Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

FFRF keeps up fight for state-church separation

Vol. 35 No. 4 May 2018
Dillard Drive Middle School players bow in prayer with their coach. FFRF was able to get the coach to stop praying with the team.                                                                                 

By Molly Hanson

Here is a roundup of FFRF’s legal victories since the last issue of Freethought Today. 

Alabama

Where: West Point High School in Cullman.

Violation: The school was scheduling prayers before assemblies and ceremonies. The prayers were typically led by the principal or student.

Outcome: Superintendent Shane Barnette responded on March 22, informing FFRF that he discussed the issues with the responsible staff members.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Christopher Line.

Alabama

Where: Snow Rogers Elementary School in Birmingham.

Violation: A kindergarten teacher led her class in prayer.

Outcome: An attorney representing the district responded on April 17 to assure FFRF that the principal had discussed the situation with the teacher and that there would not be a similar occurrence in the future. 

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Christopher Line.

Arkansas

Where: Crossett High School in Crossett.

Violation: School staff had been scheduling prayer as a part of the annual pre-homecoming pep rally. School faculty were also involved in “See You at the Pole,” a Christian-oriented prayer rally.

Outcome: A legal representative of the district responded on April 5, informing FFRF that prayers during pep rallies would end and that school faculty would not be participating in “See You at the Pole” events on school property.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Colin McNamara.

Colorado

Where: North Arvada Middle School in Golden.

Violation: The school, which rents its auditorium to a local church on Sundays, posted a sign that stayed up throughout the school week on its property that advertises the church’s services.

Outcome: The district responded on April 11, assuring FFRF that it had informed the church that it may display the sign advertising its church services on school grounds only on Sundays.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Christopher Line.

Illinois

Where: Okaw Valley High School.

Violation: Coaches of the high school basketball team were participating in prayers with their students.

Outcome: “We have shared your concern with the athletic director,” Superintendent Kent Stauder wrote to FFRF in response. “We reinforced that this type of activity could be viewed as an endorsement of religion. The athletic director was further directed to share this information with the coaching staff.”

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Ryan Jayne.

Illinois

Where: Central Grade School in Effingham.

Violation: Effingham Community School Board President Jeff Michael arranged for Christ’s Church, where he is a pastor, to give a presentation about dinosaurs to students. Elementary-aged students were handed flyers promoting a weekend event, a presentation was hosted by the Creation Truth Foundation, a creationist group, which was not disclosed in the flyer.

Outcome: District President Mark Doan has promised to implement a policy making certain that students will not be given flyers advertising religious events during school presentations.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Ryan Jayne.

Florida

Where: Cape Coral Police Department.

Violation: A story titled “When God created police officers” was posted to the department’s Facebook page. The fictitious story described a conversation between “the lord” and an angel and was meant to mimic the biblical creation story portrayed in the book of Genesis.

Outcome: On March 22, Chief of Police David Newlan informed FFRF that the department had removed the story from its Facebook page and all other department social media accounts.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Andrew L. Seidel.

Georgia

Where: Woodbine Elementary School in Kingsland.

Violation: A Black History Month assembly held for students at Woodbine Elementary School in Kingsland, Ga., this February opened with a preacher leading the children in prayer. The preacher had been introduced by the school principal.

Outcome: On March 23, Camden County Schools Superintendent William Hardin informed FFRF that he addressed the violations with the principal.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Christopher Line.

Georgia

Where: Youth Elementary School in Monroe.

Violation: A kindergarten teacher had been teaching her students that God lives up in heaven, that Christmas is God’s birthday and that Jesus is the boss of everybody.

Outcome: Superintendent Nathan Franklin responded to FFRF on March 12, writing that the violation had been resolved.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Christopher Line.

Kentucky

Where: East Carter and West Carter high schools.

Violation: Basketball coaches from both schools joined hands in a prayer circle with their teams and cheerleaders after a basketball game. An image of the two teams praying with their coaches was posted on the West Carter High School official Facebook page.

Outcome: Superintendent Ronnie Dotson responded on April 17, informing FFRF that the coaching staffs at both schools have been reminded that they are not permitted to organize, sponsor or participate in student initiated prayer.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Colin McNamara.

Kentucky

Where: University of Louisville.

Violation: The women’s basketball coach, Jeff Waltz, was leading his players in the Lord’s Prayer.

Outcome: On March 14, the university responded assuring FFRF that the coaches and staff had been reminded that team prayer must be voluntary and student-led.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Rebecca Markert.

Missouri

Where: Viburnum Police Department.

Violation: The department placed a bumper sticker on a government patrol car reading, “2 Chronicles 7:14.”

Outcome: The city responded on April 23 informing FFRF that the department had removed the sticker.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Patrick Elliott.

Missouri

Where: Bolivar High School.

Violation: The high school had invited Bob Holmes to give a presentation to its student body during school hours at the school. Holmes took several opportunities to preach his Christian faith to the students. He was also accompanied by representatives of the Agape Baptist Church of Stockton, Mo., who took pictures and video of the event and publicized it on the church’s Facebook page.

Outcome: “I have been assured by the superintendent that [Holmes] will not be invited back for any future engagements,” the legal counsel for the Bolivar R-1 School District recently informed FFRF.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Colin McNamara.

New Hampshire

Where: Milford High School in Milford.

Violation: A science teacher had been guiding her students in prayer.

Outcome: On April 16, Superintendent Robert Marquis reported to FFRF that the principal reiterated the seriousness of the accusation to the teacher and reminded her to refrain from having any conversation with students that involved prayer.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Colin McNamara.

North Carolina

Where: Dillard Drive Middle School in Raleigh.

Violation: The boys basketball coaches had instituted team prayers.

Outcome: An attorney representing Wake County Public Schools responded to FFRF on April 20, writing that it addressed the violation.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Patrick Elliott.

Tennessee

Where: Wayne County High School.

Violation: The high school was broadcasting prayer over its public announcement system to students during the morning announcements.

Outcome: Superintendent Marlon Davis responded to FFRF to inform it that the principal of Wayne County High School has been directed to cease the prayer broadcasts.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Christopher Line.

Texas 

Where: Houston Independent School District.

Violation: The principal of the district’s Energized for STEM Academy adopted a policy of including a bible reading during the morning announcements each day. The chosen bible passages were read directly by either the principal or another school employee over the school’s intercom.

Outcome: FFRF was informed that the practice was ended on March 20.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Sam Grover.

Texas

Where: Leadership Academy in Tyler.

Violation: Teachers within the school had established a prayer practice that was taking place each day before lunch. Allegedly, every day a teacher was selecting a student to lead the prayer or else a teacher was leading the prayer.

Outcome: On March 21, FFRF received a response from a legal representative of the school informing FFRF that the prayer practice would end.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Sam Grover.

Texas

Where: Rose Garden Elementary in Schertz.

Violation: The school had scheduled an event where the Christian missionary group Samaritan’s Foot would give shoes and socks to students and then wash the students’ feet.

Outcome: On April 3, the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD responded, informing FFRF that the missionary group would forego the washing of the feet.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Sam Grover.

Wyoming

Where: Star Valley and Green River high schools.

Violation: Football coaches from both teams knelt with students in the field and prayed for injured players.

Outcome: A legal representative of the district responded on March 14, informing FFRF that all coaches in the district were reminded to avoid involvement in team prayer.

FFRF attorney who handled the case: Christopher Line.