FFRF victories (May 2022)
By Casandra Zimmerman
West Virginia teacher won’t use religious coloring booklet
FFRF was alerted by a Putnam County Schools parent that a first-grade teacher at the West Virginia school assigned students a “Jesus is Born!” informational booklet coloring assignment. The booklet recounted religious stories from the bible. FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent John G. Hudson advising the district to take immediate action to stop teachers from giving religious assignments to students.
Hudson responded and said that Putnam County Schools is aware of its obligations and that the incident was an isolated one and will not recur.
No more religious notes at Oklahoma elementary school
A concerned parent contacted FFRF to report that their child received a bag of toys and candy from Eugene Field Elementary School in Oklahoma City that also contained religious messages.
The gifts were accompanied by a note, which explained, “Have a wonderful Christmas! We pray that your weeks are filled with joy and love! And, we hope you enjoy these gifts.” The note included a bible verse.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line requested that Superintendent Sean McDaniel take corrective action and train district staff on their constitutional duties as public school employees.
In response to the FFRF’s letter, the general counsel for Oklahoma City Public Schools wrote that it was determined that a volunteer family placed the note in the backpack “unbeknownst to the community partner and the school.” The principal was then counseled on the religious parameters and told that this could not happen again and such a message violates students’ religious freedoms.
North Carolina sheriff drops religion from summer camp
A North Carolina sheriff has listened to FFRF and made secular a summer camp that his department operates.
Several county residents had reported to FFRF that the Dare County Sheriff’s Office was planning to hold a “faith-based” camp (as the Sheriff’s Office’s official Facebook page had been declaring it) for children during the summer. The camp, which has been run by the Sheriff’s Office for many years, included religious worship.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie. “By hosting a ‘faith based’ camp that includes religious worship, the Sheriff’s Office creates the appearance that it endorses religion,” Line wrote.
The sheriff took heed of FFRF’s exhortation. “Friendly Atheist” Hemant Mehta writes that Doughtie posted a message on Facebook explaining why his camp would drop the faith aspect: “A statement from one of the people who posted on our Facebook account was ‘There are many in our community who are not Christian or not religious at all and the Sheriff’s Office should be well attuned to that. Why would these children be made to feel “other” at a county camp?’ When I read that statement, I realized that it shouldn’t make any child feel that way.”
FFRF ends elementary school intercom prayer in Louisiana
FFRF’s objection to daily intercom prayer in a Louisiana elementary school has quickly had the desired effect.
A concerned parent had informed FFRF that Riverbend Elementary School in West Monroe, La., required its students to recite a prayer each day following the Pledge of Allegiance. A different child was reportedly selected every morning to deliver the pledge and then the prayer over the intercom. The prayer was described as “Student Expression,” but was clearly a prayer and was delivered to “Father God.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the legal counsel for Ouachita Parish Schools demanding that the school cease its daily prayer.
“Ouachita Parish Superintendent Don Coker said the situation has been addressed,” states a story in the local newspaper about FFRF’s intervention.
“The principal knows that we won’t be reading prayers over the intercom,” the article quotes Coker as saying. “It has actually been handled and dealt with. Now I think they do a moment of silence.”
Georgia school employee told not to pray with students
A Georgia school will no longer allow employees to pray with students or force students to pray at events after it was reported that David Turpin, an employee at Stephens County High School, had been praying with students as part of the high school’s JROTC events. It was also reported that Turpin required multiple cadets to pray before a school-sponsored meet that took place at the school. Turpin is a district employee who is listed on the school’s website as part of the JROTC program.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line insisted that the district must make certain that school programs and activities do not include prayer and that none of its employees are unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters by leading prayer, encouraging them to pray, or setting aside time for prayer.
Counsel for the Stephens County School system informed FFRF that the administration is convinced that “Mr. Turpin understands the issues concerning the First Amendment as it relates to the freedom of religion and the Establishment Clause.”
Texas middle school staff to stop promoting religion
A Texas school district has stopped letting its staff endorse religion after a community member reported multiple instances of religious promotion by staff members.
Andrews Middle School football team was selling shirts that featured a bible quote on the back: “Trust in the Lord, Our God, forever, for He is our everlasting rock. — Isaiah 264:4.” The shirts had been promoted on the official Andrews ISD Facebook page.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line, in a letter to the district, wrote that the staff “send a message on behalf of the district to non-Christian and nonreligious students that they are outsiders in their school community.” Superintendent Bobby Azam wrote back to reassure FFRF that he will work to ensure that the district will no longer allow its staff to promote or endorse religion by selling T-shirts with religious messages as part of school-sponsored activities, or by including religious messages on official calendars for school-sponsored events.
Alabama school will stop using religious songs in class
An Alabama elementary school is no longer letting proselytization happen during music class.
A district parent reported to FFRF that their child, a first-grade student at Montevallo Elementary School in the Shelby County School District, came home singing a “Thanksgiving song” that they learned in music class. The lyrics to the song included: “Thank you God for the friends we keep, thank you God for the food we eat.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the counsel for the school district. “This ‘Thanksgiving song’ is essentially a prayer and thus would be appropriate in a church setting, but not in a public school.”
After the school received FFRF’s letters, the district counseled staff about the importance of selecting programming that does not highlight a particular religion, and it is incorporating additional refresher training on those issues.
FFRF is told Florida ‘prayer’
invitation was sent in error
The city of Orlando, Fla., has reassured FFRF that it takes the separation of church and state seriously after it was reported that the city was officially sponsoring “40 Days of Prayer and Fasting” from March 6 to April 14.
The event invitations said, “The city of Orlando invites you to ‘40 Days of Prayer and Fasting.’” Invitations were sent out through official city communication channels and noted that the invitation for this religious event was on behalf of “Mayor Buddy Dyer and District Two City Commissioner Tony Ortiz.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter to Dyer. Doug Richards, director of community engagement and outreach for Orlando, responded, saying that the invitation was sent in error, as the event was not being hosted or sponsored by the city.
FFRF gets police department to take down social media post
The Kingsport (Tenn.) Police Department has taken down a post on its official Facebook page thanking the “Rock of Ages” prison ministry for providing the department with 160 bibles.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the police department saying that the Kingsport P.D. must refrain from endorsing religion on social media.
In a letter from Chief of Police Dave Phipps, FFRF was informed of the post being removed. “To my knowledge, no resident voiced any concern over the post; only 1 out of 56,000+. Regardless, we have removed the post,” Phipps wrote.
Tennessee medical center removes religious Facebook post
A local citizen contacted FFRF regarding the endorsement of religion on the Cookeville (Tenn.) Regional Medical Center’s official Facebook page.
The post included a prayer for frontline workers that said, “Heavenly and Almighty God, who has all power and might to heal and protect.”
“CRMC must refrain from endorsing religion,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman. “It cannot suggest that it cannot treat patients without God’s help or that patients must say prayers while in its facility.”
Chief legal counsel for the Cookeville Medical Center informed FFRF that both of the postings were removed shortly after the medical center received the letter.
FFRF ends Alabama district’s prayers over loudspeaker
An Alabama public school district has stopped opening its football games with prayer after FFRF called a penalty.
Several high schools in Jefferson County School District, including Gardendale High School and Pinson Valley High School, had been starting their football games with prayers broadcast over the loudspeaker.
It is unconstitutional for a public school to sponsor religious messages at school athletic events, wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line in a letter to the district.
FFRF’s advice fell on receptive ears. The legal counsel for the district sent a letter informing FFRF that “the superintendent met with school principals and the administration will not allow prayer at school-sponsored events.”