Freethought Today · November 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

FFRF victories by Molly Hanson

By Molly Hanson

California school gets constitution lesson

The staff in a California school district has been educated by FFRF on constitutional concepts after a First Amendment violation was addressed.

FFRF was informed that a teacher at Roseville High in Roseville, Calif., had been pressuring students to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance and favoring students who complied. FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote to the Roseville Joint Union School District on Aug. 23, telling administrators that students have a constitutional right not to be coerced into participation in the pledge.

FFRF was informed on Sept. 7 in a letter from Principal David Byrd that he had met with the teacher to let her know that she could not compel any student to recite or stand for the pledge, nor could she reward students for participating in the pledge. Byrd also reported to FFRF that the entire school staff would be reminded of the law surrounding students' rights regarding the pledge.

FFRF squashes godly speech in Texas school

After receiving a legal letter from FFRF, a Texas school district has taken steps to keep its commencement speeches secular and lawful.

It was reported to FFRF that during a commencement speech in the Quitman Independent School District in Quitman, Texas, a parent speaker quoted multiple bible verses in what should have been a secular speech. The parent also infused the speech with religious instructions, such as telling students to "seek the Lord for wisdom."

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent Rhonda Turner on June 16 informing the district that the unconstitutional speech alienated non-Christian members of the school, and that graduations are not the place for a personal promotion of religion.

On Sept. 8, FFRF received confirmation from an attorney representing the school district that future commencement speakers and subject matter would be reviewed to avoid another constitutional violation.

Church recruiters in school told to scram

A Louisiana middle school has heeded FFRF's warning over a serious constitutional violation.

FFRF took action after it learned that a "Field Day" event hosted by Scott M. Brame Middle School in Alexandria, La., was sponsored by the school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes and staffed by the Philadelphia Baptist Church.

During the school-day event, the church representatives, stationed at tents, proselytized students. FFRF was further alerted that the school had plans to begin a partnership with the church in the fall. FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter to Rapides Parish Schools Superintendent Nason Authement on Aug. 3, warning the district that inviting, or allowing, a religious organization into the school to indoctrinate students is a far-reaching constitutional violation. FFRF requested that the district investigate the situation and halt any planned church-school partnership with the Philadelphia Baptist Church.

On Sept. 8, Authement responded, informing FFRF that the violation and other Establishment Clause issues would be addressed with district administrators at a scheduled in-service.

Oklahoma sheriff's office removes quote

A bible quote has been removed from an Oklahoma sheriff's office building after FFRF warned against promoting religion on behalf of the government.

The bible passage quoting Matthew 5:9, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God," was on visible display in the Sequoyah County Sheriff's Office. Additionally, a photo of the quote was being used as the Facebook cover photo for the office's official page. FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to the sheriff's office on July 21, explaining that it is inappropriate for the office to display the religious message, a clear government sponsorship of Christianity. FFRF requested that the bible verse be immediately removed from the sheriff's office and from its Facebook page.
On Sept. 26, FFRF was informed that the photo had been taken down from the office and that the post had been removed from Facebook.

FFRF muffles prayer in Arkansas school

A principal at an Arkansas elementary school will no longer be pushing prayer after the district received a letter from FFRF addressing a constitutional complaint.

A concerned community member informed FFRF that a principal at Allen Elementary School in Siloam Springs, Ark., had invited first- and second-grade students to say a prayer during an announcement. On Aug. 30, FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to the Siloam Springs School District, informing administrators that public school employees may not legally encourage or lead students in prayer.

Superintendent Ken Ramey responded on Sept. 8, informing FFRF that the school district would refrain from crossing the line into prayer promotion or religious endorsement in the future.

Texas district to halt teacher-led prayers

A school district in Texas has taken precautions to ensure that it does not endorse Christianity after receiving a letter from FFRF over staff meeting prayers.

A district employee contacted FFRF to report that during an in-school training day at Brewer High School in Fort Worth, Texas, a school official led the teachers in prayer. A few days later, an auditorium full of district employees assembled for a mandatory staff convocation event that was led in prayer. FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to the White Settlement Independent School District on Aug. 23, warning that the promotion of religious ritual was a violation of the Establishment Clause.

A legal representative of the school district responded on Sept. 13, informing FFRF that the district would comply with the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

Teacher to stop pushing student prayers

A concerned parent alerted FFRF that a kindergarten teacher in the Booneville School District in Booneville, Miss., was selecting a student each day to lead her class in a pre-lunch prayer.

On Sept. 7, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to the school district, cautioning that public school teachers may not encourage students to pray or otherwise endorse religion to students. FFRF asked that district immediately investigate this situation and ensure that its employees are not illegally promoting religious practice to their students.

On Sept. 21, Boonville School District Superintendent Todd English responded, informing FFRF that the teacher and the rest of the faculty had been met with regarding the reported violation.

Alabama school ceases unlawful prayer

After a concerned community member reported that a principal in an Alabama public school district organized a prayer event, FFRF took action.

FFRF learned that a principal at Mill Creek Elementary School in Huntsville, Ala., invited the public to pray for the school district community to start off the school year. The principal had also posted an invitation on Facebook for people to join her at the school on Aug. 6 to pray. In a letter sent to the school district on Sept. 22, FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote that the principal's invitation to community members and students to join her for an event held at the school creates the appearance of school-sponsored prayer — which is unconstitutional.

FFRF requested that the district ensure that the principal no longer host prayer events at the elementary school. On Sept. 27, the school district superintendent responded, informing FFRF that the violation had been discussed with the principal and that she was reminded of her duty to keep religion out of her role as principal.

Texas district won't promote religion

A Texas school will no longer unlawfully promote religion after receiving a legal letter from FFRF.

A parent contacted FFRF to let it know that at Judson High School in Live Oak, Texas, a religious invocation and benediction had been delivered at the school's graduation ceremony. The official program for the ceremony indicated that the school designated a "student chaplain" to deliver the opening invocation, which began "Dear heavenly father" and ended with a reference to "our Lord Jesus Christ" and an "Amen."

FFRF sent a letter to the school district on June 13, warning the district against personal religious promotion. In order to protect the freedom of conscience of all students, Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote, high school graduations must be secular events. On Sept. 13, an attorney representing the district responded by informing FFRF that district staff in charge of graduation ceremonies had been reminded to not promote religion.

FFRF halts religious promotion in school

Thanks to FFRF, a public school district in Texas has ceased its distribution of Christian propaganda.

A concerned community member informed FFRF that administrators at Wood River Elementary in Corpus Christi, Texas, sent an email promoting the event "See You at the Pole," a Christian-oriented prayer rally organized each year around a bible verse. FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to the Calallen Independent School District on Sept. 26, warning the district that allowing any religious message or prayer gathering to be part of a school-sponsored event is unconstitutional.

FFRF was informed in an Sept. 27 faxed message that the district had counseled its teachers on not promoting "See You at the Pole" events.

Religion in Texas district exterminated

FFRF put the kibosh on future unconstitutional religious events hosted by a public school district in Texas.

It was reported to FFRF that the Burkburnett Independent School District in Texas was advertising a "Family Night" event with the first scheduled activity titled "YOUTH GROUPS Gather for Worship." The advertisement for the event was displayed on the district's website. FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to the school district on Sept. 20, warning it that proceeding with the event would be an illegal endorsement of religion, and a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment

An attorney representing the district responded on Sept. 27, informing FFRF that the district administration had taken measures to certify that district staff in charge of scheduling and hosting events would be reminded of the district's obligation not to promote religion.

FFRF protects students' freedom from pledges

Thanks to FFRF, a Wisconsin teacher has a better understanding of students' First Amendment rights.

It was brought to FFRF's attention by a concerned parent that a third-grade teacher at Frank Allis Elementary School in Madison, Wis., was forcing students to stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance and scolding students who would not comply. She reportedly told students that sitting during the pledge was unpatriotic and required that they bring a written and signed parental permission to sit during the recitation.

FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to the Madison Metropolitan School District on Sep. 21, notifying the district that, as the Supreme Court has ruled, students have a constitutional right not to be forced to participate in the pledge, and cannot be singled out or penalized for following their freedom of conscience. FFRF received word on Sept. 28 that the school principal had warned the teacher to end her unconstitutional classroom policy.

Texas school district to make secular changes

FFRF has halted religious promotion taking place in a Texas school district.

FFRF learned that the Lyford Consolidated School District in Lyford, Texas, was sending home permission slips with fifth-grade students so that the students could take bibles distributed by the district. FFRF was also alerted that students were being called to give invocations at Lyford High School graduations, with the 2016 prayer having mentioned Jesus.

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to the district on June 8, requesting that the unconstitutional promotions of religion end. Grover cautioned that courts have held that distribution of bibles to students during the school day is prohibited, and that the Supreme Court has continually struck down prayers as school-sponsored events including graduations.

On Sep. 29, a district representative responded informing FFRF that a review of the high school graduation format and fifth-grade practices was underway.

New Jersey school halts promotion of worship

After receiving warning from FFRF, a New Jersey school district will cease its unconstitutional sponsorship of divisive religious activities.

It was reported to FFRF that the Millville Board of Education co-sponsored an event that included Christian worship. The event, Millville Elk's Donald "Ducky" Sharp Youth Week, had scheduled a Sunday morning church attendance for "all Millville boys and girls in grades 1 through 6." FFRF took swift action to inform the school that the display of favoritism for Christianity by the district was unlawful. FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne sent a letter notifying Millville Public Schools that it is unconstitutional for the district to encourage students to attend church.

A representative of the school district responded on Oct. 2, informing FFRF that the district would not sponsor the event in the future.

FFRF removes biblical game in Florida park

Thanks to FFRF, children in a Florida town can enjoy a public playground free of religious propaganda.

A resident informed FFRF that on a visit to R.E. Olds Park in Oldsmar, Fla., she had stumbled upon a small playground with a picture game that depicted the biblical tale of Noah and the ark. Each section of the game contained a passage from the legend, paraphrased directly from the book of Genesis to be more easily absorbed by children. FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote to the city parks superintendent on July 27, informing the city that the display equated to a government endorsement of Christianity, which the city cannot legally do.

The city's director of leisure services responded on Oct. 2, notifying FFRF that the panel had been permanently removed.

FFRF mends violations in Texas school district

A Texas school district will comply with its constitutional duty to remain neutral in matters of religion after hearing from FFRF.

It was reported to FFRF that West Elementary School in Lubbock, Texas, had been advertising a private Christian-orientated prayer rally event, "See You at the Pole," on the school calendar. FFRF was also informed that the annual Lubbock-Cooper Independent School District staff convocation included a scheduled opening prayer.

On Sept. 27, FFRF wrote to a school district representative, Ann Manning, concerning the violations. FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover asked that the district ensure that its schools cease scheduling "See You at the Pole," or other religious events, on campus. Grover also warned that the inclusion of prayer at staff training events violates the district's obligation to remain neutral on matters of religion.

On Oct. 11, Manning responded, informing FFRF that the district superintendent undertook a thorough investigation into the violation. FFRF was told that going forward no outside adults will participate in "See You at the Pole" events. Manning assured FFRF that in the future convocation procedures would be reviewed with appropriate changes made to ensure compliance with constitutional law.

Religious event ends at Alabama school

An Alabama principal has been given a lesson on the First Amendment, courtesy of FFRF.

It was reported to FFRF that Roger Wilkinson, the principal of Mitchell Elementary School in Gadsden, Ala., sent a message out to all parents and students promoting a "See You at the Pole" rally — a Christian event. In the message, Wilkinson said that he would be holding the rally. In a letter sent to Superintendent Ed Miller on Sept. 26, FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line cautioned that public school employees may not lead, direct or encourage students to engage in prayer.

On Oct. 4, the school district superintendent responded in an email informing FFRF that he had shared the complaint with the district administrative staff and advised that they follow all constitutional law going forward.

Kansas team guidelines given secular update

FFRF has ensured that a Kansas school football staff will prioritize its constitutional duty to keep personal religion out of coaching tactics.

FFRF was informed that the guidelines in the Eisenhower Middle School football program indicated that God is the team's first priority. FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to the Liberal Unified School District on Aug. 30 warning the district that listing God first on the school team's list of priorities illegally imposes religious sentiments upon students and demonstrates that the EMS football coaches refer religion over nonreligion.

On Oct. 5 the district attorney responded, notifying FFRF that the school board adopted a policy regarding religious expression and prayer and the coaches handbooks would be approved for no references to God, Christianity or religion.

Professor receives lesson on constitution

A professor at a Kansas public university will no longer be holding classes in a religious setting after FFRF took action.

It was reported to FFRF that a professor at Wichita State University was holding her chemistry classes in a religious coffee shop that described itself as "an outreach ministry of the Lutheran Student Center." FFRF was informed that the shop is filled with bible quotes and other religious iconography.

In a letter sent to Wichita State University President John Bardo, FFRF expressed concern over students being required to enter a religious establishment in order to attend a science class at a secular, public university. FFRF requested that necessary and appropriate steps be taken to ensure the professor's classes will be held in secular locations. On Oct. 1, FRFF was notified by a legal representative of the university that the violation had been remedied.

Baccalaureate service no longer promoted

FFRF was informed that Warwick Valley High School in Warwick, N.Y., was continuing to promote a baccalaureate service for graduating seniors that FFRF had raised constitutional concerns about in the past.

The Warwick Valley Central School District's official website and calendar promote the religious event. In an Oct. 5 letter, FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert warned the district that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits public schools from sponsoring any type of religious practice, and baccalaureate programs are religious services that include prayer and worship.

Superintendent David Leach responded on Oct. 10, informing FFRF that the school district would dissociate itself from the baccalaureate service.

FFRF earns victory in Iowa high school

A concerned parent informed FFRF that a football coach for Waukee High School in Waukee, Iowa, had instituted team prayer and devotionals.

The team's head coach, Scott Carlson, had been praying with the team before and after every game, and requested that players join him. Reportedly, at one recent away game, the players were instructed to "take a knee" in the end zone and join Carlson in a prayer before they could leave. Furthermore, it was reported that other members of the coaching staff hold religious devotional sessions prior to every game, and encourage members of the team to attend a weekly Christian youth outreach program, "Ignition."

FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to the Waukee Community School District warning that public school employees may not organize and advocate for team prayer.

The school district superintendent responded on Oct. 11 notifying FFRF that the First Amendment violations had ended.

Tennessee football team prayers to end

FFRF has ensured that public prayers will not be announced during football games in a Tennessee school district.

It was reported to FFRF that at the start of a football game at McEwen Junior High in Waverly, Tenn., a Christian prayer was delivered over the loudspeaker. FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert wrote to the Humphreys County School District on Sept. 29, notifying the district that it is illegal for a public school to sponsor a religious message at school athletic events. Markert requested that immediate steps be taken to end the use of district resources to project prayer to the public.

On Oct. 13, the school district superintendent informed FFRF that the McEwen Junior High principal had addressed the issue with the school staff to ensure the violation would not recur.

Michigan schools stop holding prayer circles

FFRF has equipped a coaching staff in a Michigan school district to have a better understanding of the First Amendment.

On Sept. 28, a prayer ritual was performed after a football player was injured in a game between Bay City High School and H.H. Dow High School in Bay City, Mich. Both teams and coaches took a knee at the 50-yard line while the athlete was given medical attention. Afterward, a "prayer circle" was formed as the players and coaching staff on both teams joined hands on the field.

FFRF sent a letter to Midland Public Schools on Oct. 11, in which FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert informed the school district that the coaching staff's conduct had been an unconstitutional endorsement and promotion of religion. Coaches can neither lead their teams in prayer nor can they organize students to lead team prayer.

On Oct. 17, Superintendent Michael Sharrow responded, informing FFRF that the staff had explained the law to the coaching staff and remedied the violation.

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