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Lead Us Not Into Penn Station:Provocative Pieces

National Convention

September 15-17, 2017

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

"Why doesn't FFRF ever go after Muslims?" This misleading question gets thrown at FFRF frequently by the hostile Religious Right.

1LiberalThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is aghast about the overabundance of prayers in a Kansas school district.

A concerned parent has informed FFRF that Liberal Unified School District 480 in Liberal, Kan., has regularly incorporated prayers into several school events. This includes:

  • Prayers before girls' soccer games led by a coach-designated student.
  • Prayers after boys' soccer games done in a similar fashion as the girls' soccer games.
  • Prayers before kickoff at home football games given over the loudspeaker. Reportedly, students as well as Christian clergymen have led the prayers.
  • An opening prayer regularly scheduled during school board meetings. According to the board's published minutes for this school year, either a board member or local Christian clergymen gives the opening prayer.
  • A designated student reciting a prayer at commencement ceremonies.

"It is unlawful for any school-sponsored event, including graduations and athletic games, to include prayer," FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel writes to Superintendent Renae Hickert. "The Supreme Court has continually struck down formal and school-led prayer in public schools. Even when student-initiated, the Supreme Court has found prayers taking place at school-sponsored events unconstitutional." 

Plus, courts have again and again affirmed that the rights of minorities are protected by the Constitution, FFRF emphasizes. It makes no difference how many people want prayer or wouldn't be offended by prayer at school events, because "fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections," to quote the U.S. Supreme Court.

The state/church watchdog says that it's beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings. Federal courts have struck down school board practices that include this religious ritual. Furthermore, it is important to note that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway, permitting sectarian prayers at legislative meetings, does not apply to public school board meetings, because school boards are not deliberative legislative bodies.

And the Supreme Court has explicitly disallowed invocations at public school athletic events, even when student-led. Additionally, public school coaches must refrain not only from leading prayers themselves, but also from participating in student prayers, since even such participation is unconstitutional because it implies endorsement.

The Supreme Court has also specifically ruled against prayer at public school graduations. The court has settled this matter: High school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students.

FFRF asks that Liberal Unified School District 480 discontinue prayer at all future school-sponsored activities, including athletic events, commencement ceremonies and school board meetings.

"The whole situation is outrageous," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We didn't think it was possible for a school district to be violating the First Amendment in so many different ways."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 27,000 members across the country, including in Kansas. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

 

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Stand up for Texas public education

A bill seeking to gut the funding of the state's public schools by creating private voucher schemes has just passed the state Senate and now waits in the Texas House. It needs to die.

We're asking you again to take action against Senate Bill 3, this time by contacting your state representative. The bill would use taxpayer money to provide funding to private religious schools by implementing so-called "education savings accounts" that allow parents to use public money on private school tuition and other expenses. The bill explicitly allows for funding religion, saying that the "religious nature of a product or service may not be considered in determining whether a payment for the product or service" is allowed.

SB 3 would also create a voucher scholarship program, which allows businesses to contribute to private tuition organizations in lieu of paying insurance premium taxes. This scheme is similar to programs in other states that have been used to work around state constitutional language that prohibits government money going to religious schools.

Tell the Texas House to support secular public education by opposing SB 3!

CONTACT

Take action by contacting your state representative. Let our simple automated system contact him or her for you.

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We encourage you to add your own thoughts to personalize the message. This will make your message more effective in swaying your representative.

(Keep reading if you wish to learn more about Senate Bill 3.)

BACKGROUND

SB 3 is a backdoor means of funneling taxpayer money to religious schools by creating two voucher schemes: pushing education savings accounts and tax credit scholarships to subsidize private school tuition and additional education expenses.

SB 3 allows kindergarten and first grade students attending private schools to receive voucher money. The bill's proposal to establish education savings accounts would give Texas parents public money to spend on private school tuition and education-related expenses.

This is an attempt to subsidize private schools, regardless of wealth and regardless of whether a student previously attended a public school. Voucher programs like SB 3 would lack public accountability. While taxpayers cut the checks to fund "education savings accounts," they have no say in what they are paying for and, in this case, what religious proselytization their money might be used to instill. Where public money goes, public accountability should follow.

If the bill passes, Catholic and other existing church-run schools will see a windfall. SB 3 will benefit religious denominations that have the most private school infrastructure in place. Using public money to fund religious education endangers both our public schools system as well as our secular republic. Gov. Greg Abbott has said that he looks forward to signing the bill if it lands on his desk.

READ MORE

1gideons-internationalThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is strongly protesting the Gideons recently being allowed to distribute bibles at a North Carolina elementary school.

Last month, Gideons International was permitted to hand out New Testament bibles at Charles E. Boger Elementary School in Kannapolis, N.C., a school parent informed FFRF. The Gideons set up a table during lunchtime to give away bibles in the fourth and fifth grade hallway and manned it throughout. Every child from one classroom took a bible. Moreover, the teacher of the complainant's child had advertised the bibles to students.

"It is unconstitutional for public school districts to allow the Gideons to distribute bibles as part of the public school day," FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott writes to Cabarrus County Schools Superintendent Chris Lowder. "Courts have held that distribution of bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited." 

The Gideons International is self-described as an interdenominational association of Christian and professional men who are members of Protestant or evangelical churches. (It bars women from being full members.) The group's website states that it is "dedicated to telling people about Jesus through sharing personally and by providing bibles and New Testaments." The website openly refers to schools as prime targets.

Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion and to protect the rights of conscience of young and impressionable students, FFRF reminds the school district. When a school permits evangelists to distribute religious literature to its students, it gets entangled with that message.

FFRF finds it puzzling that the bible distribution was allowed, since the school district has a policy that limits the dissemination of non-school material on school property. The Standard of Approval of Materials section states: "The board prohibits the distribution or display of any material that...  is inappropriate due to the maturity level of the students." And courts have ruled that even passive bible distribution is prohibited in elementary schools.

It is unfortunate that some adults view public schools as ripe territory for religious recruitment. Parents understandably become nervous when adults take an overenthusiastic interest in providing materials to their children without parental knowledge. As the courts have held, religious instruction is for parents to determine, not public school educators.

"It's unbelievable that Cabarrus County Schools officials allowed strangers to come in and propagate their fundamentalist perspective to such young school kids," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "The Gideons should be told to cease and desist from targeting school children."

FFRF is asking that the school district take firm action to ensure that Gideon trespassers stay off school property.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with more than 27,000 nonreligious members and chapters across the country, including 600-plus and a chapter (the Triangle Freethought Society) in North Carolina.

 

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