San Diego libraries to stay open on Easter (September 29, 2015)

San Diego public libraries, typically open on Sundays, will no longer close on Easter. "Easter is neither a federal holiday nor a California state holiday," wrote Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a June complaint letter. "As a matter of policy, the library should remain open on Easter to continue to provide San Diego residents with library services, as it does on [other] Sundays."

Library Director Misty Jones notified FFRF on Sept. 29 that all San Diego libraries would remain open on Easter Sundays.

FFRF curbs coach’s religious comments (September 29, 2015)

FFRF reminded the Kenmore High School football coach in Akron, Ohio, about school policies on the promotion of religion after his comments at an event at which the team received a gift of new uniforms.

A complainant alerted FFRF to Coach Kemp Boyd's religious comments such as talking about "honoring God with your abilities."

"These comments raise concerns about Coach Boyd crossing the constitutional line while he's acting in his official capacity as a public school representative," wrote Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in an Aug. 21 letter.

General Counsel Rhonda Porter replied Sept. 29, noting that she met with Boyd and reviewed school policies. "Coach Boyd assured me that he fully understands the importance of keeping his personal religious beliefs separate from his duties as a coach," Porter said.

FFRF ends longtime grotto violations (October 1, 2015)

Several Oregon public schools will no longer be performing during a holiday chorale concert at a Catholic shrine. Local families alerted FFRF in 2013 about numerous public school districts that scheduled students to perform during the Festival of Lights event in Portland at the 62-acre Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, aka "The Grotto."

In his December 2013 complaint letters to 24 school districts, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel said the issue is twofold: "They're taking students to a church, and courts have said schools can't do that. The second reason is that The Grotto is making money off the backs of public school children." The facility, run by the Servite Friars, charges for parking, money which goes to fund religious activities.

"The stage is also flanked by two religious statues, one on either side," noted Seidel. "Murals depict different moments in the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Via Matris or seven sorrows of Mary, and the massive center mural is named 'the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mother in heaven.' Visitors sit in pews marked with crosses and the building is crowned by a golden dome and cross."

Jollee Patterson, Portland Public Schools general counsel, sent an email to administrators in September: "Even if PPS singing groups perform songs from a variety of religious traditions, the strongly religious setting during the Festival of Lights could create a perception that the school is endorsing and supporting a particular religious tradition."
Of the 24 districts contacted by FFRF, it appears that five (Aberdeen, Bend-LaPine, Longview, Washougal and West Linn-Wilsonville) did not participate in the 2014 concert.

FFRF sent follow-up letters Oct. 23 to districts that have not complied.

Texas students freed from praying more (September 25, 2015)

The Frisco (Texas) Independent School District removed a display reading “Pray more, worry less” from the Roach Middle School front office after getting Staff Attorney Sam Grover’s letter Sept. 11.

The district informed FFRF on Sept. 25 that the display was removed from public view.

Religious posters removed from classroom (September 21, 2015)

A religious poster has been taken down from a sixth-grade teacher's classroom in Texas after FFRF contacted the school district.

A teacher at River Valley Intermediate School in Woodway, Texas, had a large poster in his classroom reading "In God We Trust," which also included a bible verse and a proselytizing advertisement: "If you would like to know Jesus as Lord and Savior, call Need Him Ministry at 1-888-NEED-HIM."

"The District violates the Constitution when it allows its schools to display religious symbols or messages," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover in a letter to the Midway Independent School District. "A poster promoting Christianity violates this basic constitutional prohibition by creating the appearance that the District prefers religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all other faiths."

"The poster in question has been removed from the classroom so that the biblical verse and proselytizing advertisement noted in your correspondence can be removed," wrote Superintendent George E. Kazanas in a Sept. 21 reply.

Illinois school district ends school board prayer (September 15, 2015)

Because of a letter sent by FFRF, Teutopolis Community Unit #50 Board of Education will no longer open with a prayer.

In a letter sent Aug. 28, Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote, "It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings. Federal courts have struck down school board practices that include this religious ritual."

Superintendent Bill Fritcher, who often led the prayers, responded on Sept. 15, the entire body of his letter reading: "Teutopolis Unit #50 will discontinue starting school board meetings with a prayer."

School employees don’t have to hear prayers in meetings (September 16, 2015)

Prayer will no longer be included in employee meetings in the Dickinson Independent School District in Texas after FFRF sent a complaint letter to the school district.

A district employee informed FFRF that a mandatory teacher in-service training included Dickinson High School principal Billye Smith asking all employees to stand while she prayed.

"Federal courts have held that mandatory meetings for government employees cannot promote religion and specifically that school districts cannot include prayer during teacher in-service trainings," wrote Staff Attorney Sam Grover on Sept. 3.

An attorney for the school district informed Grover on Sept. 16 that the district has advised all campus administrators that leading prayer at staff meetings is unconstitutional.

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