FFRF victories (May 2020)
By Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey
A menorah has been removed from Chandler Unified School District property.
An area resident reported that Perry High School had been displaying a 7-foot-tall menorah in its front office. This menorah was apparently built by a local club for Jewish teenagers who received permission from the district to display it at Perry High School. The club was also reportedly encouraging more schools in the district to erect religious displays during the next holiday season.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Camille Casteel, informing the district that it is unlawful for public schools to host religious holiday displays, thus endorsing the religious message behind the displays.
Casteel informed FFRF via email that the menorah was removed.
Delano Joint Union High School District will no longer recruit teachers as bell ringers for The Salvation Army after FFRF got involved.
A concerned community member informed FFRF that the district sent out a mass email seeking volunteers for The Salvation Army, an overtly Christian ministry. The stated mission of the Salvation Army is “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination.”
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote to Superintendent Jason Garcia, pointing out that the Salvation Army’s religious mission makes it a poor choice for a public school charity drive. Garcia informed FFRF that the district will no longer be disseminating volunteer opportunities to staff in the future.
FFRF has seen to it that Franklin County Schools will no longer advertise religious events on its social media page.
Franklin County Schools had been advertising a community-wide prayer event that takes place each Friday morning on Facebook. The event had been shared on the district’s official Facebook page, featuring the district superintendent.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Chris Forrer, urging him to discontinue this practice immediately. Using his position as superintendent to promote his personal religious beliefs to students and the community is an egregious violation of the Establishment Clause, Line pointed out.
Forrer clarified in a response post that this weekly program was not an official district event and the district will no longer be promoting the event.
The Daviess County Sheriff’s Office told FFRF it will ensure that it no longer holds fundraisers entangled with religion.
A county resident alerted FFRF to a fundraiser hosted by the sheriff’s office, which raised money for the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. According to local news, Major Barry Smith said the donations were a “thank you” to the church for hosting a sheriff’s office banquet. The sheriff’s office had also been promoting Christianity on its official Facebook page, including posts that quote the bible and instruct readers to “remember the greatest gift ever given to mankind, the birth of the Christ child.”
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Sheriff Keith Cain, asking the office to redirect its fundraising efforts to a secular charity, avoid organizing official events in houses of worship and remove all religious posts from its official Facebook page.
Daviess County Attorney Claud Porter informed FFRF in a letter of response that these concerns were addressed and that the office will “ensure all its future fundraising activities, advertisements and acknowledgments meet all constitutional requirements.”
Several violations have been remedied in the Ottoville Local School District, thanks to FFRF.
An Ottoville community member reported that the district was holding Catholic religious classes for students each morning. According to the complainant, these religious classes were taught by public school teachers in public school classrooms during the school day. A letter was reportedly sent out to district parents at the beginning of the year encouraging all students to sign up for these Catholic classes so that they do not feel left out by not being with their peers. Additionally, the complainant reported that, on Wednesdays, students were bused to the local church for Mass and that religious packets were distributed to students on school grounds in relation to these events. Finally, the local priest apparently was invited to offer a prayer every year at the graduation ceremony.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Scott Mangas, pointing out that this promotion of Christian dogma is patently unconstitutional and cannot continue in any capacity.
Mangas informed FFRF in a letter of response that the district has investigated the reported violations and “taken corrective measures.” He wrote: “Please be advised that currently, the district does not hold any Catholic religious classes, distribute religious packets, encourage students to sign up for Catholic classes, or bus students to Mass. It is the district’s intention that none of these activities will occur in the future.”
The Fort Gibson Police Department has removed several religious posts, including a bible verse on a department recruitment poster, following a response by FFRF.
The Fort Gibson Police Department Facebook page was promoting Christianity, namely, the cover photo on the page quoted from the book of Isaiah: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom Shall I send? And who will go for us?’ and I said, ‘Here am I. Send me.’” As a result, the department displayed the bible quote on a post advertising a job opening at the Fort Gibson Police Department.
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the chief of police pointing out that a recruitment post endorsing Christianity is not only unconstitutional, but could also potentially discourage members of non-Christian faith, or no faith at all, from applying to work at the department. Line urged the department to remove any religious promotion from its social media pages or other promotional materials.
In a letter of response, Fort Gibson Town Attorney Larry D. Moore informed FFRF that religious references have been removed from the department’s pages and the new chief of police assures us it will not happen again in the future.
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A religious social media post has been removed from the Valliant (Okla.) Public Schools social media page after FFRF contacted it.
An area resident reported that Valliant High School’s baseball coach posted a message on the team’s Facebook page informing the team that this year’s season would be cancelled because of the coronavirus. In the post, he explained that he teaches his players that sports should not be in their top three priorities but that their priorities should be “1. God and Faith. 2. Family. 3. Education. 4. Activities and Hobbies.” He went on to instruct all his students to spend this time “praying and educating yourself about God.” He also said that he hopes the community will grow to be more “God like.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Craig Wall, urging the district to ensure that religion is no longer being promoted in any district athletic programs.
The school’s attorney informed FFRF in a letter of response that the superintendent reviewed the post and spoke with the coach concerning the problems with this post and revised the post to remove all references to God.
After hearing from FFRF, administrators in the Lackawanna Trail School District have taken several affirmative steps to ensure that students are no longer subject to religious promotion during athletic events.
FFRF was informed that before each Lackawanna Trail High School football game, the team gathered in a prayer circle in which team coaches participated.
FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote to Superintendent Matthew Rakauskas, reminding the district that it is illegal for public school coaches to sponsor prayers, as doing so constitutes a government endorsement of religion.
The district’s attorney sent a letter of response assuring FFRF that the football coach was directed to cease leading the team in prayers. Rakauskas also issued a directive to all coaches that school-led prayer is not permitted at any school event and held a district-wide training earlier this year, where he specifically instructed staff not to lead or take part in prayer with students.
The Gilmer County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has deleted a religious social media post after receiving a letter from FFRF.
A local citizen reported that the department, in a Facebook post on March 24, stated that “tomorrow is national day of prayer . . . we need to pray really hard for our state and our nation!”
FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Director Eric Squires, requesting that the department refrain from issuing such statements in the future. By appearing to be neutral on matters of religion, FFRF pointed out, the department ensures the citizens from which the government derives its power that the department will be evenhanded regardless of their faith tradition or lack thereof.
Squires informed FFRF via email that the post has been removed and that similar messages will not be posted in the future.