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

FFRF victories (October 2019)

Vol. 36 No. 08 October 2019

By Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey

Alabama

A local church will no longer be allowed to pray with Alabama public school students during the school day, following an open records request from FFRF.

A concerned local resident reported that members of the Westside Baptist Church in Tuscumbia had been permitted to enter R.E. Thompson Intermediate School just prior to the start of the school day in order to “pray over” the school. FFRF probed the situation, requesting public records to discern whether the church was renting the school during this time, or whether district policies allow outside adults to enter district buildings prior to the start of the school day.

Tuscumbia City Schools Superintendent Darryl Aikerson responded, informing FFRF that members of a local church have provided breakfast for the elementary school and pray for the school and its students, but that this would not recur.

“Suffice it to say, we have notified the church that this will not be permitted in the future and, if they would like to continue prayers for the school and its students, it would have to be done at the church (or elsewhere, but not at the school.)”

Arkansas

A religious decoration has been removed from a Springdale Public Schools cafeteria, thanks to a complaint from FFRF.

A member of the Springdale community reported that a decorative Latin cross is displayed in the lunchroom at Linda Childers Knapp Elementary School, and apparently displayed in full view of students.

FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to Superintendent Jim Rollins, requesting that the district direct its schools to cease displaying religious iconography in recognition of the district’s constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion.

The district sent a response letter to FFRF with assurances that the cross has been removed.

Kentucky

A flyer for a religious event has been removed from the Tyner (Ky.) Elementary School website and official Facebook page after FFRF alerted district leadership of its unconstitutionality.

A community member reported that the school was advertising a release-time program sponsored by the Elgin Foundation and Annville Baptist Church. The flyer instructed students to go to their parents to get permission to attend a bible program at a nearby church. The flyer listed Tyner Elementary School’s principal, Melanie Philpot, as a contact person for the program. The flyer also advised students that they can learn more by visiting the website of the Elgin Foundation.

FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line urged the district to remove itself from all involvement with the Elgin Foundation’s bible study release-time program and Tyner Elementary School to cease promoting and endorsing the program to students.

The Jackson County Public School’s Board Attorney Larry Bryson sent a response letter, informing FFRF that the superintendent was unaware of the advertisement and it has been taken down.

Michigan

A Michigan public school district has ceased all involvement with an annual religious event after FFRF pointed out the constitutional issues with such a religious endorsement.

The Mesick High School Marching Band reportedly performed the national anthem at the 18th annual “Blessing of the Jeeps” event on May 4. The “Blessing of the Jeeps” is a Christian prayer event where Jeep enthusiasts come together “to ask for a blessing from God on the off-road season of that year.” The event apparently changes from year to year, but generally includes a sermon from a Christian minister and a group prayer. The marching band’s director Craig Jones arranged for the band to perform at the event, requested that parents volunteer to chaperone and then directed the band during its performance which took place under a large Latin cross. Jones has apparently had the band perform at the “Blessing of the Jeeps” since at least 2013.

FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to Superintendent Scott Akom, asking that the district cease any involvement with the annual “Blessing of the Jeeps,” or any other religious events.

A law firm representing the district sent a response letter informing FFRF that the Board of Education discussed the issue in a closed session.

“From this point forward, the district will cease all involvement with the annual ‘Blessing of the Jeeps’ event,” the letter reads. “The district’s band will no longer perform the national anthem at the event or handle parking for the event.”

Missouri

Several religious displays in a Missouri school district will be removed due to a letter of complaint from FFRF.

A concerned Willard Public Schools parent reported multiple constitutional violations occurring in the district. The complainant reports that Willard Central Elementary School displayed multiple posters with religious messages, including a poster instructing students to “Trust in God,” an image of hands clasped in prayer, and a poster that directly quoted the bible and instructed students to be an example of believers through their faith. Additionally, the complainant reported that a librarian at Willard Intermediate School signs her official school emails with a bible verse, “But He said to me, my grace is sufficient for you: 2 Cor 12:9.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the district’s attorney, informing it that in recognition of the district’s constitutional obligation not to promote or endorse religion, it must remove these religious displays from the elementary school and instruct district employees to refrain from including bible verses in their email signatures.

The district’s legal representation sent a letter of response to FFRF:

“In the present case, the district is willing to direct district employees to refrain from the use of scriptural passages on official district stationary. Furthermore, the display of wall hangings without context, using scriptural references will be removed.”

North Carolina

A Christian organization will no longer be given access to students in a North Carolina district during the school day following intervention from FFRF.

A Pitt County Schools parent reported that adults from WyldLife, a branch of Young Life, an organization whose goal is to “personally impact area teenagers and to point them to a relationship with a God,” was regularly recruiting students during the lunch hour at Hope Middle School. The school reportedly gave permission to adults from WyldLife to talk to students at lunchtime every Monday. One of these representatives apparently collected contact information from middle school students and attempted to contact the complainant’s child after school hours. The adults from WyldLife seemingly seek to recruit for their religious events.

FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott wrote to the district urging it to immediately stop allowing adults from WyldLife access to young, impressionable students during the school day.

The school has since ended the lunch visits. A response letter from the district’s legal representation says, “Any outside group wishing to interact with Hope Middle School students will now be required to complete a facilities use form and come before or after the instructional day or on weekends.”

Texas

A Texas district will add disclaimers of district endorsement to advertising of religious events following a complaint from FFRF.

It was reported to FFRF that, in May, Lubbock-Cooper High School advertised a baccalaureate service in its weekly newsletter. The advertisement quoted Psalm 16:8 and asked readers to “join [the school] as we worship together, thanking God for what these students have experienced and asking His blessing on that which lies ahead.” The advertisement did not include any disclaimer of district endorsement or otherwise indicate any private group responsible for the ad.

The district’s attorney responded to the letter informing FFRF that the sponsors of the baccalaureate service have the right to advertise their service in the weekly newsletter because the district allows all organizations to advertise their activities, but that a disclaimer will be added noting that the district does not sponsor the event.