FFRF victories (Dec. 2022)
By Matt Langer
stopped at Ohio school
FFRF was able to put an end to a prayer during the commencement ceremony at an Ohio school.
A parent contacted FFRF in regard to a prayer delivered at the 2022 Amanda-Clearcreek High School graduation ceremony. Although the program listed “Words of Inspiration” to be delivered by a student, it was reported that it was well-known to the school that this was a prayer. Reportedly, the prayer had been planned and rehearsed at the graduation practice. Additionally, it was reported that a school staff member handed out a congratulatory message to students at the graduation practice, which included three bible quotes and references to God and praying.
“The Supreme Court has settled this matter — public school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students,” FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote to Amanda-Clearcreek Local Schools Superintendent J.B. Dick. “Additionally, public school employees may not urge religious points of view on students. The district has a duty to regulate religious proselytizing and messaging during school-sponsored activities, such as graduation practices.”
A response from the district’s legal counsel assured FFRF that appropriate steps will be taken to prevent these violations from recurring at future ceremonies. Attorney Susan L. Oppenheimer stated the district administration will “instruct students selected to give remarks at a graduation ceremony that they may not invite the audience to join in prayer.” Additionally, the district will require administrators to attend future graduation ceremony rehearsals to prevent speakers from invoking prayer.
N.C. district removes prayer from event
FFRF was able to get a North Carolina school district to recast and rename what had been referred to as a “prayer walk” into a secular event.
A district parent reported to FFRF that Booneville Elementary School had organized and promoted a religious “prayer walk.” Reportedly, the annual event had been promoted to parents and students through official school communication channels. In a “back to school” message, families and community members were invited to visit classrooms and “leave positive notes of support, prayer and good wishes for the school year.” It was also promoted on the school’s official Facebook page.
“Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion. . . Yadkin County Schools serves a diverse population that consists of not only Christians, but also atheists and agnostics who do not believe in prayer,” FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to Yadkin County Schools Superintendent Todd Martin. “Holding a district-sponsored religious event each year sends an official message that excludes the nearly 30 percent of the American population who are nonreligious.”
A response from the district’s legal counsel assured FFRF that the issue has been addressed.
“After discussing this matter with [the superintendent], we are advising the principal of Boonville Elementary School to change the name of this event to ‘Annual Community Walk’ and to exclude the word ‘prayer’ from any description or advertisement of the event.”
Religious displays get removed from classroom
After hearing from FFRF, a California school has removed a Latin cross and bible verse from the wall of a classroom.
A parent reported to FFRF that a teacher at Rocklin High School had been prominently displaying a cross and a bible verse — “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” Micah 6:8 — in the classroom.
FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to Rocklin Unified School District Superintendent Roger Stock to request the immediate removal of these religious displays. “The district violates the Constitution when it allows its schools to display religious symbols or messages. It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism towards or coerce belief or participation in religion. . . This display violates this basic constitutional prohibition by creating the appearance that the district prefers religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all other faiths.”
A response from Rocklin USD’s legal counsel confirmed that the religious displays have been removed. “Thank you for bringing this matter to the attention of the district. The district has reviewed your letter and inspected the classroom displays. The district directed the items be removed and the teacher has complied.”
Ala. school district ends religious assemblies
After hearing from FFRF, an Alabama school district has stopped allowing school assemblies that feature religious speakers.
A concerned parent reported to FFRF that a teacher at Tallassee High School took students into the gym for a religious sermon delivered by a guest speaker. Reportedly, this guest speaker preached to students and attempted to convert them to Christianity, making statements such as, “The bible says you surrender your life. You throw yourself at the mercy of Jesus Christ with your life. Christ paid for my sins. I was on my way to hell. I owe him my life. Hands down.” The guest speaker ended his sermon by leading students in prayer.
“It is unconstitutional to take away instructional time from students to expose them to a Christian proselytizing preacher,” FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to Tallassee City Schools Superintendent Brock Nolin. “It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism toward or coerce belief or participation in religion.”
A response from the superintendent assured FFRF that this violation will not recur. “This issue has been addressed with the faculty member and administration of the school,” Nolin wrote. “They fully understand the issue at hand and it has been resolved.”