FFRF victories (August 2022)
By Casandra Zimmerman
Virginia sheriff to end religious endorsement
The Scott County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia will no longer post religious messages on its social media pages or host churches after a concerned county resident reported that the Sheriff’s Office hosted a religious Easter event, “Eggs-stravaganza 2022,” with Calvary Bible Church on April 9.
A post by the Calvary Bible Church on its Facebook page showed that the event was planned by the Sheriff’s Office and included “shar[ing] the gospel with . . . kids.” On Easter, the Sheriff’s Office also posted an image of a cross with the words “He Has Risen!” on its official Facebook page.
“The Scott County Sheriff’s Office’s explicit endorsement of religion is a serious constitutional violation,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman to Sheriff Jeff Edds. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from hosting or endorsing religious events or activities.
Edds responded to FFRF’s letter to say that he will be taking precautionary steps to prevent any future occurrences.
School input event moved to a secular location
A concerned district parent contacted FFRF on June 2 to report that a public input session for the Madison (Wis.) Metropolitan School District was scheduled at Life Center, a Christian church.
Asking parents, who may be of varying faiths or none at all, to enter a Christian house of worship for a public session to discuss the MMSD’s “guiding document” alienates non-Christians, including the almost 50 percent of the Madison population who are not religious, insisted FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman.
Heineman wrote to Superintendent of Schools Carlton D. Jenkins that to fulfill MMSD’s obligation for religious neutrality and to recognize Madison’s diverse range of religious and nonreligious citizens, he must provide a secular setting for the Strategic Framework Recalibration public input session so that all concerned district families can feel welcome and comfortable attending.
The special assistant to the superintendent responded swiftly to FFRF’s request and confirmed that the meeting location had been changed to an area high school.
Event organizer won’t use school logo in flyers
A local resident reported a state-church violation to FFRF after seeing a religious flyer in a post office with the Denver (Iowa) Community School District logo. The flier invited “the entire body of Christ” to a Mile Wide Worship Night to be held once a month in the Cyclone Center. According to the flyer, the worship night is to “lift up the name of Jesus in Denver.”
“Denver Community School District cannot sponsor a worship night.” FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heinemann wrote to Brad Laures, superintendent of Denver Community School District. “The government must respect the rights of conscience of all people.”
The organizer of the event will no longer use the school’s logo in their flyers, Laures wrote to FFRF.
Christian music no longer playing in Iowa school
FFRF intervened after a teacher at Metro West Learning Academy in Iowa was reported to have been playing Christian music in the background of classes. The music had lyrics such as “I put my faith in Jesus” and “my savior.”
“No public school employee may urge religious points of view on students. Students are especially susceptible to the coercive influence of messages from authority figures, such as teachers,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman to Mike Moran, director of Metro West Learning. “Parents, not teachers, have the right to direct the religious, or nonreligious, upbringing of their children.”
The Metro West Learning Academy reassured FFRF that action had been taken to make sure staff is aware of their constitutional obligations to religious neutrality and to refrain from promoting religion in the classroom.
“It has been resolved. [The teacher] now has local news as her background noise,” the school’s response stated.