
When Searles partnered with Camp Casselberry in 2014, his message to campers reportedly was to be good at three aspects of life: physical, mental and spiritual. Searles allegedly likened being “spiritually good” to being “scripturally good.”

“Our concern is that Mr. Searles and church volunteers will take this opportunity to again proselytize Camp Casselberry campers,” wrote Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in a June 24 letter.

“Paid or not, Mr. Searles and the church volunteers are bound by the First Amendment like any other government employee and must remain neutral toward religion during their participation in Camp Casselberry,” said Seidel.

A Church Together newsletter obtained by FFRF [see graphic] confirmed that the church would not be participating. The church also urged congregants to pray for people connected with FFRF.

“They can pray for us all they want, so long as they don’t force that prayer on other people’s children,” commented Seidel.

Church Together has a history of proselytizing in secular settings. It was recently known as the Venue Church at South Seminole, one of three Venue Churches in the Orlando area, whose stated goal is “permanently planting churches in Central Florida Schools.” The churches have recently split and been renamed but continue to meet in Orange County Public Schools.

FFRF has tangled repeatedly with Venue churches, and especially with Venue founder Todd Lamphere, particularly for his relationship with Apopka High School. FFRF has learned that Lamphere, pastor at Venue’s flagship church at Apopka, was reportedly forced to resign in June as pastor at the flagship church in Apopka for undisclosed reasons. All mention of him has been scrubbed from the church’s website.

FFRF also previously wrote to Casselberry Mayor Charlene Glancy after she appeared in a church promotional video in her official capacity as mayor.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

 

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FFRF is a member of Atheist Alliance International.