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

FFRF victories (Oct. 2021)

Vol. 38 No. 08 October 2021

By Casandra Zimmerman

N.D. basketball coach stops praying with team

In North Dakota, a Mott/Regent School District basketball coach will no longer participate in his team’s prayers after games. 

A district resident informed FFRF that the Mott/Regent basketball team concluded every game with a prayer, and that the coach had been a participant. 

FFRF’s Patrick O’Reilly Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald sent a letter to Superintendent Willie Thibault, informing him that a coach participating in prayer in their official capacity can equate to the school’s endorsement of religion. 

Rachel A. Bruner, representing the Mott/ Regent School District, wrote to FFRF assuring that no coach would engage in prayer with students at a public event and that all coaches will be reminded of the implications of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Texas school board ends prayers at meetings

The school board in Duncanville, Texas, has stopped opening its board meetings with prayer after FFRF got involved.

A concerned Village Tech Schools parent contacted FFRF stating that the board had been opening each meeting with a prayer, which was included on the meeting agenda. FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote a letter to Chairman Daniel Price, requesting that, instead of a prayer, a moment of silence “would allow the board’s meetings to come to order without ostracizing portion of those in attendance.” 

Joseph Hoffer, attorney for Village Tech Schools, responded to FFRF’s letter, stating that the school took immediate action in getting rid of the prayer and replacing it with “moment of inspiration.”

FFRF gets grad ceremony changes made in S.D.

Unconstitutional prayer at a South Dakota graduation and school sponsorship of baccalaureate ceremony will not happen again, the superintendent of Menno Public School District insists.

A letter from FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald was sent to Superintendent Tom Rice after a district parent contacted FFRF. The letter stated that “the school’s role in hosting the baccalaureate on school property, scheduling it immediately before graduation, and live-streaming the two events together would cause any reasonable graduating senior or parent to conclude that the district endorses the religious messages espoused at these services.”

A response from Rice included how the school would conduct graduation ceremonies in the future to not violate the Constitution and plans to move the baccalaureate ceremony somewhere other than school property. 

Invocation, benediction removed from ceremony

Invocations and benedictions are no longer included in Orville (Ohio) City School District’s graduation ceremonies.

A student’s parents notified FFRF that their daughter’s graduation ceremony contained multiple state/church violations, such as an invocation, a benediction, and a commencement address given by a local pastor, who said, among other things, “You are either heading toward God or away from God. Please remember today that prayer and faith will always point you in God’s direction. Do your best not to go in the wrong direction.”

FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald wrote in a letter to Superintendent Jon Ritchie that “The court stated that in this context, ‘Regardless of the listener’s support for, or objection to, the message, an objective . . . student will unquestionably perceive the inevitable . . . stamped with her school’s seal of approval.’” 

Ritchie responded by quoting the Board of Education’s policy manual and affirming that the ceremony will include neither benediction nor invocation. Student remarks will also be reviewed beforehand to ensure they follow the policy and the law.

Ky. school will not use ‘prayer lockers’ anymore

A Carter County middle school in Kentucky is no longer implementing a program that involved “prayer lockers,” in which students were informed of four lockers that a prayer team would check and would be “honored to take your concerns to Our Heavenly Father on your behalf!” 

FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line sent a letter to the Superintendent Ronnie Dotson. In the letter, Line asked the district to remove all prayer lockers from district property, as “the district serves a diverse student body that consists of not only Christians, but also minority religious and nonreligious students.”

Ryan Tomolonis, director of personnel, responded and said that after talking with both Dotson and the East Carter Middle School principal Aaron Baldwin, that the program would no longer be implemented.

School to train faculty on state/church issue

A school-sanctioned invocation and prayer at Loftis Middle School in Hamilton, Tenn., are not going to happen again after FFRF sent a letter to Scott Bennett, counsel for the school. 

Principal Mary Gaitlin had instructed students and parents to “bow their heads and pray,” and later a student recited a prayer that ended “in Jesus’ name.” FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald reminded Bennett in the letter that “The Supreme Court has settled this matter — graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students.” 

Bennett responded, letting FFRF know that the school will hold training for all the faculty on the separation of state and church. 

Texas school won’t post bible studies on Facebook

Amarillo Independent School District in Texas has stopped promoting bible studies and other religious activities on its Facebook page.

A concerned parent contacted FFRF to report that South Georgia Elementary School had been promoting different bible study groups on its Facebook page. FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line sent a letter to Superintendent Doug Loomis, informing him that posting bible clubs on the school’s page can amount to the promotion of religion. 

FFRF received a response from attorney Andrea Slater Gulley, who informed Line that after reviewing standards for appropriate use of district-operated social media, it was decided that the accounts would only be used “for promoting campus announcements.”