Freethought Today · January/February 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Legal Victories: By Molly Hanson

High school team, ministry split up

A Missouri high school basketball team will not continue to partner with a religious ministry in its summer camp program, thanks to FFRFs involvement.

FFRF was informed of a constitutional violation occurring in the Eldon School District after the high school basketball team announced that it would be partnering with Sports Crusaders to host summer athletic camps for fourth- through eighth-grade students.

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent Matt Davis asking that the district end its school's partnership with the religious ministry.

On Nov. 23, an email from Davis was sent to FFRF informing the legal staff that he had visited with the basketball coach to ensure this legal violation would not happen again.

FFRF takes action over school religious event

Adults in the Sarasota County School District in Florida organized and participated in "See You at the Pole" events put on by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at county schools in November. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel contacted Superintendent Lori White about the violation.

White wrote back on Dec. 6 informing FFRF that she had instructed district administrators to remind the school principals not to allow staff promotion of religion in the schools through student clubs.

FFRF shuts down religious recruiting

FFRF has put an end to church advertising through an Oklahoma public school district after Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel contacted Superintendent Brad Overton.

A local district family informed FFRF that Cordell Public Schools had partnered with several local churches to provide school supplies to children. The churches were taking advantage of the school's charitable goal by using the partnership to recruit church members.

Overton wrote back, informing FFRF that changes had been made to the supplies distribution system to eliminate any religious endorsement.

Religious club to end meetings in schools

A concerned community member in the Camden County School District in Georgia informed FFRF that district employees had involved themselves in a religious student club at the high school and middle school. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes was meeting before school on Tuesdays with district employees and outside adults leading, regularly attending and participating in the meetings, in violation of the Equal Access Act.

FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Camden County Schools Superintendent William Hardin to remind him that public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion.

Hardin wrote back on Dec. 6, informing FFRF that he had discussed the constitutional violations with the principals of both schools.

Religious sign removed from recycling center

A Centerville, Ga., resident contacted FFRF to report a city-owned recycling center displaying a sign reading, "Pray for our nation." The sign was in full view for anyone using the center.

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Centerville City Clerk Krista Bedingfield, and City Attorney Rebecca Tydings wrote back to inform him that the sign had been removed from the recycling center.

Club won't receive preferential treatment

After receiving a complaint that the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Montana's Rockwood School District was receiving special treatment in its advertising, FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler contacted Superintendent Eric Knost.

The club was given preferential treatment by being displayed on a permanent board at Eureka High School, a privilege that other clubs were not allowed.

Knost replied on Dec. 1 informing FFRF that Rockford school administrators would be reminded that religious-related student groups are not to be given preference over other noncurricular student groups.

Mississippi school ends bible study sessions

It was brought to FFRF's attention that the Gulfport (Miss.) School District staff was regularly propagating their personal religious belief to students in the public school. Several counselors had been handing out Christian-based informative packets to students, and every week staff members held a bible study with students.

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent Glen East to complain about the multiple violations. FFRF's complainant reported that the district had complied with FFRF's request by removing posters advertising religion, ceasing to pass out Christian materials during school hours and ending bible study sessions.

Gun show no longer favors churchgoers

FFRF was informed that the annual Gun & Knife Show in Cumberland County, Tenn., which is co-sponsored by the county, included an advertisement for free admission this past summer for anyone presenting a church bulletin. This kind of discount violates the federal Civil Rights Act.

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Mayor Kenneth Carey, Jr., who was also the chair of the County Commission.

Carey responded in December, telling FFRF that he spoke with the facility manager to ensure this discriminatory promotion would not be used at future events.

No more promotion of religious messages

During the 2015 holiday season, the Roopville Elementary School in Georgia posted a religious message on its marquee, reading, "For God so loved the world, He sent his only Son. Merry Christmas."

FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Superintendent Phillip Hartley to ask that he ensure that the school is aware of the constitutional prohibition of displays of religious messages in public schools.

Hartley replied on Dec. 9, informing FFRF that he had discussed the requirements with the principal and assistant superintendent.

School participation in nativity event halted

FFRF complained last year about schools in Wake County, N.C., participating in the Apex Nativity Celebration, an annual Christmas festivity that a local Latter Day Saints church puts together. FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliot wrote to the legal counsel for the Wake County Public School System with his concerns.

After learning that the schools were still planning to participate, FFRF contacted the district's legal counsel again and requested further records. That did the trick. The schools pulled out.

"After continued review of the invitation under applicable legal standards, we regret to inform you that Wake County public school students will no longer be participating in this year's celebration," Cathy Moore, Wake County Public Schools deputy superintendent, wrote to event organizers in an email shared with FFRF.

Nativity scene removed from public park

On behalf of a local resident, FFRF recently wrote to the North Carolina town of Butner objecting to a nativity scene in a public park that had been placed there for years around Christmas. It was a large exhibit prominently displayed across from the Butner Town Hall that featured figurines and lights illuminating it at night.

FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to Butner Mayor Vicky Cates about the violation, and the town responded.

The town has sent FFRF an official acknowledgement of the removal of the nativity scene.

School district does constitutional training

An Alabama school district will have its staff undergo training to reacquaint them with constitutional principles.

FFRF contacted the Blount County School District in November 2016, after a parent at Hayden Primary School informed it that a second-grade teacher there asks the "class leader" of the day to lead a prayer when the class lines up for lunch.

FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Blount County Schools Superintendent Rodney Green
The school district proved to be very responsive to FFRF's concerns.

"We have every reason to believe that our teachers in the Blount County System understand what the law requires," the school district's legal counsel replied. "However, Superintendent Green advises he and his staff will conduct professional development with Blount County teachers in January 2017 on board policy and the Establishment Clause."

No more religious radio to be aired at school

A community member contacted FFRF to report that a radio in the front office of Osceola (Wis.) Intermediate School regularly played a Christian station loudly enough for everyone passing by to hear. The station was St. Paul-based 98.5 KTIS, which describes itself as a "ministry" that "communicat[es] God's message in the Twin Cities" in order "to lead people to Christ and nurture believers in their faith through Christ-centered media."

FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Osceola School District Supertintendent Mark Luebker with FFRF's concerns, and the district complied.

"Effective Jan. 1, 2017, the Osceola Intermediate School office will refrain from playing 98.5 KTIS or other religious programming while students or parents are present," Luebker responded.

Nativity scene not displayed at manor

In December 2015, a nativity scene was on display at a publicly owned manor in Wadena, Minn. The manor is owned and managed by the Wadena Housing and Redevelopment Authority and funded in part by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott contacted the housing authority to inform it of the constitutional violation.

FFRF's local complainant reported this past December that the nativity scene was not put back on display during the holiday season.

FFRF stops school's religious announcement

FFRF contacted Wayne City Community Unit School District #100 in October to object to a posting on Wayne City High School's Facebook account about a "Bring Your Bible to School" day. The announcement gave a location (school library), time and day to meet and "pray over the day."

FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Superintendent Jeff Mitchell and pointed out that such an announcement violated the constitutional separation of church and state.
The Wayne City school district has promised to prevent any future misuse of its social media.

Amit Pal and Madeline Ziegler contributed to this report.

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