Freethought Today · October 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

FFRF victories by Molly Hanson

By Molly Hanson

Superintendent won't lead prayers in Texas

FFRF was able to get a superintendent to stop leading prayers at school-related functions.

FFRF learned the superintendent of Crosby Independent School District in Crosby, Texas, had led a prayer at an awards ceremony for students and led similar prayers at Crosby High School graduation ceremonies.

Furthermore, it was reported that the school was regularly scheduling prayers to be announced over public loudspeakers before home football games.

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to a legal representative of the school district on July 12, informing the district of its constitutional violations. Grover also explained that it is illegal for a public school to include prayer at school athletic events.

On Aug. 11, a representative of the school district informed FFRF that the district had agreed to meet its legal obligations to remain religiously neutral.

Missouri school coach won't give prayers

FFRF has put the kibosh on coach-led prayers at a school district in Shelbina, Mo.

It was reported to FFRF that the South Shelby High School football coach, Rob Wilt, was leading prayers with student-athletes after games last year.

FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to the Shelby County R-IV School District superintendent on May 11, warning that it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer. FFRF requested that the district take action to ensure Wilt would cease praying or organizing prayer with athletes.

FFRF was informed in August that Wilt and other staff had received training by the school legal counsel on their obligation to keep religion out of school events.

FFRF pushes for secular school supplies

FFRF has ensured that an elementary school in Texas will no longer be partnering with a religious organization for school supplies.

It was reported to FFRF that Glen Rose Elementary School in Glen Rose, Texas, had partnered with a Christian organization, School Tool Box, to sell school supplies to parents through the organization's website. The school was advertising School Tool Box's services and, indirectly, its religious mission.

FFRF Associate Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter to the Glen Rose Independent School District superintendent to ensure that the school district would not continue to illegally promote religion, encouraging Glen Rose Elementary to partner with secular organizations in the future.

A legal representative of the school district replied on Aug. 18, informing FFRF that the district would request that Glen Rose Elementary School partner with different, non-religious organizations going forward.

Ohio school won't teach creationism anymore

FFRF and Americans United have ensured that creationist myths will no longer be taught at an online Ohio public charter school based out of Akron.

A concerned parent of an Ohio Distance & Electronic Learning Academy student contacted FFRF to report the school's biology classes include a unit on "biogenesis" that teaches the biblical view of creation. The class readings for this unit reportedly include young-Earth creationist Walter Brown's book, In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood, which was promoted exclusively by Brown's own religious ministry, the Center for Scientific Creation.

In a letter sent to Ohio Distance & Electronic Learning Academy Superintendent David Bowlin on July 24, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover informed the academy that the Supreme Court has struck down the teaching of "scientific creationism" in public schools. Grover also noted that federal courts have consistently rejected other efforts to undermine evolution or to supplement its teaching with religious ideology in the public schools.

Bowlin responded to FFRF Aug. 24, writing that all the public school's teachers had been reminded that using religious materials for any reason is prohibited in public schools.
South Carolina transit to run on 'Good Friday'

Thanks to FFRF, a South Carolina transit system will be up and running on Good Friday.

It was reported to FFRF that the Spartanburg Area Transit System in South Carolina did not run on the Christian holy day, Good Friday, on April 14.
FFRF's Legal Director Rebecca Markert wrote to the transit system general manager on May 18 informing the city that it is an unconstitutional promotion and favoritism of Christianity to shut down the transit services for this Christian holiday.

Spartan Area Regional Transit Agency General Manager Luis Gonzalez responded Aug. 25, informing FFRF that the transit system would no longer be closed on Good Friday.
Virginia school division ceases staff prayers

A Virginia school division in Smithfield will no longer include prayer in its mandatory employee convocations.

It was reported to FFRF that every year at the Isle of Wight County School Division convocations, a guest speaker would lead the staff in a Christian prayer.

At the 2016 convocation, the speaker had asked employees to stand up if they believed in Jesus Christ during the prayer. FFRF Senior Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to Superintendent Jim Thornton Aug. 23, requesting that the division end the unconstitutional prayers.

Thornton responded Aug. 28, informing FFRF that the 2017 convocation speaker had been told not to pray, which he had complied with. Thornton further informed FFRF that going forward the division planned to eliminate convocation speakers from outside organizations to avoid future violations.

FFRF gives Alabama school lesson on law

An Alabama school district will not be promoting religious events, thanks to FFRF's involvement.

FFRF was informed that Fairview High School in Cullman, Ala., had used its televised morning announcements to advertise a religious event, the "Decide" Youth Rally, which took place in January at the public school. The event was also mentioned in the school's morning announcements for several days leading up to the event, including one with a promotional video from a pastor speaking at the event.

FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Cullman County Schools Superintendent Shane Barnette Aug. 28 informing him that the advertisements had impermissibly entangled the school and district with a religious viewpoint and violated the principle of state and church separation.

The schools superintendent responded Aug. 28 to inform FFRF that he would address the violation appropriately with the administration and ensure that the law was followed in the future.
Texas school shuns Gideons from campus

Students at a Texas elementary school won't be herded to receive Gideon bibles after FFRF sent a warning to the school district over the constitutional violation.

It was reported to FFRF that teachers at West Fountain Elementary School in Wichita Falls, Texas, had lined students up and escorted them out to the edge of school property to receive a bible from the Gideon Society, a male proselytizing group.

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Wichita Falls Independent School District on March 17, informing the district that advancing the Gideon's religious mission was a constitutional violation of the separation between church and state.

FFRF was informed on Sept. 5 that Executive Director of School Administration Debby Patterson had addressed the violation by sending an email to district staff, reminding them of the guidelines regarding sidewalk bible distribution. Patterson informed the staff that the Gideons are never to be allowed on school property to distribute bibles.

California school expels prayers

A California elementary school will no longer be including prayers in its graduation ceremonies after receiving a warning from FFRF.

A concerned parent informed FFRF that an elementary graduation ceremony at Blochman Union School District in Santa Maria, Calif., included an invocation and benediction led by a local pastor.

The prayers had begun with the pastor instructing the audience to bow their heads in prayer, and had thanked and praised "Father God," "Lord God," and "Our Heavenly Father." FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote to the school district on June 29 requesting that future graduations do not include unconstitutional prayer.

Superintendent Doug Brown responded Aug. 30, assuring FFRF that both the invocation and benediction would be removed at future graduations.

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