Legal

Georgia school won’t allow proselytizing (February 16, 2017)

A Christian organization won't be allowed to continue proselytizing students during lunch hours at schools in the Baldwin County School District in Georgia after FFRF got involved.

FFRF was informed that members of Young Life, a religious organization whose mission involves "introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith," had been permitted to attend lunches at Oak Middle School and Baldwin High School. During the lunches, members of the group would befriend students and recruit them for club meetings. These were "WyldLife" meetings, a group with the goal of converting students to Christianity.

FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Baldwin County School District Superintendent Noris Price on Nov. 23, 2016, to voice FFRF's objection to the unique access the Christian ministers were given to evangelize students during the school day on school property.

On Feb. 16, the district's attorney office responded to inform FFRF that the school district administration had talked to the members of Young Life, who had been voluntarily tutoring students, to tell them they are not to discuss religion during tutoring sessions.

School’s ‘debate’ over creationism ended (February 21, 2017)

Faculty in a Texas school district will no longer be weaseling Christianity into its curriculum after FFRF attorneys took action.

Mark Sevarino, biology teacher at McKinney North High School, had distributed a written assignment to students setting up two sides of a debate about whether to teach creationism in science classes. The handout used creationist rhetoric and introduced students to common creationist beliefs.

In a letter to the district on Feb. 7, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover informed the school district that attempts to smuggle religion into science classrooms as "alternative theories" had failed in court.

"Courts have consistently held that creationism is a religious concept without scientific merit," wrote Grover. "We worry that Sevarino is similarly attempting to present creationism as a viable scientific alternative to evolution through a classroom assignment."

Grover went on to express FFRF's concern over an advertisement to parents for a private religious ministry program which had been distributed via email by a school district staff member.

Crawford responded on Feb. 21 to inform FFRF that Mr. Sevarino's assignment was intended to be in line with curricular goals and not to advance a religious message. The district also took action to ensure that no staff member would promote an exclusively religious event in the future.

FFRF ends Christian music at Texas school (March 1, 2017)

A teacher at a Texas public high school will no longer be evangelizing students by forcing them to listen to religious music in her class, thanks to FFRF's involvement.

A concerned student contacted FFRF about a teacher at the Trenton High School who would broadcast a Christian playlist from Spotify over loudspeakers in the classroom. FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to the school district to ensure that the district not allow its employees promote their personal religious beliefs to students during the school day.

"It is inappropriate for a public school teacher to promote religion during class, regardless of whether that promotion is part of a lesson plan," wrote Grover to Trenton Independent School District Superintendent Rick Foreman on Feb. 28.

Foreman responded on March 1 informing FFRF that the situation had been investigated and the teacher had agreed to stop playing Christian music immediately.

Sheriff’s department deletes religious page (March 6, 2017)

The Matagorda County Sheriff's Department in Texas will no longer be posting religious messages online after FFRF stepped in.

A local county resident informed FFRF that the department had regularly been posing religious messages, such as bible verses and prayers, on its Facebook page. While the posts were prompted by the untimely deaths of two department employees, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover informed Sheriff Frank Osborne and the department in a letter sent Feb. 8 that public endorsement of religion was an inappropriate way to mourn the tragic events.

Osborne replied on March 6 informing FFRF that the deputy who ran the Facebook page containing the religious posts had been asked to discontinue the site.

Texas school gets First Amendment lesson (February 15, 2017)

Students at a Texas school will not be coerced into receiving bibles as part of a misinformed lesson on "free speech" after FFRF contacted the College Station Independent School District about the constitutional violation.

It was brought to FFRF's attention that a social studies teacher at Oakwood Intermediate School had announced to students that the class would be participating in the springtime Gideon bible distribution to learn about the First Amendment. The activity was to involve walking off of school property to a crosswalk where the Gideons would be handing out bibles. The students would be given a "choice" whether to take a bible before returning to class.

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to school district Superintendent Clark Ealy on Jan. 26 to ensure that the teacher would not be permitted to illegally facilitate a bible distribution while representing the district.

On Feb. 15, Oakwood Principal Josh Symank wrote back to assure FFRF that "under no circumstance" would the teacher be taking students to receive bibles. He also informed FFRF that he would be discussing the incident with the entire campus during an upcoming faculty meeting to guarantee that all staff understand and comply with the constitutional separation between church and state.

Furthermore, Symank wrote that his administrative team would be stationed on the day of the bible distribution to make sure that no students escorted by faculty would meet with the Gideons.

FFRF stops promotion of creationist ‘science’ (March 13, 2017)

Promotion of false, creationist "science" will no longer be undermining the education of students in the Rusk Independent School District in Texas.

A concerned school district community member brought it to FFRF's attention that the Rusk Junior High School principal had gathered students in the school auditorium in the middle of the school day to view an anti-evolution video. The video featured religious arguments against objective scientific information about the process of evolution. One such argument was that whales could not have evolved to survive deep water pressures and that, therefore, the biblical god must have been the creator.

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote on Feb. 23 to inform the district that it is illegal for the public school to teach students creationism, intelligent design or any other religiously based story as an alternative to evolution.

Rusk ISD Superintendent Scott Davis wrote back on March 13 informing FFRF that the situation had been investigated and the high school's principal had been directed to cease showing creationist videos.

FFRF sues Texas judge to end courtroom prayer practice

FFRF filed a lawsuit against Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack on March 21, 2017, due to his refusal to end the practice of opening each of his court sessions with chaplain-led prayer. FFRF is joined by several local plaintiffs, including Jane Doe and John Roe, attorneys who regularly practice before Judge Mack, and Jane Noe, a Montgomery County resident who has appeared in Judge Mack's courtroom for a case.

Judge Mack has his courtroom bailiff announce the prayers and state that anyone may leave the courtroom and their case will not be affected, although the courtroom doors are locked to those outside. Then Judge Mack enters, talks about his chaplaincy program, introduces a chaplain, and gives the name and location of the chaplain's church. While everyone in the courtroom remains standing, the chaplain may give a short sermon, or move directly to a prayer. Attendees report Judge Mack surveying the courtroom during prayers and feeling that their cases may be affected by how they chose to react.

The legal complaint asserts that due to his "considerable influence and power as a justice of the peace, Judge Mack exerts coercive influence over those in his courtroom, effectively compelling their participation in his religious practice." FFRF is seeking a judgment enjoining Mack from opening his court sessions with prayer and declaring his actions a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

FFRF and its plaintiffs are being represented by FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover, with FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell serving as co-counsel. Attorney Patrick Luff of the Luff Law Firm in San Antonio, is serving as local counsel.

Press Release
Complaint
Brief in Support of Pseudonyms

Illinois staff won’t join in school gospel choir (January 25, 2017)

An Illinois school district has confirmed to FFRF that its staff members will not remain involved in a school gospel choir.

FFRF initially contacted the Oak Park and River Forest High in December after a local community member informed the organization that there was a gospel choir at the school being led by the school's outreach coordinator.

"It is wholly inappropriate for a public school to teach its students songs of Christian worship," FFRF's Elaine and Eric Stone Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Interim Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams on Jan. 23. In a letter received on Jan. 25, the district informed FFRF that it would adhere to the law.

No more religious flyers in school district (January 24, 2017)

An Indiana school district has pledged to FFRF that it will not permit the distribution of fundamentalist flyers to its students.

A resident contacted FFRF to inform it that staff at Yankeetown Elementary School in Newburgh, Ind., were distributing ultrareligious flyers to third- and fourth-grade female students. The handouts were a description of POP Girls ("Pearls Of Purity"), a Christian ministry promoting the "wisdom of Christ."

FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Warrick County Schools Superintendent Brad Schneider on Jan. 20, cautioning the school district about disseminating such material.

"This flyer should not have been approved and we will put steps in place to prevent objectionable flyers to slip through the cracks in the future," Schneider responded on Jan. 24. "You have my word that flyers of this nature will not be distributed home in the future."

FFRF gets apology for coach’s public piety (January 13, 2017)

An Illinois school district has apologized to FFRF for a coach's participation in prayer gatherings at school events.

On Dec. 26, 2016, after a basketball game between Vandalia Community High School and Pana High School, Coach Brian Buscher took part in a prayer circle with students of both teams.
In a letter sent on Jan. 11 to Vandalia Community Unit School District #203 Superintendent Rich Well, FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne reminded him that it is illegal for public school coaches to lead, organize or participate in prayers with their students.

"Please accept our apology," Well emailed back a few days after receiving FFRF's letter. "Our Varsity Boys Basketball Coach Brian Buscher has been notified that no coaches are allowed to participate."

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