FFRF victories (Sept. 2022)
By Casandra Zimmerman
Illinois district ends religious activity
FFRF has persuaded an Illinois school district to stop allowing proselytization events on campus during the school day.
A concerned community resident reported to FFRF that Ray McElroy, a former NFL player who is now a pastor, was speaking to students at Richards High School in Oak Lawn, Ill. The posters and announcements for the lunch event enticed students to come to hear an ex-NFL player’s story and receive free Chick-Fil-A sandwiches. Students who attended said that they were told they could not take a sandwich until they listened to the speaker and took his book. The book is titled How to Find God. Reportedly, the talk was essentially a sermon by McElroy.
The religious event was reportedly organized by Doug Groters, a Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps instructor at the high school. NJROTC instructors are “employees of the school.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote to Community High School District 218 Superintendent Ty Harting. “The district cannot allow its schools to be used as recruiting grounds for religious missions,” Heineman wrote.
A response from the school assured FFRF that the issue was taken care of.
“We have investigated the matter and have addressed with our staff,” Assistant Superintendent Greg Walder responded. “We will refrain from allowing such events to occur in the future.”
District won’t promote baccalaureate service
FFRF got involved in Oregon after a concerned West Linn-Wilsonville School District community member reported that West Linn High School organized a baccalaureate service in its auditorium on June 5th.
The school advertised the event in its weekly “Roar” newsletter and mentioned the ceremony in its weekly address to the students. The service was open to all West Linn seniors and was described as “a spiritual and inspirational interfaith ceremony honoring the WLHS graduating class of 2022.” The ceremony program listed religious prayers, songs and speeches, such as “Faith and Perseverance” and “Living in Faith.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district, stating that “The District’s role in promoting the baccalaureate ceremony would cause any reasonable graduating senior or parent to conclude that the West Linn-Wilsonville School District supported the religious messages espoused at these services.”
The district responded to FFRF to report that it would look into who is responsible for advertising the event, who was sponsoring it and make sure that it wouldn’t happen in the future.
Religious sign-off taken off of school email
A concerned resident contacted FFRF about a school employee in the Menomonie, Wis., district who included biblical scripture in the official district email signature. The resident reported that they recently received an email from the student service administrator with the biblical quote “Act Justly Love Mercy Walk Humbly — Micah 6:8” in the email signature.
FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Hieneman wrote to District Administrator Joseph Zydowsky, who then responded by assuring that the signature was removed and staff members would be reminded of their duties for the new school year.
Religious display in Texas school removed
A concerned Mansfield (Texas) ISD community member has reported that the “Serenity Prayer” is on display on a door in the main hallway of Glenn Harmon Elementary School. It says: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote Superintendent Kimberley Cantu to ask that the school immediately take it down. “Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools.”
In a response from legal counsel for Glen Harmon Elementary, the district investigated FFRF’s complaint and removed the display.
Teacher’s evangelizing halted in Alabama
An Alabama school district has put a stop to a teacher’s blatant proselytizing after FFRF got involved.
A concerned Shelby County Schools parent had informed FFRF that their child’s teacher had been openly pushing Christianity onto his students. Alan Waring, a biology teacher at Calera High School, had sent home religious materials with students and signed a student’s yearbook with a religious message.
The handout Waring gave to students was titled, “God loves you and He has a plan for your life,” a religious screed meant to indoctrinate students into Christianity. And Waring put a similarly over-the-top religious inscription in a student’s yearbook: “…you are designed for a grand incredible purpose that has cosmic significance. The God of the Universe, your creator and mine, has made a way for men and women to commune with Him and to be found in Him. This purpose is tied up in His identity, who He is, God is triune, three persons one God.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the school district’s counsel, stating that “The district must make certain that none of its employees are unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters by discussing their personal religious beliefs, preaching, handing out religious materials, or otherwise creating a religious environment in their classrooms.”
The school district initiated a probe after FFRF’s missive — and arrived at an appropriate course of action.
“Following the investigation, they have had repeated conversations with the teacher, required him to review materials emphasizing the importance of separation of church and state, and had him put together a written reflection confirming he understood the importance of the issue,” the attorney for the district recently emailed Line.