- Unconstitutional tie-up in preschool ends (August 19, 2016)
- Elementary school bible club shut down (August 26, 2016)
An unconstitutional tie-up between a Wisconsin school district and a parochial preschool has been nixed following an FFRF complaint.
In Beaver Dam Unified School District, 3-year-old public school students with developmental delays were often being sent to private preschools. FFRF's complainant, who has an eligible child, was offered only one choice: a Catholic school, St. Katharine's, whose preschool is named God's Little Miracles. To quote the school itself, its "program is based on the theme 'Thank you, God.' "
"It is wildly inappropriate for the School District to send 3-year-old public school students to private schools for religious instruction," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote in June to Stephen Vessey, superintendent of the Beaver Dam Unified School District.
The School District investigated the situation and told St. Katharine's what it would have to do to comply with the law and district policy. St. Katharine's decided to stop participating altogether in the 3K program rather than make any changes, revealing that religious instruction was its primary goal.
"After being advised of the changes that would have to be made to the 3K program, [St. Katharine Drexel] School indicated it no longer wished to provide the Early Childhood (3K) program to district students, and the district has accepted the school's withdrawal from participating in the program," Vessey recently replied. "Any students who were enrolled in the school's Early Childhood program by the district for the coming school year have since been moved to a program offered at a different site."
FFRF has caused a religious club to be disbanded at a California elementary school.
Club Monarch, an afterschool bible club, was run in part by teachers and routinely given preferential treatment at Mariposa Elementary School in Brea, Calif. The club was mentioned in the weekly newsletter and listed in the school calendar. There were posters around the school exclusively advertising the club. At a back-to-school night, the principal effusively praised and recommended the club.
FFRF reminded the school that this sort of collaboration was unconstitutional.
"It is a well-settled principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion," FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Brea Olinda Unified School District Superintendent Brad Mason back in March.
After reviewing school records obtained through an open records request, including over 2,500 pages of emails about Club Monarch going back only two years, FFRF wrote a follow-up letter in May stating that its apprehensions had been confirmed.
FFRF has now received confirmation that its advice has been followed. "Club Monarch has ceased to operate at Mariposa Elementary School and does not operate at any other district school sites," the school district's legal firm has written to FFRF.
The Christian movie "Facing the Giants" won't be shown to Medina Middle School's seventh-graders in the future, FFRF has ensured.
A parent of a student at the Dyer, Tenn., school brought the issue to FFRF's attention. The film follows a struggling high school football coach who inspires his team to believe in the God and to use faith to win football games.
Showing "Facing the Giants" in a public school "promotes Christianity over all other religions and nonreligion and violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert informed the Gibson County Special School District.
Eddie Pruett, the district's director of schools, replied that the teacher was reminded that multimedia must be approved by the principal, and was told that "Facing the Giants" was not an appropriate movie to show the class.
FFRF has made certain that a Wisconsin religious organization will pay full rental fees at local public schools.
Mission of Hope has held several events at public schools in Waupaca, Wis. Among other activities, the events include a prayer tent staffed by local church members to "pray with and for" visitors. Records that FFRF obtained revealed that the School District of Waupaca forgave Mission of Hope the $180 facility fees and $100 nonprofit kitchen use fees for past such events at the Waupaca Learning Center Elementary School.
FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote earlier this month to Waupaca School District Superintendent Greg Nyen. FFRF's complaint was taken seriously and received an appropriate response.
"I understand your concern regarding the need for separation of church and state," wrote Nyen. "I am hereby providing you said assurance that in the future, charges for facility usage will be applied to Mission of Hope as it would any other outside organization."
After including multiple prayers to Jesus at its 2016 graduation ceremony, Watford City High School in North Dakota has assured FFRF that the constitutional violation will not be repeated.
"High school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students," FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliot wrote to McKenzie County School District Superintendent Steven Holden. "It makes no difference how many students wouldn't want prayer or wouldn't be offended by prayer at their graduation ceremony. As the Supreme Court has said, 'Fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.' "
Holden responded on Aug. 2, explaining that, after consulting with the school board and school district attorney, the district would ensure prayer would not be part of future ceremonies or other school-sponsored events.
A bible club at a Nevada middle school will no longer be led by pastors, thanks to FFRF. A parent of a Bob Miller Middle School student contacted FFRF after reading the club's description in the yearbook: "Pastors come to the club every Tuesday and teach the students morals mentioned in the bible."
"It is illegal for public schools to allow adults to lead religious instruction on school property during the school day," wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler in a July 21 letter to the Clark County School District. The Equal Access Act forbids adult participation in student religious clubs.
General Counsel Carlos L. McDade told FFRF on Aug. 2 that administrators were "reminded that the bible club must be student-led and that the club must not be directed, conducted, controlled, or regularly attended by nonschool persons."
The Academy for Scholarship and Entrepreneurship in the Bronx, N.Y., will stop including teacher-led invocations in its graduation ceremonies.
The decision was prompted by a July 14 letter from FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert, who pointed out that the Supreme Court has specifically struck down prayers at public school graduations. "The district has a duty to remain neutral toward religion," Markert wrote. "By scheduling prayers at graduation, the district abridges that duty and alienates the 35% of young Americans who are not religious."
Carron Staple, superintendent of Bronx High School Districts 8, 9 and 11, responded that the teacher's actions were against New York City Department of Education regulations. Staple said the prohibition had been discussed with the school's administrative staff, who understood the invocation could not recur.
Bakersfield High School Principal Connie Grumling will not pray with students in the future. Grumling had met with students to pray at the flagpole.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel lodged a complaint with the Kern High School District in Bakersfield, Calif., in August 2015. "Federal courts have held it is unconstitutional for public school employees to participate in the religious activities of their students," he said. This is "to avoid any perception of government endorsement of religion."
On Aug. 9, Seidel spoke with the district's general counsel, who said that the prayer was an "isolated incident" that had been addressed by the administration.
The Osceola County School District is now limiting church advertising on its property.
The My Grace Fellowship Church holds its services at the Westside K-8 School, and previously was permitted to leave lawn signs promoting the services on the school's grounds. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel objected to this practice in a June 13. "Advancing, preferring, and promoting religion is exactly what a school does when it allows a church to prominently place a permanent advertisement for students, parents, school employees, and anyone passing by to see," said Seidel. "[The church] must put up the signs no earlier than when the rental time begins and take them down when the rental time ends."
An attorney for the school district reported the matter resolved on Aug. 24.
After receiving a letter from FFRF last year, West Virginia's Putnam County Schools has finally instructed softball coaches at Buffalo High School to stop praying with students. A photo from the state championship game showed players, coaches and fans holding hands in a circle around the field for a post-game prayer.
"While students may engage in prayer on their own, school staff, including coaches, cannot lead, direct or participate in such religious activities," FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert reminded the district in June 2015.
After FFRF followed up several times, the district replied on Aug. 11 that the incident was addressed by administrators and that the district was obtaining legal training on the Establishment Clause.