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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

FFRF Victories (August 2021)

By Stephanie Dyer

Large cross removed from Kentucky courthouse

The city of Elkton, Ky., has removed a large cross display from its courthouse after FFRF intervened.

Last year, FFRF was informed that the city had a large Latin cross overlaid with the design of the American flag on display in a window at the Old Todd County Courthouse.

FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Mayor Arthur Green, informing him that it was inappropriate and unconstitutional for a government-owned building to include a religious display, and requesting that the cross be removed from the courthouse.

City attorney Jeffrey B. Traughber informed FFRF that this issue has been resolved. “The cross display was not sanctioned by the city and is no longer on display to the public,” Traughber wrote. 

Tenn. district removes baccalaureate item

Roane County School District in Kingston, Tenn., has apologized and taken action to remedy a recurring state/church violation in the district.

A member of the community contacted FFRF to report that Rockwood High School once again was promoting a baccalaureate service on the school calendar. FFRF had previously written to the district about this issue in 2018 and 2019 and had been assured that the inclusion of the baccalaureate service on the school calendar was a mistake and would not happen again.

In his letter to the director of schools, FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald reminded the district of these past issues and recommended that school staff receive further training on the Establishment Clause.

Director of Schools LaDonna McFall followed up with the school principal, who apologized and removed the event. She will also be meeting with school staff to clarify what can and cannot be put on the school calendar. McFall also said that she will “re-train principals regarding what is appropriate and inappropriate in terms of separation of church and state before the 2021-2022 school year resumes.”

Louisiana school removes religious display

The East Baton Rouge Parish School System in Louisiana has removed a religious display after being reminded of its constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion.

A concerned member of the community reached out to FFRF to report that Glen Oaks Park Magnet School displayed a religious plaque outside the principal’s office. The plaque reads: “Pray More, Worry Less.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to the district’s superintendent and requested that the inappropriate and unconstitutional religious display be removed. “Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools,” Line wrote, emphasizing public schools’ constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion.

In a phone call with a representative of the school system, FFRF was informed that the religious plaque has been removed. 

Commissioners stop prayers at meetings

The Franklin County (Wash.) Board of Commissioners in Pasco has stopped scheduling a time of prayer for its board meetings.

FFRF was informed that the Board of Commissioners recently began opening its meetings with prayer and were considering making this a permanent practice for the Board.

FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to the commissioners, urging them to reconsider the prayer practice, noting that “prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive.”

Franklin County Administrator Keith Johnson responded to FFRF’s letter and reported that, after discussion and obtaining legal advice, the commissioners discontinued the time of prayer. “We recognize the separation of church and state that must prevail in public meetings,” Johnson wrote. 

Florida school district ceases religious club

A public school district in Florida has addressed concerns about a religious club operating in a local secondary school. 

A member of the community reported to FFRF that Milwee Middle School Pre-Engineering Magnet in Sanford has a Fellowship of Christian Athletes club that is run by a local pastor.

FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to the attorney for Seminole County Public Schools reminding them that schools cannot allow outside adults to “regularly participate, organize or lead” religious student organizations, and any teacher involvement cannot exceed a supervisory capacity.

The attorney for Seminole County Public Schools responded and informed FFRF that they spoke with the school principal and addressed our concerns. 

FFRF discovered that the school had also removed the FCA club’s listing on the school’s website.

Okla. coach told to remove preachy videos

An athletics coach for Arapaho-Butler Public Schools in Arapaho, Okla., was told to remove religious videos from social media that were filmed on school property without permission. 

A local community member contacted FFRF to report that Matt Oakes, a softball coach and teacher at Arapaho-Butler High School, was using his position to preach to students. Oakes helped found a sports-based ministry called “Crossing Home” that he used, along with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, to promote his religious beliefs to students. Coach Oakes and other school staff have been seen proselytizing in videos posted on the Crossing Home’s Facebook and YouTube pages. These videos were filmed on the high school’s athletic field.

FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to Superintendent Jay Edlen, requesting that the district investigate this issue and take action to ensure school coaches and teachers are not using their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to students. 

Superintendent Edelen responded, informing FFRF that the videos seen on the Crossing Home’s social media accounts were done without the school’s knowledge, and the district requested that the videos be taken down. “It is the policy of Arapaho-Butler Public Schools that no teacher or coach should use their position to promote or endorse their religious beliefs on students,” Edelen wrote. 

Colorado school district ends church’s access

A Colorado school district has ended a church’s access to a local school.

A concerned Eagle County Schools community member had informed FFRF that Redeemer Eagle Valley, a Christian church that rents facilities from Brush Creek Elementary School, was advertising and distributing bibles to elementary school students. The church had a display up during school-sponsored summer school that included a Latin cross and which promoted bibles to students along with a sign reading “FREE BIBLES !!!”     

FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Eagle County Schools Superintendent Philip Qualman: “Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools.” Nor may bibles be distributed to public school students. 

The school district responded to FFRF in a respectful manner.

“I’m grateful to know that organizations like FFRF exist, and can advocate on behalf of those who feel the separation of church and state is at risk,” the superintendent emailed back, after detailing the steps that Brush Creek Elementary has taken to make certain that the constitutional violations won’t recur. 

Staff instructed to stop promoting religion

The Lee County School District in Mississippi has taken action to ensure teachers won’t violate their students’ rights.

A district parent reported to FFRF that a kindergarten teacher at Saltillo Primary School in Tupelo was decorating her classroom with religious displays, including images of Bethlehem, a painting of Jesus in the manger with the three wise men and a wooden cross, and that she was frequently promoting her religious beliefs to students. The teacher had reportedly told students that she believed in Jesus and instructed them to complete religious assignments, like making a painting of Bethlehem that included “Jesus, mom, dad, and the three wise men.”

FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald wrote to the superintendent of Lee County Schools, alerting him to the constitutional violations occurring in the district. 

The superintendent informed FFRF that the school principal investigated the allegations and has communicated with school staff the importance of not using their position to promote their own personal religious or other beliefs. FFRF was also informed that the teacher in question had resigned, and the principal will continue to remind staff not to promote or endorse religion in the classroom.

New Jersey post office removes cross display

A cross display has been removed from a post office in Pine Brook, N.J. FFRF received a complaint from a member of the community that a Christian rosary was displayed on the wall of the post office. 

FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote to the postmaster and reminded him that was a violation of the U.S. Constitution and post office regulations. She asked that the rosary be immediately removed from postal property. 

The district manager for the Northern New Jersey District and an attorney for the Postal Service’s Northeast – New York Law Office both responded to the letter and advised that the rosary, apparently a lost item from a customer, had been removed.