By Molly Hanson
Colorado town ends worship event support
FFRF has ended an annual unconstitutional religious event put on by a Colorado town.
Each year, the town of Gypsum was hosting a community worship event called “Praise in the Park” as part of its summer celebration, “Gypsum Daze.” The event included live performances of worship music from local area churches. The town’s website was advertising “Praise in the Park.”
In a letter sent on July 18, FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line informed Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll that the town has a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion, and that by organizing and promoting a worship event, Gypsum unlawfully entangles itself with religion. An attorney representing the town responded on Dec. 26, notifying FFRF that the town will not be participating in any future Praise in the Park programs.
Kentucky school ends religious violations
A concerned student contacted FFRF to report that students and staff at Christian County High School in Kentucky had participated in a See You at the Pole event on school property in September 2017, during which staff led students in prayer. Additionally, FFRF learned that a teacher at the school had been preaching Christianity to his students.
See You at the Pole is a Christian-oriented prayer rally organized each year around a bible verse. FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert wrote to Superintendent Mary Ann Gemmill on Nov. 7, informing her that by advertising the event, the high school created the appearance that the district unconstitutionally endorses the event’s Christian message.
Furthermore, Markert informed Gemmill that it is illegal for a teacher to proselytize to students. Public schools have a duty to ensure that their teachers are not encouraging religion in their classrooms and must not promote a particular religious viewpoint with their curriculum.
A legal representative of the district responded on Dec. 5 assuring FFRF that the violation had been discussed with the principal of the school and the teacher and would not occur again.
Religious project stopped in Ohio school
An Ohio public school will not be promoting religion in the future after a concerned parent reported to FFRF that Big Walnut High School was participating in “Operation Christmas Child,” a Christian ministry the school had been participating in for 25 years.
FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Angela Pollock on Nov. 2, informing her that the school district violated the constitution by taking part in a charity project sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse — a religious organization.
On Dec. 3, Pollock informed FFRF that, while the program had already concluded, the students and staff would brainstorm new options for the future to ensure they would be compliant with constitutional obligations to keep religion out of school.
Bible study no longer sponsored by S.C. city
It was brought to FFRF’s attention that the city of Newberry, S.C., was regularly sponsoring a Christian “Bibles and Badges” bible study. The studies were being held in city facilities and the city was listed on social media as the meeting host. The city’s official Facebook page was promoting the bible studies, which repeatedly included calls for members of the public to attend.
On Nov. 22, FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott wrote to Mayor Foster Senn, informing him that hosting and promoting a Christian bible study fails to respect the First Amendment’s mandate that the government remain religiously neutral by endorsing Christianity over all other faiths and no faith.
FFRF received a letter on Dec. 5 from Senn, in which he wrote that the Bibles and Badges group was no longer meeting and that the city Facebook site will no longer list meeting notices of the group.
FFRF quiets worship music at Indiana school
FFRF was informed that a choir director for Loogootee middle and high schools in Indiana had been using her position to promote religion to students in the school’s choir program.
The program had been performing overwhelmingly Christian music and choir students were being required to sing in various churches. FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Loogootee Community Schools Superintendent Chip Mehaffey on Nov. 10, requesting that the school district begin an immediate investigation into the violation.
Line informed Mehaffey that it was inappropriate for a public school teacher to teach songs of Christian worship and devotion in a public school setting. Additionally, Line noted, taking public school students to church strongly signals an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity.
On Nov. 10, a legal representative of the district informed FFRF that the district will not make arrangements for students to perform at churches in the future and will ensure that outside performances arranged by the school will be performed in nonreligious venues. FFRF was also informed that the choir instructor had been told to make secular song choices.