FFRF victories (Sept. 2018)
By Paul Epland
No more ‘testimony’ at Oklahoma football camp
FFRF reminded an Oklahoma public school that proselytizing to student athletes is unconstitutional. On July 2, FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to Gore Public Schools Superintendent Lucky McCrary to request that the district not allow its football program members to be used as a captive audience for evangelists. On June 5, Gore High School football players had attended a camp that included a religious “testimony” by evangelist Tyson Simon, an area representative for the Western Arkansas Fellowship of Christian Athletes. According to the Resident Press, “Simon was the vehicle, and God was definitely the focus, the message and the reason” for the high school football team camp at Hackett High School in Arkansas.
McCrary wrote to FFRF on July 7 to confirm that he has “informed our coach that any time a situation arises that may infringe upon any student’s rights, he has authority to remove our students from the situation.”
Texas school stops religious art project
FFRF has ensured that one Texas school district will no longer ask students to decorate their own school with crosses. A concerned district community member contacted FFRF to report that students at West Oso High School appear to have been given an assignment through their art class related to constructing and decorating a Christian cross. FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to West Oso Superintendent Conrado Garcia to notify the district of this constitutional violation.
On July 18, legal representative for the district, Tony Resendez, wrote to FFRF to confirm that “the district has reviewed and analyzed the matter and will handle it,” including by “providing training on this topic to all district administrators to ensure that the laws regarding religion and school are being followed.”
Ohio police won’t endorse religious service
FFRF has ensured the Columbus Division of Police (CDP) will no longer request department employees attend religious worship services. A concerned employee of the Ohio police department contacted FFRF to report that Deputy Chief Michael Woods emailed all CDP personnel requesting that CDP employees attend a religious worship service at St. Paul’s Church scheduled to take place on June 24. The email said, “As a sign of our appreciation please join our Central Ohio law enforcement family at the June 24, 10:30 Mass.” The email also requested a “strong showing of uniformed officers and a full collection plate.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein about the constitutional violation. On July 5, Jeff Furbee, legal counsel for the CPD, called FFRF to confirm that CDP chief sent out a clarifying email letting employees know that the church service is a strictly off-duty event, and that attendance was not required.
Cross removed from sign in California
FFRF has taken action to keep religion out of a California city’s public park. A concerned resident of Avalon, Calif., notified FFRF that the city had placed a sign on display in Avalon Veterans Memorial Park that features a Latin cross. On June 11, FFRF Associate Council Elizabeth Cavell wrote to Avalon City Attorney Scott Campbell to ask the city to remove the cross.
On July 6, Gregg Kettles, legal representative for Avalon, called to notify FFRF that the city recognizes that they cannot maintain a cross on city property and will be removing the Latin cross from the sign. On July 13, Kettles followed up by providing FFRF with a photograph of the sign after the cross had been removed.
Tennessee school ends baccalaureate promotion
FFRF has reminded a Tennessee public school that promoting religious services to students is unconstitutional. A concerned area resident of Roane County, Tenn., notified FFRF that Roane County Schools advertises and promotes baccalaureate services for all of its high schools. On May 17, FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to Roane County Director of Schools Leah Rice Watkins to stop the district from sponsoring or advertising baccalaureate programs for its students.
On July 18, Interim Director of Schools Gary Aytes wrote to FFRF explaining that a new employee “was unaware of the rules for promoting this activity” and “now knows not to post on our district calendar.”
Louisiana sheriff removes commandments display
A resident of Washington Parish, La., contacted FFRF to report an unconstitutional Ten Commandments display in the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office reportedly displayed the commandments on two, hand carved wooden tablets in the waiting area. On Jan. 22, FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick C. Elliott wrote to a representative for the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office, Rachel Catalanotto, pointing out that Ten Commandments displays violate the Establishment Clause, and that by placing the display in its office, the Washington Parish is unmistakably issuing an endorsement of religion. FFRF requested the Sheriff’s Office remove the display.
On July 23, after FFRF sent several follow-up letters, Catalinotto called FFRF and said, “I’m sure your concerned local complainant informed you that the Ten Commandments have been removed.”
Wisconsin school to stop hosting Christian speaker
A concerned local resident contacted FFRF to report that Chequamegon High School, Wis., hosted motivational speaker Kristen Anderson during the school day on March 12. FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to Superintendent Mark Weddig to report that Anderson’s presentation on mental health culminated in a religious message: that students suffering from depression should seek a “connection to God.”
Weddig responded on July 19, writing that “Chequamegon School District actively supports the Constitution in regard to not endorsing religious messages. Regarding the future, I will instruct my leadership team to do whatever is prudent to avoid an occurrence such as the one you described and was reported in the newspaper.”
South Carolina school moves prayer breakfast
FFRF has stopped a South Carolina public school district from hosting prayer services on school grounds. Clinton High School and Clinton Middle School in the Laurens County School District recently hosted a week-long event titled, “40th Annual Community Prayer Breakfast.” The religious programming at these breakfasts, which took place before school, involved numerous outside adult speakers and attendees.
The Laurens County School District appears to have been directly involved in putting on these religious events. On May 17, FFRF Senior Council Patrick Elliott wrote to Superintendent David O’Shields to request that the district refrain from coordinating or permitting similar community-wide religious programs during the school day.
On July 30, O’Shields responded to FFRF saying, “It was decided to move the prayer breakfast off school grounds to a local church in order to maintain separation of church and state.”
cancels prayer service
FFRF has put a stop to a community prayer service planned on Randolph County, Ala., school system grounds. Woodland High School and Woodland Elementary School planned on hosting a “community prayer service” on Aug. 5. A Facebook post by a counselor at Woodland High School invited all “parents, students and community members” to attend this religious event.
On July 20, FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to Superintendent John Jacobs to ensure that this prayer service is privately organized, not endorsed by the school district, and that the district was not providing any preferential treatment to the event’s organizers.
On July 31, Donald Sweeney, attorney for Randolph County Schools, wrote to FFRF to announce that, “The community prayer meeting . . . will not be held at the Woodland Schools.”
Georgia removes cross from county property
FFRF has ensured the removal of a Latin cross display from the property of Catoosa County (Ga.) Fire Station No. 3. According to a complaint, a large cross was displayed on county property off of Highway US-41. The cross was clearly visible from the highway and included a Christian message about being saved. On June 27, FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert wrote to the county, asking it to remove the cross immediately and to ensure no religious iconography or messages are displayed on public property.
On Aug. 6, legal representative for the county, C. Chad Young, wrote to FFRF to confirm that “Catoosa County is the owner of the tract of land in question” and that “based upon these findings, the cross has been removed from the county’s property.”