FFRF Victories (June/July 2019)
By Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey
FFRF’s intervention formalized an end to a teacher’s imposition of religion on her elementary school students in Birmingham.
A concerned parent had informed FFRF that a first-grade teacher at Norwood Elementary School was leading her students in prayer every day before lunch. The teacher was reportedly making her young students imbibe bible verses and Christian songs, including a song about “the blood of Jesus.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Lisa Herring about the constitutional problem.
FFRF recently received communication from the district’s attorney that due to the organization’s intervention, the Birmingham school district has instituted a formal policy on the matter. (The teacher had been verbally warned after an initial parent complaint.)
A religious sign was removed from a courthouse window at the Benton District courthouse following FFRF’s complaint.
A Benton community member reported that a sign hung in the window that read: “WE ALL FAIL. WE ALL FALL. BUT JESUS PICKS US UP EACH TIME AND REMINDS US WHO WE ARE.” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district court asking that it remove the exclusionary display.
The court swiftly responded, confirming the sign was removed immediately upon receipt of FFRF’s letter.
A concerned Clovis Unified School District parent reported that the district was opening its board meetings with prayer. According to the parent, board meeting agendas included an “invocation” which is “invariably a Christian prayer,” led by a board member.
FFRF Associate Counsel Liz Cavell wrote to the district, alerting it to the unconstitutionality of public school religious endorsement.
District Superintendent Eimear O’Farrell responded to FFRF: “The district is undertaking actions to comply with applicable laws with respect to the concern that was raised in your letter” and did not pray at a meeting in May.
A large bible verse painting has been removed from Muroc Joint Unified School District property after FFRF intervened.
A concerned parent reported that Desert Junior/Senior High School had a bible verse painted on a retaining wall near the main office. The verse cited was Hebrews 13:20-21.
Legal Fellow Chris Line urged the district to remove the display immediately, since it constituted an impermissible government endorsement of religion..
Superintendent Kevin D. Cordes recently informed FFRF that it has removed the bible verse painting.
Pueblo City Schools has been instructed to cease religious activities as part of its football program after insistence by FFRF.
A concerned local resident reported that the East High School football team has a chaplain. An article published in the Pueblo Chieftain published last November called, “Faith and football” reported that “Dr. Mike DeRose serves as chaplain for the school’s football team.”
The night before each game, the team reportedly gathers for dinner and a religious message was being delivered by DeRose or another religious speaker. Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district urging it to take immediate action to end any official chaplaincy program at East High School and to ensure that all coaches be reminded that they may not promote religion while acting in their official capacity, nor enlist an outside adult to do the same.
“The assistant superintendent instructed the East High football program to cease all activities following the pre-game dinner, that is, FCA activities, and motivational speakers, secular or otherwise,” the school district’s attorney responded to the letter.
Davis Elementary School in Marietta has removed a religious advertisement from the front entrance from the school after FFRF sent a letter of complaint.
A Cobb County School District parent reported that the school was promoting a religious organization called “RISE UP!” by displaying a sign for the group on school property.
RISE UP! is a Christian organization where “elementary students are their families can learn about God’s unconditional love and can strengthen their character by applying Biblical principles to their lives.”
Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, alerting him to the unconstitutionality of promoting religious messages on school grounds. The district’s attorney responded with assurances that the sign is no longer on display in front of the elementary school.
The Sedgwick County Board of Commissioners has agreed to let an atheist give a secular invocation following FFRF’s challenge to its original denial of the request.
A Sedgwick County resident told FFRF he had been denied the opportunity to present an invocation before the Board of County Commissioners because he is an atheist and the request to speak was “not made on behalf of a religious group.”
Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the board, pointing out that while the practice of government prayer itself is divisive and ill-advised, if the board allows religious groups to deliver a prayer it is unconstitutional to bar atheists from doing the same.
The board responded, indicating that they will now allow our secular complainant to deliver a nonreligious address before the Board of County Commissioners.
Woodson School District #366 has removed a religious advertisement from its social media page after FFRF’s intervention.
A district parent alerted FFRF to an advertisement for a religious baccalaureate event taking place at the Toronto Cowboy Church on the district’s official Facebook page. Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district pointing out the unconstitutionality of such religious promotion.
The district confirmed it has since removed the post.
A concerned parent reported that a biology teacher at Daviess County High School was regularly promoting Christianity to students, including showing videos of sermons in class. At least one of these videos, reviewed by FFRF, showed a bloodied Jesus hanging on the cross while a pastor, Louie Giglio, delivered a sermon in which he attributes an image of the distant galaxy photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope directly to God. (See page 20 for story from the student’s perspective.)
Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to the district, alerting it to this egregious constitutional violation and to submit an open record request for any records pertaining to this violation.
Upon receiving the thorough open records response detailing the school’s internal investigation of the incident, FFRF has confirmed that appropriate action was taken to reprimand the teacher and to ensure that this sort of violation will not reoccur.
Hamilton Community Schools will make changes to its current protocol regarding a religious baccalaureate program after FFRF intervention.
A district parent informed FFRF that Hamilton Community Schools sponsored and promoted a baccalaureate ceremony for graduating seniors held at a local church. The event was listed in the “senior itinerary,” which was distributed to all seniors during a class meeting. The senior itinerary also listed a rehearsal for the baccalaureate during instructional time. Students were presumed to be attending the baccalaureate ceremony unless they “opted-out” by signing their name on a list in the main office or emailing the school secretary.
Furthermore, Hamilton High School evidently shared students’ names and home addresses with the church for the purpose of mailing baccalaureate invitations. These invitations, which bear the Hamilton High School official logo, invite the student and their family to attend a ceremony held “in your honor and to God’s glory.” Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to the district to request that it completely dissociate itself from the baccalaureate.
The district’s attorney confirmed the district addressed these concerns. The superintendent further notified the ministry that they would need to find an alternative location for the practice and students would not be excused from class in order to participate in the rehearsal. Significantly, the district will also no longer automatically provide the ministry with the names of addresses of graduating seniors.
Fulda High School’s decided, after hearing from FFRF, to forego prayer at high school graduation this year in favor of a valedictorian speech and a nonreligious moment of silence.
A concerned Fulda Independent School District community member reported to FFRF that the 2019 high school graduation ceremony was set to open and close with a prayer. This had reportedly been a regular practice at Fulda High School graduations for years.
FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to Superintendent Loy Woelber to ensure that religious rituals are no longer a part of school-sponsored events. The school’s principal immediately responded, informing FFRF that the school has voted to have the valedictorian deliver a speech this year and hold a moment of silence asking those in attendance to take a moment to reflect on the past and future instead of prayer.
The city of New Hope is making changes to an annual prayer breakfast, addressing concerns brought to light by FFRF.
A New Hope resident reported that each year the city hosts a “Community Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast.” The event was reportedly sponsored by the city of New Hope. The city sells tickets for this event and the event is reportedly advertised on the city’s official website. The city’s mayor also reportedly participated in the event in his official capacity. The complainant reported that New Hope also displays a religious message “America, God shed his grace on thee” above the main desk of its city hall building.
Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Mayor Kathy Hemken, highlighting the constitutional concern of the city’s hosting and coordination of a prayer breakfast.
The city confirmed that the religious sign has been removed and, with regard to the prayer breakfast, “any future prayer breakfasts will be conducted in compliance with the guidelines outlined in the Newman case.” Those guidelines restrict the use of city funds, employees, resources, and supplies in facilitating the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast.
The Animas Public Schools high school basketball coach who was violating the Constitution resigned after FFRF alerted the school district.
A concerned community member reported to FFRF that the head coach of the Animas High School boys basketball team was promoting religion to his team. Before a playoff game on Feb. 27, the coach had his players wear T-shirts that said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The coach was also reportedly holding bible studies with players.
FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Loren Cushman.
Cushman acknowledged in his response that FFRF’s concerns were real and informed FFRF that the coach had resigned. And he added, “We will address each of the areas of concern during our staff in-service training at the start of the next school year.”
The Clymer Central School District agreed to drop baccalaureate services and prayers at commencements after FFRF asked it to end the unconstitutional practices.
A concerned Clymer resident contacted FFRF to report that the district had been sponsoring an annual baccalaureate service for graduating seniors held at Clymer Central School. Last year, a district music teacher led the prelude and recessional at the service, which also had messages from three different pastors, scripture reading, a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, and a distribution of bibles by the Gideons. Last year’s senior commencement ceremony also opened and closed with prayer.
FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to Superintendent Ed Bailey.
“Clymer CSD will not be hosting baccalaureate service this year nor will we open or close our commencement ceremony with prayer,” Bailey responded in an email.
Alexander County Schools has ceased playing religious music over the school loudspeaker following a letter of complaint.
A parent of a student at Bethlehem Elementary School said that employees regularly play Christian radio stations over the loudspeaker before school begins each day.
Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district urging it to discontinue the practice of proselytizing to students. “Students arriving at school are a captive audience and cannot avoid listening to broadcasts played outside of the school and in the school’s office,” Line wrote to the district.
Superintendent Jennifer Hefner assured that only a classical music station will play over the loudspeaker from now on and that she will continue to monitor the situation going forward.
A North Canton City Schools high school will move a religious club outside of school hours due to a complaint from FFRF.
A concerned student has reported that outside preachers regularly attend meetings and preach Christianity to students during the school day as part of Anchored, a student religious club at Hoover High School. The complainant reported that Anchored is the only student club that was meeting during the day and that no staff member is present during the meeting.
The school’s attorney responded to the letter of complaint, informing FFRF that “the principal will instruct the students that non-school persons may not regularly attend the club.” While the meetings do take place during the day, it is during non-instructional time during which no other groups have requested to meet. However, the club will be advised to move its meetings to before or after school.
Federal Hocking Local Schools has taken action to ensure its web-filtering service is not unconstitutionally blocking websites of minority religious groups.
A district student reported that Federal Hocking Local Schools had been violating the rights of its students by blocking the websites of minority religious groups like the Satanic Temple, while allowing access to the websites of mainstream religious groups, including Christianity and Judaism. The district reportedly blocked these websites because they contain “mature” content, despite the fact that even a cursory review of these websites shows that the content of these websites is not “mature.” The content simply espoused views different than those contained on mainstream religious websites.
Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district and the district’s attorney notified FFRF that the district has worked with its web-filtering service to enable access to the Satanic Temple’s website.
The Lemonade House Grille has discontinued a social media promotion for a free appetizer for presenting a church bulletin.
Offering a church bulletin discount violates the federal Civil Rights Act as well as Oklahoma civil rights law, Associate Counsel Liz Cavell pointed out to the restaurant owner.
The church bulletin promotion has been removed from the restaurant’s Facebook page and all other advertised promotions are secular and available to all customers.
The Blount County Public Library has removed religious iconography from its website.
The complainant reported that the library had three Latin crosses on its website and on a computer inside of the library used to search its catalog. Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the library’s director about the violation.
Library Director K.C. Williams responded to FFRF’s complaint. “Once I became aware of the situation, immediate action was taken to rectify it,” Williams wrote. “It is my intent to ensure that there are no further lapses.”
Forney Independent School District is taking several positive steps to remedy its unconstitutional partnership with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).
A community member reported that the district partnered with FCA, a private religious organization, to host a jointly-sponsored athletic event called the “FCA Unity Bowl.”
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to the district and the district’s attorney reported that the district will take numerous steps to ensure there is no longer the appearance of district promotion of the FCA.
Multiple religious displays were removed from the inmate law library at Coffeewood Correctional Facility in Mitchells due to a complaint from FFRF.
Multiple concerned inmates told FFRF that the facility had erected a large Christian-themed display in the law library, including a prominent Ten Commandments display and a large poster detailing the biblical account of the history of ancient Israel. Additionally, this display apparently sat adjacent to a display case containing various scripture quotes and a sign that read, “Jesus in me loves you.”
Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to Warden Ivan Gilmore, urging that the displays be taken down and that common areas in the prison not be used to endorse religion. The complainants have confirmed that the display was removed following the receipt of FFRF’s letter.
Four crosses in Marshall have been removed from state property after FFRF drew attention to the unconstitutionality of such a display.
A Marshall resident reported that there was a roadside memorial consisting of four illuminated Latin crosses on I-94. These crosses had reportedly been up for more than a year, while other non-religious memorials had been removed in a much shorter time frame.
Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, urging it to remove these crosses as the display constituted an unconstitutional endorsement of religion as well as a violation of DOT policy regarding roadside memorials.
DOT Chief Operations Engineer John Steiner assured FFRF in a response letter that the cross display has been removed and returned to its owners.
Dodgeland School District has revamped its field trip form and policies after FFRF alerted officials to religious language.
A concerned community member contacted FFRF to report that students and parents were asked to sign a religious statement in a list of rules related to Dodgeland Middle School’s field trip to Washington, D.C., in mid-April. The only rule written in bold and italicized text stated, “REMEMBER AT ALL TIMES, AND IN ALL PLACES THAT YOU ARE REPRESENTING OUR GOD AND SAVIOR . . .” The district reportedly required students and parents to sign this document.
FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to district Superintendent Annette Thompson.
The Dodgeland School District has acknowledged its lapse and pledged to FFRF that a principal or an associate principal will review such documents from now on. It has also promised to draw up a new form that will not have any religious references.