Freethought Today · May 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

FFRF Victories By Molly Hanson

FFRF gets police station prayer display removed

A huge prayer display has been removed from a Wisconsin police station thanks to FFRF intervening on behalf of the Constitution.

A concerned area resident contacted FFRF to report that the Onalaska Police Department had a large religious display on the wall of a public room in a local police station.

It is laudable for the police department to recognize the challenges officers face and to promote compassion and courage in law enforcement. But these sentiments should not be couched in the religious message that a god should be the officers' "guide" in their work, and is responsible for their success and safety, FFRF asserted.

"Displaying 'A Police Officer's Prayer' in the police station demonstrates a preference for religion over nonreligion on behalf of the Onalaska Police Department," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Onalaska Police Chief Jeffrey Trotnic in January. "By endorsing belief in a god, the Onalaska Police Department sponsors a religious message, which is 'impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to . . . nonadherents'" that they are not full members of the political community, to quote the U.S. Supreme Court.

Citizens interact with and rely on law enforcement officers during some of the most urgent and vulnerable times of their lives, FFRF reminded Trotnic. The Onalaska Police Department's religious display conveyed a message to nonreligious citizens that they weren't favored members of the political community. Law enforcement must be even-handed and avoid any appearance of bias toward some citizens or hostility toward others.

FFRF requested that the prayer display be removed immediately. The Onalaska Police Department recently informed FFRF that it has acceded to the organization's request.

"Dear Mr. Jayne: The item in question has been removed," Trotnic wrote back.

Florida teacher stops praying with students

Florida's Walton County School District put an end to classroom prayers in its public elementary school after FFRF got involved.

A concerned district family informed FFRF that a teacher at West DeFuniak Elementary was imposing prayer on her third-grade class. The year before, the teacher had been doing the same with her second-grade class. FFRF was told that she was lining her students up against a wall to sanitize their hands and then praying with them before lunch. When the family addressed the concern with the school principal, she failed to take action.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter Feb. 28 to WCSD Superintendent Russell Hughes.

Hughes responded on March 3 that he would begin the recommended investigation. FFRF was later informed that classroom prayers had ended.

FFRF shuts off Colorado school's marquee

Thanks to FFRF, a Colorado public high school's digital marquee will no longer display advertisements for Orchard Church.

Since 2012, Prairie View High School has permanently displayed the sign promoting a Christian message. It was donated by the church as a way of showcasing the unconstitutional partnership between the school and Orchard Church.

For years, the high school has allowed the church to use its building for religious services, and now the church plans to strengthen this alliance by building its own facility next door.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to School District 27J Superintendent Chris Fiedler on March 1.

District General Council Janet K. Wyatt responded on March 20 that the sign listing Orchard Church activities would no longer be displayed starting in March and that all references to Orchard Church would be removed from the sign once the school year ends in May.

New Mexico museum film to be properly replaced

Starting this spring, the Bradbury Science Museum in New Mexico will show a new film to replace a movie that unnecessarily endorsed religion and distorted historical fact.

FFRF was informed by several concerned citizens across the country of religious imagery in a movie being shown at the Bradbury Science Museum, which is a part of a government-run laboratory. The movie, "The Town that Never Was," displays religious iconography and prayers to Catholic deities in its first two minutes, apparently to contrast Catholicism with the Nazi regime.

"The clumsy attempt at contrast is a distraction that happens to endorse religion in an inappropriate manner," wrote Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker to Bradbury Science Museum Director Linda Deck in November 2016.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a follow-up letter to Linda Deck on Feb. 21 asking for the religious imagery to be edited out. Deck responded on March 14 that a more appropriate history film would replace "The Town that Never Was."

Soccer coach to stay hands and prayer-free

A California high school soccer coach will be keeping his hands and blessings off athletes after FFRF blew the whistle on the constitutional foul.

It was brought to FFRF's attention by a concerned community member that the coach was leading his players in prayer before games, which involved the "laying of hands" ritual.

FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Los Banos Unified School District Acting Superintendent Dean Bubar on March 24. After receiving Ziegler's letter, the district looked into the matter and discussed the First Amendment violation with the coach. Bubar wrote to inform FFRF on March 30 that the coach assured the district he would refrain from promoting or participating in religious rituals during the next soccer season.

California schools'religious promotion ends

Two instances of unconstitutional religious promotion by staff in California's Del Norte County Unified School District were brought to FFRF's attention.

A weekly bulletin distributed to staff at Del Norte High School and put on display in the school's hallway contained a religious saying at the end which read: "Your talent is God's gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God." FFRF was also informed that at the district's Bess Maxwell Elementary School, a cafeteria worker had handed out pencils to students on Valentine's Day with notes attached reading "Jesus [heart]'s You and I Do Too!"

FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Del Norte County USD Superintendent Jeff Harris on March 17.

Harris wrote back that day, informing FFRF that the high school principal had dealt with the religious wording in the bulletin and that the district administration was addressing the inappropriate gift given out on Valentine's Day.

Prayers silenced by FFRF in Georgia school

Two teachers at Jones-Wheat Elementary School in Georgia's Decatur County Schools District will no longer be teaching students to pray after FFRF got involved.

A concerned parent contacted FFRF to report that their child had recited prayers at home that they had learned in school. It was discovered that multiple teachers at the school had been engaging in the prayer practice resulting in the indoctrination of schoolchildren.

FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler contacted Decatur County Schools Superintendent Tim Cochran on January 18.

After receiving Ziegler's letter, FFRF was informed that Cochran held a meeting with all district administrators to remind each employee of the prohibitions on religious expression set forth by the Establishment Clause.

Michigan town removes religious memorial

FFRF and the Center For Inquiry were informed by a local resident of Alto, Mich., of an unconstitutional cross memorial monument at Alto Veterans Park.

The memorial displayed a black cutout of a soldier kneeling and a Christian cross.

FFRF Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert and CFI Vice President Nicholas Little wrote to the Alto Downtown Development Authority to express concern over the religious display to honor all veterans, especially when 25 percent of military personnel identify as atheist or agnostic.

Markert and Little pointed out that the memorial sent out a message that the government only cares about the deaths of Christian soldiers and not non-Christian or nonreligious soldiers.

The organizations were informed on March 29 that the memorial had been removed and would not be reinstalled.

Montana youth minister deterred from schools

Religious leaders will no longer be permitted to prey upon school children for proselytization in Montana's Missouri's Forsyth R-III Schools after FFRF raised alarm.

It was brought to FFRF's concern that a youth minister, Jeffrey Barrikman, from First Baptist Church, was given special access to students at Forsyth Middle School. Barrikman had been allowed onto school grounds as a "visitor," a privilege he used to sit and speak with children during lunch. Back in 2015, the district had been put on notice of similar recruitment tactics by First Baptist Church.

On March 31, FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott cautioned the school district against its unconstitutional endorsement of First Baptist Church and allowance of evangelization during the lunch period.

"This predatory conduct is inappropriate and should raise many red flags," Elliott wrote to Superintendent Jeff Mingus.

Mingus responded on April 7 informing FFRF that adjustments had been made to ensure that school visitors do not violate the separation of religion and school.

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