Victories (Jan/Feb 2019)
By Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey
No more religion at Wisconsin city’s events
The city of Baraboo, Wis., affirmed its commitment to inclusion of nonreligious citizens after receiving a letter from FFRF.
In November, a shocking photo of Baraboo High School students giving a Nazi salute was circulated by the media, receiving international condemnation. In response, the city held a series of events aimed at helping the Baraboo community heal from the harm the photo caused. Local media reported that “religion played a central role” in one of the events, which were reportedly co-sponsored by local “faith leaders.”
While endorsing the anti-hate programs, FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne sent letters to the superintendent of Baraboo School District and the mayor’s office, reminding them of their constitutional obligation to keep public events secular and asking for assurance that future events would be free from government religious endorsement.
FFRF received responses from both the mayor’s office and the district, assuring that the future events were poised to remain free of religious proselytization.
FFRF’s ‘pole’ position: No teachers allowed
Teachers in a California school district have been instructed to stop promoting religious events to their students following a letter from FFRF Associate Counsel Elizabeth Cavell.
A concerned parent contacted FFRF to report that a Cosumnes Oaks High School teacher encouraged students to participate in “See You at the Pole,” an on-campus prayer event. The teacher reportedly showed a graphic promoting the prayer event on the overhead projector in his classroom.
The district sent a response to FFRF, detailing the course of action it took to remedy this violation. The district discussed the issue directly with the teacher and corrected the behavior and is taking action to “engage in a broader discussion with the entire faculty emphasizing the importance of the separation between church and state [its] constitutional obligation to refrain from promotion religion in public education.”
FFRF says away with the manger in N.Y. school
A nativity scene was removed from a New York elementary school after FFRF intervened.
A concerned parent of a Harvey C. Fenner Elementary School student in Falconer, N.Y., reported that the school had placed a nativity scene near its main entrance. A picture of the nativity scene showed it sitting by the front desk, such that any student or guest to the school had to walk by it.
FFRF Robert G. Ingersoll Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote district Superintendent Stephen Penhollow to request that the scene be removed.
FFRF received a prompt response from the superintendent informing us that the display was removed.
No more religion in school’s holiday program
A Michigan school district removed religious messaging from a holiday program, thanks to FFRF.
It was reported to FFRF that Fairview Area Schools’ kindergarten, 2nd-, 4th- and 6th-grade students were scheduled to present “Christmas is Coming,” a holiday-themed concert that contains a number of Christian elements. While the program was set to include some secular holiday music, it also was supposed to contain narration that treats the biblical story of the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem as historical fact.
“The ‘Christmas is Coming’ program contains narrative passages and songs with a distinctly devotional message that would be appropriate in a church, but not in a public school,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara to district Superintendent John Sattler.
Sattler responded quickly, saying that the religious narration had been removed from the program.
Coaches, teachers won’t pray with team anymore
A school district in Missouri has instructed coaches and teachers on their constitutional obligation to refrain from participating in student prayers.
FFRF received a complaint that coaches and teachers in a Palmyra school district joined players in an on-field prayer at a football game held on Oct. 23, 2018. Staff from both the Palmyra R-1 School District and Monroe City R-1 School District reportedly participated in the prayer.
Legal Fellow Colin McNamara sent a letter to the district requesting that all employees, including teachers and coaches, cease praying with students.
Superintendent Kirt Malone responded, affirming the district’s commitment to upholding its constitutional responsibilities to honor its students’ religious liberty.
Teachers refrain from joining religious event
An Oklahoma public school has instructed staff on their obligation to refrain from participating in religious events.
A concerned parent reported that Adams Elementary School was sponsoring a “See You at the Pole” event in September. A Facebook page for the event indicated that it was organized and promoted by a teacher at the school.
The district’s attorney sent a reply to FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line, noting that district officials took swift action to resolve the issue prior to the event.
“The school district’s superintendent Nick Migliorino has assured me that relevant individuals and groups were counseled regarding the district’s expectations that future events would not include references to the district as if the district or its employees were the sponsor of a religious events,” the attorney’s letter read. “Similarly, district resources including its contact information cannot be used to advertise non-school related activities.”
Religious favoritism taken off café’s menu
A restaurant in Virginia has discontinued offering a religious discount after FFRF alerted the establishment that it was in violation of state and federal civil rights laws.
Ms. Girlee’s Kitchen in Richmond was reportedly offering a 15-percent discount to patrons who presented a church bulletin on Sundays. This offer was advertised on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
FFRF Associate Counsel Elizabeth Cavell sent a letter to Ms. Girlee’s Kitchen’s manager, alerting them that the discount was in violation of the Civil Rights Act and the Virginia Human Rights Act as it showed favoritism based on religion.
FFRF received an uncommonly conscientious response from the restaurant’s management apologizing for unintentionally discriminating against anyone and assuring that the discount would be discontinued.
Illinois city cancels five-day religious trip
FFRF was able to get canceled an Illinois city-sponsored religious tour after receiving a report that the Parks and Recreation Department was hosting a five-day trip featuring visits to the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum, scheduled for fall 2019.
It is unconstitutional for a city government to endorse the religious mission of the Ark Encounter or the Creation Museum by organizing, sponsoring or funding a trip to them, FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne reminded Charleston, Ill., officials on Dec. 5.
By the next afternoon, City Attorney Rachael Cunningham had alerted FFRF that the event had been cancelled. The trip has been removed from the city’s website and online registration portal.
Indiana coach will no longer pray with team
An Indiana public high school will instruct its coaches to stop participating in student prayer after intervention by FFRF.
A concerned South Gibson School Corporation community member reported that Gibson Southern High School personnel prayed with student athletes after a home game on Nov. 2.
A photo posted on social media shows coaching staff for both teams, as well as other adults, bowing their heads in prayer and placing their hands on students, along with the caption, “This is how two of the best football programs in southern Indiana complete a game . . . the power of prayer — at Gibson County, Ind.”
It is unconstitutional for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer, participate in student prayers, or to otherwise promote religion to students, FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne reminded the district in his Nov. 30 letter.
On Dec. 17, FFRF received a response letter from the school district’s attorney addressing the concerns and assuring it that the district would take action to ensure that it adheres to the First Amendment in the future.
“We want to emphasize to our personnel that they may not participate [in] any such student led prayer,” the letter read. “We further plan to instruct the school personnel, including all coaches, that they may not encourage, lead, initiate, mandate, either directly or indirectly, any such student prayer.”
FFRF stops religious teaching at W.Va. school
FFRF received multiple reports that Wood County School District in West Virginia has allowed teachers and outside adults to facilitate religious instruction during the school day in its elementary schools. Representatives from a local church reportedly created bible clubs at the school and recruited students at lunch. The bible club, “Generation NXT,” openly admitted that teachers and principals “have stepped up to either start or join an NXT Club in their school!!!”
FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott sent a letter to the school superintendent William Hosaflook alerting him to the fact that adults had abused their position to proselytize within Wood County Schools.
Hosaflook directed the two schools reportedly hosting these clubs to immediately cease and desist all “Generation NXT” and other non-curricular clubs throughout the school day. The district is also undergoing the process of establishing a new policy for managing school clubs to ensure they remain in accordance with students’ constitutional rights.
FFRF cleanseth Facebook of city manager’s posts
A Florida city manager has ceased posting religious messages on the city’s social media following intervention from FFRF.
A concerned Lynn Haven resident contacted FFRF to say that City Manager Michael White regularly posted proselytizing messages to the city’s official Facebook page. One post ended with:
“I would love to leave you with this message from my Lord and Savior:
1 John 1:7
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
Similar religious messages appeared at the end of numerous posts signed by White.
FFRF Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter to the city, asking that city officials honor its residents’ First Amendment rights and stick to secular messaging on their social media pages.
FFRF received a response from the attorney representing the city and the city has since ceased including religious messages and bible quotes in their Facebook posts.
Religious exhibits moved from Ohio public space
FFRF persuaded the city of Dover, Ohio, to transfer a nativity scene and a Ten Commandments monument from public to private property owned by Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church.
A concerned area resident reported to FFRF last holiday season that each year during this time, the city of Dover was displaying religious exhibits on city property, and FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line contacted Mayor Richard Homrighausen then to let him know of the unconstitutionality of its practice.
The city had informed FFRF that Dover would no longer have such overtly Christian monuments on city property. During the holiday season, the media has been reporting on FFRF’s constitutional victory.
FFRF get church signs removed from school
FFRF has ensured an end to a North Carolina school district’s unconstitutional advertising of weekly religious services at a local church.
Southwest Elementary School in Durham, N.C., was allowing Keystone Church to place a large sign on the school’s lawn to advertise its Sunday worship services. FFRF’s local complainant reports that the sign was up at all times, including during the school week. The school had also allowed the church to store materials visible to students in the gym, including signs advertising the church.
“Southwest Elementary School may not display messages on school grounds that recruit participants to engage in religious worship,” FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott wrote to the school district’s legal counsel. “Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools.”
FFRF’s request that the school district remove all church property from school grounds during times when the church was not renting school facilities was heeded.
“The church street sign has been removed and the signs that are stored in the gym have been completely covered,” the school district’s representative replied in an email.