FFRF victories roundup (March 2020)
The Mountain View School District administration has addressed a complaint that Gideons passed out bibles to students in the district.
A concerned parent reported that Gideons were allowed into Mountain View Middle School to pass out bibles to students during class. The teacher apparently welcomed the Gideons into the class, thanked them for being there, and took a bible before letting them distribute bibles to students. The complainant reported that their child felt very uncomfortable and felt pressured to take a bible because everyone else in the class did.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Mountain View School District Brent Howard, informing him about the Gideons’ insidious operation, and reminding the district that it is unconstitutional for public school districts to permit the Gideon Society to distribute bibles as part of the public school day. Courts have uniformly held that the distribution of bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited.
Howard responded to FFRF’s complaint via email with assurances that the situation has been handled.
A poster advertising a religious camp has been removed from public school property in Fergus Falls, Minn.
A district parent reported that a teacher at Fergus Falls Middle School had been promoting and endorsing a Christian camp to his students. The camp is called Camp Castaway and is run by a Christian youth ministry called Young Life. According to the complainant, the teacher had a poster promoting the camp hanging in his classroom, and regularly mentioned to students that he is a leader at the camp.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter to Superintendent Jeff Drake, pointing out that displaying a poster for Young Life camp in a district classroom and promoting a Christian camp to students impermissibly creates the impression that the district is encouraging students to participate in this religious camp and gives the appearance that the district prefers religion over nonreligion and Christianity over other faiths.
Drake responded by email, informing FFRF that the district met with the teacher regarding the issue and that the poster has been “permanently removed from his classroom.”
A religious display has been removed recently from public high school property in Montgomery, Texas.
A district community member reported to FFRF that the receptionist at Montgomery High School had religious iconography on display at the school’s front office. Students and community members reportedly had business requiring them to approach the display, where they saw a Christian cross and a sign reading “pray, trust, wait.”
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to Montgomery ISD Superintendent Beau Rees, urging the district to cease impermissibly endorsing their personal religious beliefs through religious displays on district property.
The district sent a letter of response informing FFRF that the religious display has been removed.
“We want to assure you that the Montgomery Independent School District is committed to following the requirements of the First Amendment when it comes to the separation of church and state,” Rees wrote.
The Lovejoy school district in Allen, Texas, has reaffirmed the need for employees to remain neutral on religious matters after a district parent reported that a school board members opened an official event with a prayer.
A district parent reported to FFRF that the Board of Trustees hosted a celebration and award ceremony for students from three of the district’s elementary schools. To open the event, then-Vice President Robbin Wells led the assembled students and their families in prayer. Attendees were reportedly instructed to bow their heads, before directing a prayer to Wells’ personal god — who, she made a point of clarifying, is Jesus.
FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to Lovejoy Superintendent Michael Goddard and Board of Trustees President Chad Collins, reminding the district that it is unlawful for a school district to schedule prayer at school-sponsored events like this ceremony.
The district’s attorney responded in January to FFRF’s letters with assurances that the district “is committed to ensuring that any potentially inappropriate religious prayer sponsorship by Lovejoy ISD employees does not happen in the future.”
A sign advertising a bible release time program is no longer displayed on Bethel School District property.
A district parent reported that last year Malabon Elementary School allowed a sign promoting a bible release time program to be erected on school property.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Bethel Superintendent Chris Parra reminding the district that allowing bible release time programs to advertise to students in a public elementary school violates the Constitution. Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools.
Parra responded by email informing FFRF that the district did not provide permission for the signage to be placed on public property and was not aware of its placement. There is no sign currently advertising the bible study placed on district property.