FFRF victories (September 2021)

By Casandra Zimmerman

Cross display removed by Pennsylvania DOT

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has removed a cross display on a state-owned utility pole.

A concerned resident reported to FFRF that a Christian cross was displayed on public school property. Upon further inspection, the cross was found to be on state property and FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to the DOT insisting that a sign saying “Jesus still saves” be taken down. 

Assistant District Executive Thomas J. McClelland said the cross display had been removed from the utility pole, and the electric company deemed it a potential safety issue, as well.

Bible verse taken off jury summonses in Pa.

A resident in Fayette County, Pa., reported receiving a jury summons containing the bible verse, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”

Staff Attorney Christopher Line sent a letter to Commissioners Janet Trees and Lauren Mahoney-Yohman asking for the bible verse to be removed from all jury summonses. 

Trees responded in July and said that upon receiving the FFRF letter, the bible verse was immediately removed from all jury summonses. 

Prayers ended at Alaska school board meetings

The school board in Yupiit, Alaska, has stopped scheduling prayers at school meetings after receiving a letter from FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line.

The letter was sent to Yupit School District Superintendent Cassandra Bennett and Board President Willie Kasayulie. 

The response received was, “Cassandra is no longer with the district. They stopped including the invocation.”

Faculty member removes religious quote on email

A faculty member at Anoka Ramsey Community College in Minnesota has removed a religious quote from an email signature after being informed by FFRF that it is unconstitutional to promote personal religious beliefs in an official capacity. 

FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald wrote to President Kent Hanson, urging him to tell the faculty member to remove the bible verse: “We write to ask that this email signature be changed so as not to create the impression of university endorsement of Christianity over all other religions, or religion over nonreligion.” 

Hanson responded, assuring FFRF that the faculty member voluntarily agreed to remove the quote from the email signature.

School no longer requires standing for the pledge

An elementary school in Silver Consolidated Schools in New Mexico has stopped requiring students to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance after receiving a letter from FFRF. 

A concerned parent from Jose Barrios Elementary contacted FFRF explaining that their child was reprimanded for declining to stand for the pledge, which is recited over the school’s loudspeaker every morning. 

Staff Attorney Christopher Line sent a letter to Superintendent William Hawkins, reminding him of the many court cases ruling that forcing children to recite the pledge in school infringes upon a student’s First Amendment rights. 

The superintendent responded, saying that all principals, including Joe Barrios Elementary school, will be reminded they cannot disrespect a student’s right to freedom of speech by requiring them to stand for the pledge.

Ga. commission removes creationism module

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission has removed a module in the Georgia Educator Ethics Assessment indicating that a teacher should teach creationism regardless of their beliefs.

To obtain a license to teach in the state, a certain set of ethical standards must be tested and one question posed was about whether teaching intelligent design in schools is illegal.

FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line sent a letter to Brian Sirmans, commission chair, asking that the module be removed from the assessment.

Director of Rules Management and Educator Assessment, Anne Marie Fenton,  responded to FFRF, saying that the module has been removed.

Union Station stops playing Christian music 

Union Station in Raleigh, N.C., has stopped playing Christian music through its PA system. 

A patron of Union Station reported to FFRF that a Christian radio station was being played over the PA system. FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote a letter to Manager Richard Costello, urging him to keep in mind that the public train station serves all types of religious and nonreligious people. She also asserted that Christian music will very easily alienate patrons who are not Christian.

Costello responded to FFRF, writing that the matter was being addressed and assured that no further occurrences would take place.

Superintendent ends religious remarks

The Ohio Hi-Point Career Center superintendent has stopped including religious remarks in convocation speeches after hearing from FFRF on the matter.

FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald wrote to Superintendent Rick Smith about the religious speech he gave at the convocation ceremony, asking him to cease promoting his own beliefs and religion. McDonald reminded Smith that this case had already been settled in the Supreme Court, where “high school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students.”

Smith responded, saying he plans to avoid making religious remarks in the future.

FFRF ensures that Ga. deputy behaves lawfully

FFRF has made certain that a Georgia deputy ceases to behave in an unlawful manner.

Chief Deputy Jonathan Blackmon had been using his position within the Polk County Sheriff’s Office to promote and endorse his personal religious beliefs, and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office was regularly posting Blackmon’s religious messages on its official Facebook page. 

FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Polk County Sheriff Johnny Moats. 

“I was advised by our administration to inform you that all the Facebook posts would be removed and that there will not be any future posts placed on the sheriff’s office official page,” says a recent email from the sheriff’s office. 

School district to stop religious messages

A Georgia school district is rectifying a constitutional breach, thanks to the FFRF.

A concerned local resident informed FFRF that Graysville Elementary School gave students backpacks containing bibles and other religious materials. Children came home from school with a bible, a list of local Baptist churches, and a note asking them to “visit them and become part of the Catoosa Baptist Association family.” 

After FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Denia Reese, the district’s legal counsel replied, “The school has been instructed to physically view the inside of any bags or similar items and to remove religious endorsements before giving them to any other students.”

N.C. employee stops giving out pamphlets

After hearing from FFRF, a license plate renewal office in North Carolina told an employee to stop giving out pamphlets containing bible verses and “how-to” guides on “gaining salvation.” 

FFRF was informed by a concerned Morehead City community member about the unconstitutional religious distribution. Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to the office, asking that it ensures that religious literature no longer be distributed in its office and to remind employees of their obligation to remain neutral toward religion. 

FFRF received a response from Sandra Cannon of the Morehead City License Plate Agency, who assured FFRF that she did not condone the distribution of religious materials, told the employee to remove all religious literature from the office and promised that it would not happen again. 

School stops forcing religion on art projects

A Tallassee, Ala., art teacher has stopped an art project requiring students to participate in religious assignments, such as making students draw a picture of a cross with graphite pencils. 

A concerned Tallassee community member notified FFRF that religious indoctrination could be occurring in an art teacher’s classroom, including encouraging kids to “add a creative saying or bible verse on top” of projects. 

Staff Attorney Christopher Line’s  letter to the Superintendent of Tallassee City schools asked it to “take immediate action to ensure that (the teacher) is no longer giving religious assignments to students or in any way promoting or endorsing religion through their role as a district employee.”

In response to FFRF’s letter, the school district sent teachers a guide regarding religion in schools, and the teacher that was noted in the letter has retired.