Victories (Jan/Feb 2022)

By Casandra Zimmerman

District won’t use email to promote religion

School district employees in Socorro, Texas, are no longer able to promote their religion through emails to staff, students and families after receiving a letter from FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald.

A concerned district employee informed FFRF that several district employees have promoted religion in emails that have been sent by representatives of the HR department.

Superintendent Marta Carmona responded by saying that the district will address the employees and direct that they refrain from using district-provided email systems to promote religion.

Missouri choir director sings a different tune 

A Willard (Mo.) High School choir director has stopped posting religious material on a Facebook group page he administers for Willard High School Choirs and can no longer use it.

“To avoid further Establishment Clause concerns, school employees must understand the limits of what they may post on social media when they do so in their official capacities,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman. 

The choir director was instructed that school messages cannot be posted on his private social media account and that it should not be an issue going forward.

Religious rituals won’t be part of school events

A concerned local community member reported to FFRF that cadets from the JROTC program at Sonora High School in California participated in a religious flag-folding ceremony as part of a Veterans Day event held in La Habra. The community member reported that as the cadets folded the flag, their JROTC instructor narrated using strong religious language: “The flag-folding ceremony represents the same religious principles on which our great country was originally founded.”

After FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Steve McLaughlin, the district agreed to inform staff members that religious rituals are not to be included as part of school activities.

Church trailers removed from school parking lot

Church trailers have been removed from a Virginia public high school after FFRF intervened.

FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter to Loudoun County Public Schools legal counsel after a concerned community member reported that the district allows Terraforma Church, a church currently operating out of Independence High School, to store multiple trailers in the school’s parking lot at all times.

In a response from the school’s legal counsel, FFRF was informed that the trailers were planned to be removed from the Independence High School parking lot.

Principal removes bible quote from email signature

A concerned Midwood High School (N.Y.) community member reported that Principal Michael McDonnell had been using a religious email signature in his official communications. McDonell included a bible verse that read, “The truth shall set you free, John 8:32” in his official email signature.

FFRF Staff Attorney Chris line asked that the school take the appropriate steps to ensure that employees, including McDonnell, are aware of their constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion while acting in their official capacity.

McDonnell had immediately removed the quote from his signature upon receiving FFRF’s letter.

‘See You at the Pole’ no longer being held

A Georgia Elementary school is no longer holding any “See You at the Pole” events after receiving a letter from FFRF educating them as to why it goes against the Establishment Clause.

A concerned Walker County District parent has reported that Cherokee Ridge Elementary School hosted and promoted a “See You at the Pole” event in September 2021. 

FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote in a letter to the district that it cannot organize, promote or endorse religious events like See You at the Pole and that any such events held at a public school must be entirely student-initiated and student-run with no participation from staff members or outside adults.

Superintendent Damon Raines said the situation was immediately addressed with the administration.

Wisconsin district addresses violation 

A lunchtime proselytization has stopped after FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote a letter to the Racine School District in Wisconsin.

A concerned parent of a student at Starbuck Middle School contacted FFRF to report that an adult, believed to be a teacher, was recruiting for a school religious club during lunchtime in the school cafeteria.

The superintendent assured FFRF that appropriate follow-up steps will be taken to ensure that the volunteer has a clear understanding that he cannot continue proselytizing.

Christian radio no longer being played at school

After receiving a letter from FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line, the Harrison County School District in West Virginia has stopped playing Christian worship music in its hallways.

A concerned district employee reported that Robert C. Byrd High School played Christian worship music in its main hallway at all times. The letter to Superintendent Dora Stutler reminded the district that allowing such a practice is a violation of the Establishment Clause.

In a response to FFRF’s letter, Stutler reported that radio has been removed and the issue had been resolved.

Pastor no longer at school district’s convocation

A Texas school district is no longer employing a Christian pastor for its annual convocation after FFRF got involved.

In a letter to Venus (Texas) ISD, FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line explained to Superintendent James Hopper that while individuals are certainly free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their way, calling upon district employees to participate in prayer is coercive and beyond the scope of a secular employer.

In a call from Hopper, he informed FFRF that the prayers from the Christian pastor will not happen again.

University stops endorsing religion at games

Georgia Southern University has agreed to stop promoting and endorsing Christianity at its football games.

An area resident previously reported that Georgia Southern University was promoting and endorsing Christianity and that GSU appeared to be sponsoring a religious event called “Sermon on the Court,” and that the university allows an outside religious leader to act as an official chaplain for its football team. 

FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Kyle Marrero, president of GSU, regarding the matter.

In a response from the university’s legal counsel, FFRF was assured that “the institution has taken appropriate follow-up action . . . to ensure that this type of unauthorized activity does not take place again.”

Coach won’t hold pregame devotionals

Ouachita Parish School District in Louisiana has stopped a head coach from giving a pregame devotional after a letter was sent by FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line. 

A concerned district community member informed FFRF that Richwood High School’s head football coach had offered a “pregame devotional at Richwood High School,” and that “an invitation to know Jesus as Lord and Savior,” appeared on the Northeast Louisana’s FCA’s Facebook page. 

In a response from the school’s legal counsel, the school board will seek to comply with its obligations under the First Amendment, while at the same time acknowledging the individual religious freedoms of its students. 

Tennessee district stops Christian proselytization

A Tennessee school has stopped a Christian fellowship group from proselytizing its baseball players after receiving a letter from FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heinema.

Upper Cumberland Fellowship of Christian Athletes was being given special access to Warren County Schools baseball team, handing out bibles and talking with the players. 

In response from the legal counsel for the school district, FFRF was notified that the school had taken the necessary steps to stop all constitutional violations.

Religious info removed from school giveaways 

An Ohio school district has stopped giving out religious materials after FFRF’s intervention. 

The school had originally sent out emails to parents at Hazelwood Junior High School that turkey dinners were provided by Graceland Baptist Church. The email listed the items to be included in the giveaway, including “religious materials.

FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote a letter to the distinct asking it to ensure that the turkey dinner giveaway is completely secular.

The school’s legal representative responded by ensuring FFRF that the religious materials would be removed before getting handed out in the giveaway.

FFRF scores win over Iowa school district

FFRF has stopped an Iowa public school coach from propagating a Christian message to his football players.

FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote to the school district informing Pella Community School District that religious promotion by the Pella Middle School football coach violates the school’s obligation to remain neutral while acting in official capacities. 

In a response from the school district, FFRF was informed that the principal met with the coach to ensure that he will no longer be encouraging or promoting religion. The school district will also consider staff training, if needed, in the future.