FFRF victories (October 2020)

By Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey

Religious displays removed in California

Religious displays were removed from Eastside Union School District property in Lancaster, Calif., after a resident contacted FFRF.

A community member alerted FFRF that there were religious displays in several locations throughout the district, including in classrooms, staff lounges and the district office.

FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to Superintendent Joshua Lightle, pointing out the impermissibility of such religious displays on public school property.

Lightle responded to FFRF’s letter with assurances that the district has addressed these concerns.

FFRF stops religious signature on email

A Seminole County Public Schools employee in Ovideo, Fla., will no longer be using a religious email signature.

A district community member reported that an administrative secretary at Paul J. Hagerty High School was sending emails from her official district account with a religious message included in the signature line. One email she sent included the message, “Believe. When a believing person Prays, Great things happen. James 5:16.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the school’s attorney, requesting that the email signature be removed so as not to create the impression of school endorsement of religion.

The district’s attorney informed FFRF the religious signature has been removed from the staff member’s email.

No more prayer at
back-to-school meeting

No proselytizing took place at Allen Parish Schools’ (Kinder, La.) back-to-school meeting after last year’s mandatory meeting subjected attendees to prayer.

FFRF was informed that at last year’s mandatory teachers’ meeting at Kinder Middle School, a Catholic priest was allowed to speak to the group and recite a prayer before the meeting. The result was that the school created a public platform for a religious leader to spread his religious views to a captive audience of school employees.

FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent Kent Reed to ensure that no prayers were scheduled for this year’s meeting, out of respect for the religious and nonreligious diversity of the district’s staff.

Reed informed FFRF in an email response that no prayers took place at the meeting this year.

School’s religious post removed from Facebook

In Tennessee, a religious post has been removed from Alamo City School District’s social media page.

FFRF was alerted that the district had posted a graphic on its official Facebook page encouraging students and parents to “Park & Pray Everyday.” The graphic read: “Driving past a school? Pull in, park and pray for our children, teachers and staff! Driving past an administration building? Pull in, park and pray for our leaders! Driving past a bus lot? Pull in, park and pray for our bus drivers!”

FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Director of Schools Reecha Black, requesting that the district cease posting religious content on its official social media pages and that this and any related posts be taken down.

Black informed FFRF that the post has been removed.

FFRF stops prayers at DNR employee meetings

Future Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employee meetings will not include an opening prayer.

FFRF was informed that, earlier this year, several Wisconsin DNR employees were required to attend an awards ceremony sponsored by the department. During the event, official DNR chaplains led prayers and invoked Jesus Christ.

FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian wrote to DNR Secretary Preston Cole, informing the department that, as a government entity, it has a legal obligation to remain neutral toward religion. Federal courts have held that mandatory meetings for government employees cannot promote religion.

The department’s legal counsel informed FFRF in a thorough response that the DNR agrees such prayer was inappropriate. “In the future, if a member of our Chaplain Program asks to give an opening prayer at a mandatory training meeting, we will deny the request,” the response read.

Prayers discontinued in Tennessee county

Morgan County Schools has discontinued prayers at its school board meetings.

A concerned local resident reported to FFRF that the Morgan County School Board had been opening its meetings with Christian prayer.

FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Board Chairman Wade Summers, requesting that the board refrain from engaging in prayer at its meetings, as it violates the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Summer responded to FFRF via email with assurances that the request would be met and the board will no longer include prayer at its meetings.

Prayer locker removed from Texas school

A “prayer locker” has been removed from Prairiland Junior High School property.

A local resident alerted FFRF that the school had designated a locker to be used as a “prayer locker” for its students, marked with a Latin cross and a sign that reads: “Drop Prayer Here. Prayer Locker.” The purpose of this locker was apparently to encourage students to submit prayer requests to an outside religious group — Youth for Christ.

FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Jeff Ballard, informing the district that the First Amendment prohibits government entities like Prairiland Independent School District from promoting religion.

Johnson encouraged the district to remove all prayer boxes from district property. Ballard informed FFRF via email that the prayer locker has been removed.

Religious message taken off school sign in W.V.

A religious message has been removed from a Wayne County Schools (W.Va.) sign.

A local resident reported that the electronic notice board outside of Buffalo Middle School had featured the message “God will carry us” for much of the summer.

This message was accompanied by several footprints on the digital notice board, presumably in reference to the popular Christian poem “Footprints in the Sand.”

FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Superintendent Todd Alexander, pointing out the constitutional impermissibility of projecting this overtly religious message on public school grounds.

Alexander assured FFRF in an email response that the message has been removed from the sign.

Holy Smoke cartoon