FFRF Victories (March 2023)
Texas superintendent removes religious quotes
In the West Sabine Independent School District in Texas, a display featuring religious quotes was removed, thanks to FFRF.
Superintendent Carnelius D. Gilder prominently displayed a plaque on his desk with the words “Trust in the Lord” facing outwards. The sign also quoted Proverbs 3:5-6.
“We write to remind you that you cannot use your position as superintendent to advance your personal religious beliefs and to ask that this, and any other prominent, publicly displayed religious messages be removed from your office immediately,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line in a letter to Gilder.
FFRF received a message back from Gilder, stating that the sign had been removed. “I appreciate the enlightenment. Action taken and now you may consider the request met,” he wrote.
FCA club removed from elementary school
FFRF was successfully able to stop a Fellowship of Christian Athletes club from being promoted and practiced at a public elementary school in South Carolina.
On Feb. 28, 2022, a concerned parent from South Carolina Public Charter School District reportedly received an email inviting them to “Please join” the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes Club. The complainant also reported that teachers at the school were encouraging elementary students to attend the club.
“The district may not allow teachers to use public schools to proselytize,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote in a letter to Superintendent Chris Neeley. “Given the school’s promotion of this club and the fact that it is run by teachers, a reasonable student or parent will perceive this religious club as ‘stamped with [their] school’s seal of approval.’”
FFRF received a response from the district stating the issue has been resolved. “The district has confirmed with the school that FCA for elementary students no longer meets at the school or is promoted by the school.”
FFRF ends pre-event prayers in Wash. school
FFRF was able to end repeated school prayers by a wrestling coach in Burbank, Wash.
On Dec. 1, 2022, a wrestling event at Columbia High School was reportedly opened by the coach informing the audience that a prayer was scheduled to take place prior to the match. Attendees were told they could opt out before the microphone was handed to a student, who led everyone in a Christian prayer delivered “In Jesus’ name.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter to Superintendent Todd Hilberg, who responded to FFRF in a formal email, outlining a full action plan for the coach. “The CSD Athletic Director has taken immediate action and met with [the coach] over two occasions to review expectations moving forward that would eliminate religious activities within the wrestling program,” he wrote.
Religious assignment stopped by FFRF in W.Va.
An assignment questioning students’ religious beliefs in regard to Christianity was removed from a West Virginia district, thanks to FFRF’s intervention.
A concerned district community member reported that an English teacher at Jackson Middle School in the Wood County School District provided an assignment to students that would “determine the degree to which [they] agree with Puritan beliefs.” Questions heavily relied on Christian ideology, such as “Do you believe strongly in the existence of God?” and “Do you believe it’s more important to glorify God than to express yourself?”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter to Superintendent Christie Willis, who responded to FFRF in an email, stating that steps have been taken to prevent further distribution of the assignment.
Invocation at teacher event halted in Arkansas
After hearing from FFRF, religious invocations at mandatory teacher appreciation events will no longer happen in the Springdale Public School District in Arkansas.
A district employee reported that a mandatory teacher appreciation event featured an invocation in Jesus’ name, given by a reverend. According to the employee, all district employees are required to attend the event and their presence is verified by sign-in sheets passed around by school principals. Despite being hosted by the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, the event took place on school grounds during contract hours.
“It’s unlawful for a school district to include prayer at a school-sponsored event,” FFRF Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Superintendent Jared Cleveland.
FFRF received an email response from Cleveland, stating that the situation had been addressed. “I have sent notification to the Springdale Chamber of Commerce asking for them to refrain from the practice in the future,” he wrote.
Alabama bible club no longer led by parents
After a parent-led bible club and a discriminatory apparel policy were brought to FFRF’s attention, action was taken to bring the Alabaster (Ala.) City School District in line.
Concerned parents in the district reported a “First Priority” bible club at Thompson Intermediate School run by a parent.
Additionally, the dress code guidelines were also brought into question. The code bans students “from wearing any sign, symbol, logo or garment which has become synonymous with . . . Satanism.”
“Schools should not allow non-school persons to treat schools as a recruiting ground for their religious mission,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote in a letter to Superintendent Wayne Vickers.
FFRF received a letter from Melissa B. McKie, legal counsel representing the Alabaster City Board of Education. McKie wrote, “The school system has spoken with each of the adults who supervise the First Priority groups that meet on its campuses and has reminded them that the groups must be student-led.” Additionally, the letter stated that the references to Satanism in the dress code have been removed
FFRF ends council-led invocations in Pa.
FFRF successfully intervened to halt religious invocations prior to council meetings in Columbia Borough, Pa.
A concerned resident of the town contacted FFRF to report the Columbia Borough Ad Hoc Committee meetings repeatedly opened with an invocation, led by a council member. The practice began in November 2021, wherein the council member would request all attendees stand before being led in a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.
“Prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive,” FFRF Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to the Columbia Borough Council President Heather Zink. “We write to request that the Ad Hoc Committee and Borough Council refrain from opening meetings with prayer and instead solemnize meetings with the much more inclusive practice of observing a moment of silence.”
FFRF received an email response from Zink addressing the situation. “The Columbia Borough Council discussed this and we agree the leader of the ad-hoc committee should not have led a meeting with the Lord’s Prayer. All committee chairs have been advised they (or any member of their board) cannot lead any invocation at their meetings.” Additionally, Zink confirmed that meetings are now opened by asking if any attendees would like to deliver an invocation. There are no restrictions on who can deliver an invocation, except that it may not be by a member of the board.
Bible verse removed from Florida parking lot
A Land O’ Lakes, Fla., high school parking lot will have a painted bible verse removed after FFRF sent a letter to the district.
A Pasco County resident saw a parking space at Wiregrass Ranch High School with the bible verse Philippians 4:13 painted on the ground, reading “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line contacted Superintendent Kurt S. Browning regarding the situation.
FFRF received a letter from Dennis J. Alfonso, legal counsel to the School Board, who reported that the bible vers had been removed. “The display depicted is not one created by or at the direction of the School Board,” Alfonso wrote.
Religious group nixed from Tennessee district
Proselytization of students in Rogersville, Tenn., was put to an end, thanks to FFRF.
A community member of the district reported that Hawkins County Schools allowed an evangelical Christian group to speak to students at various schools in the district throughout the day to encourage attendance at a religious event — the Upper East Tennessee Go Tell Crusade. The group posted about it on Facebook, thanking principals and superintendents of the county for allowing them to speak at HCS schools.
FFRF Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Director of Schools Matt Hixson, who emailed explaining that, as the group met all requirements on the facility use form, they were allowed to use school buildings for events. However, he wrote, “I have ceased any and all relations with this group (Go Tell), as well as any other religious group (no other group previously sought such use and access, nor have any other organizations sought such access since.”
FFRF records 2 victories in Alabama county
FFRF successfully worked to keep religion out of Shelby County Schools in Birmingham on two separate matters.
The first situation was brought to FFRF’s attention from a parent of an Oak Mountain Middle School student. The parent reported that its child was required to participate in a prayer led by the coach before their first cross country meet of the year.
Additionally, FFRF was alerted to a policy in Columbiana Middle School that students were not allowed to promote Satanism through their attire. FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Anne Knox Averitt, the legal representative of Shelby County Schools.
Averitt emailed FFRF back stating that, “This and the coach issue have been addressed.”