FFRF victories roundup (November 2018)

By Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey

Georgia school won’t post prayer walk on Facebook

Following a letter from FFRF, the McDuffie County School System in Georgia has taken action to ensure that a prayer walk will no longer be endorsed by the school.

FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Chris Line sent a letter to the school on July 19 after a concerned area resident reported that it was promoting a religious “prayer walk” on the school’s official Facebook page.

The district’s attorney sent a response on Sept. 24 apologizing for the promotion of the event which had been, they said, “erroneously and improperly included on a Facebook post on the School’s website.”

Tennessee public utility won’t endorse religion

A Tennessee public utility department will cease endorsing religion on its utility bills, after FFRF pointed out that doing so is in violation of the Establishment Clause.

A concerned local resident contacted FFRF to report that the Russellville Whitesburg Utility District regularly printed bible quotes on its utility bills.

FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line reminded the utility in a letter that it is “tasked with serving all citizens, regardless of their personal religious beliefs,” and asked that they refrain from including bible verses on its utility bills in the future.

FFRF received a response on Sept. 21, ensuring it has, “ceased its practice of placing religious messages or other similar messages on its utility bills.”

Religious speeches not part of graduation

A Pennsylvania high school will take further measures to ensure religious speeches are no longer part of graduation ceremonies or other school-sponsored events, thanks to an FFRF letter of complaint.

FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler sent a letter to the district first in July, then again in September, calling attention to a complaint from a district resident who attended the 2018 Kiski Area High School graduation and reported that the ceremony included a prayer led by Josh Westurn of the Kiski Area Youth Network (KAYN). KAYN’s mission is “Connecting Kiski Area Students to Christ, Church, and Community.”

FFRF received a response letter from the district’s superintendent on Oct. 1 ensuring FFRF that the district will be “taking steps to vet and analyze the graduation speakers and to ensure that religious rituals are not part of the graduation ceremonies or any other school-sponsored events.”

Cross to be removed from city property in Iowa

A cross has come down from city property in Maxwell, Iowa, after FFRF brought it to the attention of city officials.

FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert submitted an open-records request in August after a local resident reported a cross was on display in Maxwell City Park. The city’s attorneys replied to the records request, ensuring that the cross was placed on city property without city approval or knowledge.

Additionally, a letter was included from Maxwell Mayor Steven Gast asking the owner of the cross display to remove the cross within seven days.

N.J. school removes event from Facebook

A New Jersey school district has removed school endorsement of a religious event after an FFRF letter of complaint.

In September, a complainant alerted FFRF to a post on the High Point Regional High School Facebook page in Sussex, N.J., promoting a national “Prayer at the Pole Day on Wednesday, Sept. 26.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler sent a letter to the district, and received a prompt response from the district superintendent that ensured the post had been removed from the school’s official Facebook page and that no district staff were sanctioned to participate in the student-led event.

School reminded it can’t allow Gideons in class

FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line reminded a Tennessee school district of its prior resolution to not allow Gideons to distribute bibles in Tullahoma schools.

A concerned parent reported that Gideons were allowed to distribute bibles in East Lincoln Elementary School. All three 5th-grade classes reportedly gathered in one classroom where a Gideon spoke to the class while a teacher handed out bibles. The Gideons reportedly told students they should keep the bibles for 60 years.

FFRF originally contacted the same district in 2012 regarding a similar issue, at which time the district assured FFRF it would advise principals to prohibit any like distribution of materials in the future.

District Superintendent Dan Lawson sent a response to FFRF, confirming the event took place and acknowledging the unconstitutionality of such an event. Lawson informed FFRF that the principal was relatively new to the position and that the district conducted a professional development activity to ensure “all current principals and all clearly understand their obligations and responsibilities in this regard.”

Kansas school takes down bible verse

FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line sent a letter to a school district in Kansas asking that they remove a bible verse from school property.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13,” the note read, affixed to a bulletin board in a classroom at Shawnee Mission North High School.

On Oct. 1, FFRF received a response from the school’s attorneys that, while the note’s messages are chosen by the students rather than the teacher, the bible quote had since been removed from the board.

Religious testimony at football camp is not OK

Athletic coaches in an Oklahoma district will be advised not to involve their students with religious camps after an FFRF complaint.

In June, a complainant reported that the Keys High School football team in Park Hill, Okla., attended a football “team” camp at Hackett High School in Arkansas. At the camp, the players were reportedly subjected to religious “testimony” by evangelist Tyson Simon, an area representative for the Western Arkansas Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

FFRF wrote to the district to remind it that its football program should not be used as a captive audience for evangelists.

The school district’s counsel sent a reply to FFRF, stating that while the coaches of the Keys School District were unaware that the intention was to include religious messages in the camp, the school district has taken measures to insure this violation will not recur.

Religious quote on sign taken down in Florida

A religious message has been removed from an elementary school office in Panama City, Fla., after a complaint from FFRF.

A concerned parent at Southport Elementary school informed FFRF of a religious quote prominently displayed in the school office.

FFRF Associate Counsel Elizabeth Cavell wrote a letter to the school, reminding it of the unconstitutionality of public school endorsement of religion, and requesting the removal of the bible quote from the main office.

The school’s attorney sent a letter letting FFRF know that the sign has been removed.

Secular alternative replaces religious picture

A religious profile picture has been substituted for a secular alternative on a Wisconsin police department’s official Facebook page after receiving an FFRF complaint letter.

FFRF Associated Counsel Sam Grover sent a letter of complaint to Rusk County Sheriff Jeffery S. Wallace asking that the department remove a cross from its profile picture.

Wallace sent a response to FFRF that the photo was in memoriam of an officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty, but nevertheless the department would remove the photo from their profile. FFRF sent a contribution to the fallen officer’s memorial fund.

No more faculty praying at flagpole   

An Illinois public school superintendent initiated an investigation into FFRF’s complaint of teacher involvement in a rally around the pole event.

A concerned FFRF member reported that a teacher at Carterville Junior High School posted a picture on social media of students and faculty praying around the school’s flagpole, along with the statement: “Our first #syatp and kickoff event of our FCA chapter at Carterville Junior High School was a HUGE success! . . . #blessed #fca #stumin.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne sent a letter reminding the district of its constitutional obligation to remain neutral on matters of religion.

Carterville CUSD #5 Superintendent Keith A. Liddell sent a response letter, thanking FFRF for bringing the matter to his attention and assuring FFRF that the Carterville School District, like FFRF, “takes the freedoms empowered by the First Amendment very seriously.”

‘God bless’ sign taken down in New York

A sign with the phrase “God Bless Our Veterans” has been removed from public property in New York, thanks to an FFRF letter.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor sent a letter in July to Mayor Michael J. Newhard of Warwick, N.Y., after a local resident reported that the religious sign was placed on village property.

“FFRF has no objection to honoring our veterans — in fact, over 24 percent of our members are either active duty military or veterans,” Gaylor wrote in the letter. “Our objection is to the endorsement of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.”

FFRF asked that the sign be removed and replaced with a message that is inclusive of all veterans, such as “Support Our Veterans.” The mayor sent a response on Oct. 10 informing FFRF that the sign had come down.