An Illinois school district coached its employees on the Constitution after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained about its overly religious staff.
Personnel from the Teutopolis Community Unit School District #50, including basketball coach Mike Walker, prayed with student athletes after a recent game against Pana High School. The principal of Pana High School, Gayle McRoberts, posted a picture of the prayer on social media.
FFRF reminded the school district that it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer or participate in student prayers.
"It is unconstitutional for public school employees to participate in the religious activities of their students," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Superintendent Bill Fritcher. "Federal courts have held that even a public school coach's silent participation in student prayer circles is unconstitutional."
FFRF's letter jolted the Teutopolis Community Unit School District #50 into action. It held a staff meeting a few days ago where the Constitution was carefully explained.
"As stated Friday morning, we can have respect for religion, but by federal law, cannot endorse it while acting as a school employee," Fritcher wrote in a memo shared with FFRF. "Therefore, when our students choose to participate or initiate a student-led prayer, our employees may not participate. Please remove yourself from the activity so that it cannot be assumed that you are initiating, organizing, endorsing or participating in prayer."
Fritcher clearly delineated state-church separation principles for everyone to comply with.
"It is important that you follow this directive to refrain from praying with your teams," he stated. "Courts have ruled that participation in prayer with your teams amounts to endorsement of prayer. Failure to comply with this directive could result in disciplinary action."
FFRF is glad that it provided the impetus for a constitutional tutorial.
"We don't like to single out individual staff, but public school employees need to know basic constitutional principles," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We're pleased that we were the reason for a refresher course."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with more than 27,000 members and chapters all over the country, including almost 900 and a Chicago chapter in Illinois.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is strongly protesting the presence of multiple crosses at a Texas courthouse.
A white Latin cross is on display outside the Orange County Courthouse next to the main entrance. In addition, there is a veterans' memorial on the grounds of the courthouse that features a large Latin cross and the phrase, "For God and Country."
FFRF has no objection to honoring veterans, but maintains the crosses send several troubling messages. They endorse religion over nonreligion. And they indicate that the government cares only about Christian veterans — and disdains the service or deaths of non-Christian and nonreligious veterans.
"The religious significance of the Christian cross is unambiguous and indisputable," FFRF Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert writes in a letter to Orange County Commissioner Barry Burton. "A majority of federal courts have held displays of Latin crosses on public property to be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The display of this patently religious symbol on public property confers government endorsement of Christianity, a blatant violation of the Establishment Clause."
Plus, the cross by the courthouse entrance conveys a signal to the nearly 30 percent of Americans who are not Christians (including the 23 percent who are not religious) that they are "not favored members of the political community," to quote the U.S. Supreme Court. The cross has an exclusionary effect, making non-Christian and nonbelieving residents of Orange County political outsiders.
"The city is visibly placing Christian veterans on a pedestal," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "The enormous sacrifices made by non-Christian veterans and servicemembers is being willfully disparaged."
FFRF requests that the crosses be moved from the Orange County Courthouse to a more appropriate private location.
FFRF's recent federal lawsuit against the city of Santa Clara, Calif., resulted in removal of a 14-foot Latin cross from a public park in January. FFRF is also suing over a 25-foot Christian cross in a public park in Pensacola, Fla., and over a cross and Christian symbols on the city seal in Lehigh County, Penn.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization that works to protect the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. It represents more than 27,000 nonreligious members across the country, including 1,200-plus in Texas. The organization is working on this issue both as a state/church watchdog group and on behalf of its more than 6,000 members who are in the military or are veterans.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation's lawsuit removing a 14-foot granite cross in a California public park has been formally settled this week.
FFRF and a local member sued the city of Santa Clara in April 2016, after FFRF had attempted for four years to persuade the city to remove the cross from Memorial Cross Park without litigation.
As part of the settlement, the city in January removed and donated the cross to the Catholic Santa Clara University.
The Santa Clara Lion's Club had contributed the cross to the city in 1953 for the decidedly nonsecular purpose of marking the site of the second Spanish Catholic mission, which had been established in 1777.
"We're pleased that the city divested itself of this religious symbol, and that the Constitution is now being complied with," says FFRF Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert, who was co-counsel on the case.
Local officials acknowledged the correctness of FFRF's position.
"Some people feel like we've caved in or succumbed to the arguments of a relatively small number of people, but as I said, they [FFRF] do have a number of legal precedents on their side," councilmember Teresa O'Neill told NBC reporter Ian Cull.
Markert and other FFRF staff had written or phoned the city on more than a dozen occasions since first contacting the city over the Establishment Clause violation in April 2012. The city had indicated in 2012 that it looked forward "to resolving this matter in an expeditious and responsible manner," but dragged its feet.
"This sends a strong message of support of the wall of separation between religion and government," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Reason and the Constitution have prevailed."
FFRF v. City of Santa Clara was litigated on behalf of FFRF by David J.P. Kaloyanides, with FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler also serving as co-counsel. The case, No. 5:16-cv-02072, was before Judge Lucy H. Koh. Final settlement papers have been signed. The city of Santa Clara has agreed to pay attorney fees of $6,500, of which FFRF will recover legal costs.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national state/church watchdog organization that has 27,000 members and chapters all over the country, including almost 3,500 and a Sacramento chapter in California.