FFRF victories (March 2021)
By Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey
School to end singing of ‘God Bless the USA’
A religious song will no longer be played in Simi Valley (Calif.) Unified School District.
A concerned parent reported that Sycamore Elementary asks its students to sing a new “patriotic song of the month” each month following the Pledge of Allegiance. One month, the song “God Bless the USA” was chosen.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Jason Peplinski, urging the district to cease asking students to sing that song and make only secular selections for future songs of the month.
FFRF was informed in a letter of response from the district’s attorney that the school will not choose “God Bless the USA” as a song of the month in the future and has removed references to it from the school newsletter.
Religious iconography removed from school
Religious iconography has been removed from multiple spots in the International Leadership of Texas Grand Prairie School in Richardson, Texas.
One sign, located in a counselor’s office frequented by students, stated “the Lord is good.” A second wall decoration, located in a third-grade classroom, read “God, thank you for everything.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Eddie Conger, requesting that these signs come down as they constituted the appearance of government endorsement of religion.
The school’s attorney has informed FFRF that both displays have come down.
FFRF intervenes in Texas city’s ‘day of prayer’
The city of Wills Point, Texas, has addressed concerns about a religious proclamation made on behalf of local government.
Multiple Wills Point residents informed FFRF that Mayor Mark Turner declared a “Day of Prayer and Fasting,” which was advertised on the official city Facebook page. In the proclamation, issued in his official capacity as mayor, Turner invited residents to join “Christians of all traditions in prayer,” and urged them to spread the word to others “willing to humble themselves, repent and ask God to heal their land.” Additionally, the proclamation — to which the official Wills Point city seal is affixed — stated “Now therefore we proclaim the healing of the City of Wills Point in Jesus’ name! Amen.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson sent a letter to Turner urging him to discontinue all endorsement of religion in his official capacity as mayor. Government officials are free to worship, pray and participate in religious events in their personal capacities, FFRF emphasized, but may not provide credibility or prestige to their religion by lending a government office or title to religious events.
The city’s attorney informed FFRF via email that the post promoting the event has been removed from the city’s Facebook page and the district will “be more cognizant of [these] concerns in the future.”
South Carolina school removes framed prayer
A religious display has been promptly removed from a South Carolina school following a complaint from FFRF.
A Palmetto High School community member informed FFRF that a framed prayer was prominently displayed on a table in the school’s front office near the spot tardy students are required to stand and wait for their temperature to be checked before attending class.
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson sent a letter to Anderson School District One Superintendent Robbie Binnicker, urging the district to immediately get rid of the religious display, since it constituted an inappropriate government endorsement of religion.
The school district took down the framed prayer from the school office the same day as it received the letter of complaint.
“The sign was removed and the principal dealt with the issue at the school level,” Binnicker informed FFRF via email.
School ceases sending home Christmas items
Anderson School District Two in Honea Path, S.C., has ceased sending home religious materials with students after intervention from FFRF.
A Marshall Primary School parent alerted FFRF that their child was given religious Christmas materials by the school. The parents reported that when they went to the school to pick up essential materials for distance learning, they were given a Christian coloring book, nativity stickers and a candy cane with the message “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” and a bible verse attached.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Interim Superintendent Donald Andrews urging the district to take corrective action and train school and district staff on constitutional requirements.
Andrews sent a letter of response with assurances that this distribution of religious materials was a mistake, does not comply with district policy, and will not happen again in the future.
Bible verse display taken down in Virginia
A Virginia police department has agreed to strip a religious display from its office property.
Multiple South Hill, Va., residents informed FFRF that the South Hills Police Department was prominently featuring a “thin blue line” flag on its side door. This flag was overlaid with a quote of Proverbs 28:1 from the bible, stating “The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Chief of Police Stuart Bowen to request that the department move this and any other religious displays from its premises.
Bowen informed FFRF in a letter of response that he has taken action to remove the bible verse from the office door.
School religious display taken down in Oklahoma
A religious display has been taken down from Achille Public School property in Achille, Okla.
Multiple local residents alerted FFRF that in December, Achille Elementary School was displaying a nativity scene with the message, “Our world needs a stable influence.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Rick Beene to request that the district ensure that the nativity scene, or any other religious displays, will not be displayed in the future.
Beene assured FFRF via email that the display was taken down and he spoke with the person that put it up about the issue.
Michigan coach won’t lead pregame prayers
Coach-led prayer has been stopped in the Clinton Township, Mich., public school district.
A district parent informed FFRF that a Wyandot Middle School basketball coach had been leading his students in prayer before basketball games. According to the parent, the coach would have the players gather in a circle, make them hold hands and then say a prayer. When he finished saying his prayer, he would ask any of the players if they wanted to say a prayer.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian sent a letter to Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Ronald Robert urging the district to stop any and all prayers occurring within any school athletic programs.
Assistant Superintendent Adam Blanchard sent a letter of response, alerting FFRF that the coach “has been informed that his involvement in this type of religious activity cannot occur during school or a school event.”