FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote a complaint letter March 22 to Rockingham County Schools about constitutional violations at South End Elementary in Reidsville, N.C.
According to a distraught parent, about 25% of school lessons center around Christian teachings and activities. Included are daily prayers in some classes, overtly religious selections in music class and creationist answers to students’ questions.
FFRF’s complainant stated when their child asked a teacher why coconuts have fuzz, the teacher answered, “That’s the way God made them.” Understandbly, the child was unsatisfied with that answer and inquired further, to which the teacher replied, “He made everything in the world along with the world itself. God decided that coconuts should have fuzz.”
One of the complainant’s children was scolded and threatened with detention when they said they didn’t feel comfortable singing a song that intimated that “When we die, we become God’s slave.”
It’s alleged that in one elementary school class, children are told to reach to the ground in a “touch your toes” manner while reciting “no, no, no, no, no,” followed by reaching up while saying “yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.” When a student asked why they were doing it, they were told that it’s because “We don’t want to go down there, but we want to go up there to heaven.”
When the complainant’s child expressed discomfort at being told this, the response was you “have to learn it to grow up right.”
When the parent complained to the principal, the principal allegedly replied to the effect that “We don’t have to keep God out of the school because everybody who goes there grew up in this town, and they all go to church together.”
The next day, the complainant said, the principal told the child that they had to participate in song and prayer, causing the child to cry.
FFRF’s letter stated that Principal Elizabeth Lynch should have risen to the occasion to explain to teachers, students and parents that laws were adopted to protect everyone. “Instead, she scolded the complainant’s child, flagrantly violating the complainant’s wishes, Rockingham County Schools’ policies, the North Carolina Constitution and the United States Constitution.”
FFRF banner counters crucifixion scene
A new sign from FFRF will be going up soon in Streator, Ill. FFRF complained in December about the use of a city park by a religious group. The Streator Freedom Association placed a nativity display with a sign that said, “Unto you is born the Savior Jesus Christ the Lord.”
FFRF complained about the display and also wrote that the same group had placed three crosses, representing the purported crucifixion of Jesus, in the park in the weeks leading up to Easter for several years, along with a sign that said, “Jesus died for your sins.”
An attorney for the city responded in March to FFRF, saying that the displays would continue to be allowed as the city views the park as a public forum. FFRF received a permit to place its 8-foot-by-3-foot “Nobody died for our sins” banner in the park. It’s expected the banner will be displayed near the crosses from April 4-13.
Tenn. police patch draws FFRF scrutiny
The Lenoir City [Tenn.] Police Department values “Religion” so highly that it includes the word on officers’ uniforms. A patch with the motto “Religion, Education, Industry” mars each sleeve.
FFRF sent two letters contesting the religious patches to Mayor Tony Aikens and Police Chief Don White, the most recent on March 26, noting that decorating public employees’ uniforms with references to religion violates the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions.
“A ‘religious’ police force is something to be avoided at all costs,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The citizens of theocratic countries employing religious police — citizens of countries like Iran — do not look upon religious police as the guardians of freedom, but as traitors to true freedom.”
A Knoxville News Sentinel story March 26 reported the response to FFRF from City Attorney James Scott, who said the patch “symbolizes our Police Department’s attempt to protect the rights and freedoms associated with any sort of religion. Therefore we view it commensurate with the Establishment Clause.
“Our officers view the patch with natural pride and it is merely a ‘statement,’ ” said Scott. Stay tuned.
School speaker pushed religion, abstinence
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote a letter March 8 objecting to Chester County High School, Henderson, Tenn., hosting a religious speaker to a “food class.”
Brent Lambert, founder of Birth Choice Pregnancy Resource Clinic, was a guest speaker for three class periods. Lambert’s lessons reportedly included a PowerPoint presentation listing “good” and “bad” things. “Good” things reportedly included “God, heaven and abstinence.” On the “bad” list were the devil, sex and other “sinful” things.
According to the local complainant, a parent of an upset student, Lambert told the class that they would not die without sex, but that they would die if they had premarital sex. He told them that science was wrong and God’s creation was right. He told them how God has cured cancer in his leg.
Birth Choice, according to its website, preaches belief in “the virgin birth, bodily resurrection and ascension . . . the Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,” and is “committed to upholding God’s standard of sexual purity as set forth in scripture.”
Markert questioned how the presentation related to “food class,” and said FFRF had to contact the district because the “complainant’s child feels unsafe complaining because they ‘cannot handle the backlash from the student body.’ ”
Texas DOT forum filled with prayers
Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote a March 1 letter to the Texas Department of Transportation after receiving a complaint from a Texas Transportation Forum attendee. That atheist attendee felt that sending a personal complaint would put their career at risk.
The complainant stated that at the opening session over breakfast, and again at lunch, the more than 1,300 attendees at the February forum were asked to bow their heads, “and the speaker, a public sector government employee, asked ‘Our Father’ and ‘Lord’ to bless us and our meals, etc.”
Schmitt noted that asking attendees to pray and say grace is “coercive, embarrassing and beyond the scope of secular state government and events sponsored by it.” The letter requested that the Texas DOT ban prayer from all of its events.
Mich. Islamist sign draws FFRF complaint
In early March, a snarky complaint arrived from Michigan, wondering if FFRF cared that a public school in Dearborn, Mich., was endorsing Islam on its flashing lighted sign. The complainant was “curious why [FFRF] never seem[s] to be bothered by the blatant Muslim” constitutional violations.
In fact, FFRF is concerned by all violations of the Establishment Clause. Therefore, Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote a letter of complaint March 22 to the executive director of Central Michigan University, who is in charge of the Center for Charter Schools.
Markert’s letter described why the sign in front of the public charter school Riverside Academy West, which at one point read “To Allah We Belong & To Him We Return,” raised “serious concerns under Michigan and federal law.”
Michigan law states that a charter school cannot be religiously affiliated. Though this school used to be the American Islamic Academy, upon conversion to a government-run charter school, the school sponsorship of a religious message became impermissible. The letter included a picture of the sign sent by complainant and stated that “any religious postings or messaged displayed at Riverside Academy West must be removed promptly.”
The letter also requested “an immediate investigation” and asked for a written reply detailing the steps that the Center for Charter Schools is taking to remedy these constitutional concerns.
Boards trust entirely too much in God
In March, FFRF’s legal department sent several letters of complaint over “In God We Trust” displays, calling them divisive and stating they have no place on government property. For instance, Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt’s March 14 letter to the Camarillo [Calif.] City Council said that “citizens are frequently compelled to come before you on important civic matters and to participate in important decisions affecting their livelihood, their property and [their] quality of life. These citizens should not be made to feel offended, excluded and like political outsiders because the local government they support with their taxes oversteps its power by prominently placing a religious statement at the seat of government.”
On March 13, FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote to the Weld City Council in Greeley, Colo., and the Clark Township supervisor in Cedarville, Mich., to state that the “prominent posting of ‘In God We Trust’ [on government property sent] an unfortunate message of exclusion to those citizens who do not believe in God.”
Kansas Legislature steeped in prayer
The religious atmosphere in the Kansas Senate and House of Representatives drew fire in March 20 letters to legislative leaders from FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker.
The House, which regularly opens sessions with prayer, saw one get completely out of hand March 15 when Fr. James Gordon of St. John Vianney Catholic Church delivered a controversial sectarian prayer against abortion rights and gay rights. He delivered this prayer “in Jesus’ name” and referenced political concerns despite House policy and practice prohibiting those types of prayers and references.
Gordon prayed to the House, “We ask you to strengthen our understanding of traditional marriage: one man and one woman. We ask you to bring us back to virtuous morals in society, morals that kept us from killing a child in the womb through abortion. We ask you to defend us now in the fight for true religious freedom and freedom of conscience, that seems to be threatened now in the public sphere.”
Local observers of the prayers to open Senate sessions noted that all but one in 2012 have ended “in Jesus’ name” or a variation thereof. Senate Chaplain Fred Hollomon, in the job for 30 years, appears to almost always end prayers with “in the name of Jesus Christ.” The review of prayers also shows Pastor Hollomon also has quite the imagination:
“Heavenly Father, I wonder what Jesus would do if He were a member of the Kansas Senate. . . . The last time He was on earth, He completed only three years of His term! And that was to benefit others. I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
FFRF contested similar violations in the Oklahoma Legislature in early March.