FFRF Victories (May 2019)
By Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey
FFRF resolved multiple constitutional violations in Jefferson County Schools after a district community member alerted FFRF to ongoing violations in the district.
The complainant reported that Clay-Chalkville High School promoted a “See You at the Pole” event to its students. The school reportedly included a teacher-led advertisement for First Priority, a religious club operating at the school, in one of its daily announcement videos for students. The event was also promoted in the school’s newsletter.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line pointed out the unconstitutional nature of allowing a teacher to promote a religious club at the school, as well as the school’s endorsement of the “See You at the Pole” event.
The district has addressed both issues. “Clay-Chalkville High School will not promote the See You at the Pole event in the future,” the district confirmed in a response letter. Additionally, the district will make sure that, moving forward, the First Priority Club will be entirely student-initiated and neither the school nor its employees will lead, participate in or promote any meetings or club events.
Christian music will no longer be played in a public recreation center in Denver after objection from FFRF.
A concerned Athmar Recreation Center patron reported that the recreation center frequently played Christian music over the facility’s PA system. The complainant reported that multiple patrons have requested that the center choose more appropriate music, but that these requests were ignored.
The station reportedly being played was KLove 91.1 FM, which describes its mission as: “To create compelling media that inspires and encourages you to have a meaningful relationship with Christ.”
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote to the center’s management with a reminder that its job is to serve all citizens of varying faiths or none at all. It is therefore inappropriate to endorse religion through Christian music, FFRF contends.
The Denver Parks and Recreation Department thanked FFRF for bringing this matter to its attention and took swift action to correct the violation. The department has established a new policy regarding the music played over the PA system and will only allow one neutral station to be played over the course of the day.
The Webster County School District in Dixon, Ky., has instructed school administrators to contact the school board and discuss any requests regarding religious materials following a visit by the Gideons to the district.
A Clay Elementary School parent reported that on Nov. 28, the school allowed the Gideons to enter classrooms at the school and distribute bibles to students.
FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to the district regarding this unconstitutional distribution of religious materials, acknowledging that the district may not have even known about the distribution, as the Gideons operate by deliberately avoiding superintendents and school boards.
The district informed FFRF in a response letter that school administrators have been instructed to contact the school board before approving any request regarding dissemination of religious material. Additionally, the school board has pledged to discuss any such request with its legal counsel.
Wrestling coaches in Jackson County R-II School District have been instructed to cease praying with students, after receiving a letter from FFRF.
A concerned citizen contacted FFRF to report that Jackson Senior High School wrestling coaches regularly pray with their team. Photos shared on the “Jackson Wrestling” Facebook page showed coaches kneeling and bowing their heads along with students praying in a circle.
FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to the district, asking that it investigate the complaint and take action to stop any and all school-sponsored prayers occurring within district athletic programs.
The district’s attorney responded to FFRF’s complaint with assurances that “the coaches at issue were reminded of the district’s board policy regarding staff members praying in school, and were also instructed not to lead students in prayer, initiate a prayer with students or cause a student to initiate prayer.”
Following a complaint by FFRF, a Latin cross has been removed from a county building in Carlsbad, N.M.
A local resident reported that a cross was displayed prominently in the Eddy County Clerk Office, a location that was used for early voting in October of 2018. FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert swiftly intervened.
“The inherent religious significance of the Latin cross is undeniable and is not disguisable,” Markert wrote in her letter to County Clerk Robin Van Natta. “No secular purpose, no matter how sincere, will detract from the overall message that the cross stands for Christianity and the overall display promotes Christianity.”
This violation of the civil liberties of non-Christian residents by the presence of this cross is further exacerbated by the fact that the location is used as a polling place, Markert added.
The county confirmed in a letter to FFRF that the cross was removed following the complaint.
Dalton Local Schools has been instructed by its attorneys to hold future events at secular locations, thanks to FFRF.
A local resident reported that the Dalton High School Choralation group performed at Cornerstone Community Church and previously performed at the Dalton United Methodist Church during its worship service.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Jim Saxer urging the district to respect the rights of conscience of all families and no longer hold events at churches and instead select public facilities for all future events.
The district’s attorney assures that the superintendent has “instructed the employee that school related performances should take place in secular venues.”
A Pennsylvania school district has removed a godly broadcast tagged on to the Pledge of Allegiance after hearing from FFRF.
A concerned Springfield School District parent informed FFRF that Sabold Elementary School had been proclaiming “God Bless America” over the loudspeaker following the Pledge of Allegiance each morning.
FFRF asked that the school’s practice of decreeing “God Bless America” each day immediately stop.
“The repeated recitation of a religious message in the school setting violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits public schools from advancing, supporting or promoting religion,” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Anthony Barber. “‘God Bless America’ is a prayer. The song that the phrase originates from begins, ‘As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.’ A prayer hosted by a publicly supported school does not pass constitutional muster.”
FFRF’s message met with receptive ears from Springfield School District officials.
“After the school district’s receipt of your letter, Sabold Elementary School has ceased its practice of announcing the slogan ‘God Bless America’ over the loudspeaker immediately following the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance,” the school district’s legal counsel recently wrote back. “None of the schools in the school district currently engages in this practice.”