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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

FFRF Victories (December 2021)

By Casandra Zimmerman

Religious language removed from website

A teacher is no longer spreading religious messaging after a concerned citizen reported to FFRF that a Kansas City School District employee had posted her biography, which included a “Spirit Walk” section and “Wants God to receive the glory for every success and triumph,” on the district website.

In a letter written by Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald, FFRF asked that these specific posts be taken down, as they could create the impression of endorsement of religion. 

McDonald went on to say “We understand, of course, that the district cannot monitor every statement made by employees. But we do ask that it take the appropriate steps to ensure that employees are made aware of their constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion while acting in their official capacity.”

The response came from Kelly Wachel, chief marketing and communications officer of Kansas City Public Schools, who informed FFRF that the religious language was taken down and steps had been taken to avoid it in the future.

 

‘God bless America’ display removed from park

A “God bless America” digital sign was removed from a Florida city park after a concerned Pompano, Fla., resident reported that it had been on display for several weeks in August on the entrance sign to Pompano Community Park.

FFRF explained that when this phrase is proclaimed by the government, it “amounts to a declaration of orthodoxy in religion that falsely equates patriotism with piety,” and urged the city to recognize its obligation to provide all residents with an environment free from city-sponsored religious messages. 

The city assistant manager responded to report that the digital sign was removed from the park.

No more bible verses on social media posts

The superintendent of Glen Rose ISD in Texas has stopped using bible verses in social media posts after receiving a letter from FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line. A concerned resident reported that on Sept. 1, the superintendent posted a bible verse on the district’s official Facebook page. The post informed parents and students about the junior high campus closing but also included “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7.”

Line informed the superintendent that district employees and administrators can worship, pray or quote any religious text they wish when acting in their capacities. But they are not permitted to use their position as public school employees to promote and endorse their personal religious views. 

A response from the superintendent indicated that he will not do it again.

City won’t use religious pamphlet in bills 

A Minnesota city has stopped including religious promotions in their bills to residents after FFRF intervened.

A concerned Saint Clair resident reported that in July 2021, the city included an insert with a sign-up for a summer bible school in its June/July 2021 monthly newsletter and utility bill. The insert promoted “Divine Nature Camp,” a vacation bible school program.

After hearing from FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line, the city agreed that it will only include inserts appropriate for a government entity.

No more prayer meetings for players in Oklahoma 

A high school in Tecumseh, Okla., is no longer proselytizing football players and students after FFRF intervened.

A concerned community member reported that on Aug. 29, Tecumseh High School football players were required to attend a team prayer meeting on the football field while district coaches organized and led prayer at the school-sponsored event. A post on the Tecumseh Savage Football Facebook page confirmed that there was an official team prayer event held to “say a prayer over our players, cheerleaders, band members, students, coaches, and fans. 

FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter to Tecumseh Public Schools asking that it investigate and take action to make sure coaches and employees no longer lead students in prayer, participate in prayer with students or organize team prayer events.

Tecumseh Superintendent Robert Kinsey instructed the removal of the religious message on the school’s Facebook page, and spoke with coaches to ensure that prayers are student-led, voluntary and held off district property.

School district dress code won’t discriminate 

An Alabama school district revised its discriminatory dress code after receiving a letter from FFRF. A parent reported that the latest edition of Shelby County Schools’ Student Code of Conduct prohibited students from wearing “any sign, symbol, logo or garment, which has become synonymous with any gang, cult, Satanism, or unauthorized club or activity.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote that “A school policy that targets a particular form of religious belief, in this case, ‘Satanism,’ violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The prohibition on any sign, symbol, logo, or garment that has become synonymous with Satanism must be removed immediately.”

The school district responded to the letter saying that they are revising the Code of Conduct to address FFRF’s concerns and expect the revisions to be approved at the district’s next board meeting.

Virginia school board ends prayer at meetings

A Virginia school is no longer scheduling prayers during meetings after hearing from FFRF. 

A letter was sent to Russell County Public Schools to inform the chairman that it is unconstitutional for the board to institute prayers at its meetings. FFRF requested that the board immediately refrain from scheduling prayers as part of future school board meetings to uphold the rights of Russell County residents under the First Amendment.

The school board later let FFRF know that it no longer includes prayer on its meeting agenda and no longer leads or orchestrates a public prayer as part of its meeting.

Bible verse removed from university locker room

A Tennessee university removed a bible verse from a football locker room after FFRF’s intervention. 

It was reported that the Tennessee Tech University football locker room displayed the bible verse, “Let us not be weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap a great reward. Galatians 6:9.”

In a letter sent to the president of Tennessee Tech University, Philip Oldham, FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line made it clear that it was “inappropriate for the university to display this religious message because it conveyed government support for religion.” 

General counsel for Oldham responded by saying that the bible verse had been removed from the locker room.

Scheduled graduation prayer ended in W.Va.

An annual student-led prayer has ended in Roane County, W.Va., after the school received a letter from FFRF.

Roane County High School used to have student-led prayers each year at the graduation. The prayers were a planned part of graduation ceremonies and were included in the official graduation program. 

Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district to let them know that by “scheduling prayers at graduation, the district abridges that duty and alienates the 38 percent of younger Americans who are not religious.”

The director of the school, LaDonna McFall, received the letter, had a conference with the principal and assured FFRF that the prayers would no longer be included in the graduation ceremonies.

District stops “See You at the Pole” events

Conroe Independent School District in Texas has stopped proselytizing students after FFRF wrote a letter to the school district. Teachers and staff members were participating in a “See You at the Pole” event at Birnham Woods Elementary School on Sept 22. 

FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line reminded the district that “it cannot organize, promote, or endorse religious events like See You at the Pole.” 

In a response from the general counsel for the district, it was reported to FFRF that training has been provided to all new administrators regarding “See you at the Pole” and other similar situations in which they could encounter religious activities in the school setting. 

School-sponsored prayer ended in Louisiana 

Athletic and staff meetings at Lafourche Parish School District in Louisiana will no longer include prayer after a parent reported that the district regularly opened school-sponsored events with Christian prayer, including athletic events and staff meetings. 

On Aug. 4, the district invited a Catholic priest to pray over a staff meeting at Central Lafourche High School. The school then posted about this prayer on its official Facebook page. 

In a letter to the district, FFRF explained that a prayer taking place at a “regularly scheduled school-sponsored function conducted on school property” would lead an objective observer to perceive it as state endorsement of religion. 

Superintendent Jarod W. Martin responded and assured FFRF that the issue had been addressed and resolved.

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