New Legal Successes
On behalf of an area taxpayer, Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor sent a letter to the police chief of the police department in Gulfport, Miss., urging him to immediately disassociate from the "Go Haiti" Baptist ministry project, which it publicly endorsed on its Web site. The mission of "Go Haiti" is to raise at least $20,000 to rebuild a Baptist church in Haiti (a country where a vast majority of residents identify as Roman Catholic). Gaylor noted that while the ministry "is free to choose to fundraise to rebuild a church in the face of this national disaster, a disaster leaving millions of people starving, exposed and homeless, the Gulfport Police Department absolutely is forbidden to raise funds for or otherwise publicize fundraising for this Baptist church project, or for any other Christian ministry to Haiti." The Foundation called the police department's public endorsement irresponsible and inappropriate. The same day he received Gaylor's complaint, the chief of police phoned the Foundation to report he removed the "Go Haiti" links from the police department's Web site.
An FFRF member alerted the Foundation to a violation involving a public high school football coach in Farrell, Pa., regularly gathering players for prayers before each game. FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca S. Markert wrote a letter (Jan. 26, 2010) to the Farrell Area School District superintendent pointing out that "the federal courts have struck down prayer in public schools because it constitutes a government endorsement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment." Prayers at football games "would lead anyone participating on the team or in attendance to believe that the Farrell Area School District is endorsing religion, and specifically, in this case, Christianity," the letter said, and requested a full investigation. The district superintendent responded with a letter (Feb. 2), stating: "In reviewing this issue, it appears that these coaches crossed the line with regard to state/church behaviors." The superintendent met with the high school principal and athletic director, advising them and circulating a memo among the school's staff, regarding appropriate and acceptable behaviors with state/church issues. The letter thanked FFRF for bringing the issue to the district's attention and agreed to "stay alert with regard to behaviors which might be deemed to be violations of state/church relations."
A district parent and taxpayer alerted the Foundation to a praying coach at Maconaquah Middle School in Bunker Hill, Ind. According to the parent, the 7th grade boys basketball coach regularly prayed with the players. FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert (then Kratz) sent a letter to the Maconaquah School Corporation asking it to immediately investigate and end this unconstitutional practice. "The Supreme Court has continually struck down formal and teacher—or school-led prayer in public schools. The prayers before the Maconaquah Middle School's basketball games and practices constitute an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion," the letter said. The coach's conduct, the letter added, "crosses the line because he endorses and promotes his religion when acting in his official capacity as a school district employee." The Superintendent distributed directives to all coaches and other extracurricular staff forbidding them "from leading prayer at any school function as directed by the Supreme Court of the United States of America."
On behalf of two families with young children in the school district, FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca S. Markert (then Kratz) wrote a letter of complaint in August 2009 to Lake Local School District in Uniontown, Ohio, pointing out its mission statement, which included valuing belief in God, was unconstitutional. The mission statement, which appeared on district publications and the district's website, violated the First Amendment because it imposed religious sentiments on students and their parents within the school district, FFRF charged. Markert noted: "This value clearly demonstrates that the school not only prefers religion over non-religion but also religious students over non-religious students. This character trait also offends the fifteen percent of the U.S. population that is non-religious. The School District's promotion of religion over non-religion impermissibly turns any non-believing Lake Local School student, parent, teacher, or staff member into an outsider." The School Board unanimously approved a revised "mission statement" on Dec. 14, which deleted the inappropriate reference. According to a local paper, The Canton Repository, "legal precedent clearly was against the mission statement in its unchanged form. Board members and the superintendent said their legal advisers told them there is no way the district could win a lawsuit allowing the reference to God in the mission statement."
Read FFRF's letter (Aug. 26)
Read the Aug. 26, 2009 press release and action alert
Read the Dec. 14, 2009 Canton Repository article
Read Dec. 18, 2009 press release
FFRF wrote a letter to the Petoskey School District in Michigan urging it to reconsider a proposal to change its "Winter Break" session to "Christmas Break." FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Kratz, in her letter to the district, wrote: "Changing the wording to Christmas break so that Petoskey school children know that 'we are a Christian nation' violates the most basic and fundamental principles of Establishment Clause jurisprudence. The proposal originated from an inflammatory e-mail to the district from school board treasurer, Jack Waldvogel. Either make the change voluntarily, Waldvogel said, "or I will make a motion to change it at the NEXT Board meeting, and raise such a stink, and bring out every redneck Christian Conservative north of Clare, to compel the District to do so." The e-mail also said: "Our children need to know we are a Christian nation and taking all reference to a higher being out of our educational vocabulary is wrong." The Foundation's letter to the district noted that the board's action illegally advances religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all other faiths: "The previous wording reflected an enlightened respect and viewpoint for the community's diverse population and the District should restore its original wording on the school calendar." After the Foundation's urging, the school board voted to not move forward with the change.
On behalf of an area taxpayer and district resident, Foundation Staff Attorney Rebecca S. Markert (then Kratz) wrote a letter and open records request to the superintendent of the Indianapolis Public School District challenging its distribution of fliers promoting "Safe Summer Youth Fest," sponsored by East 91st Christian Church, and inviting students and their families to sign up for Vacation Bible School. Markert's letter said the distribution of religious fliers by public schools, in addition to violating federal law, is "entanglement between religion and government officials" and therefore "unseemly and inappropriate." Legal counsel for the district responded with a Dec. 4 letter, stating that IPS flier distribution policy requires materials which are non-secular to involve positive student opportunities and undergo an approval process. The letter affirmed that the "Youth Fest" fliers underwent this procedure, but agreed that it should have been rejected in the screening process.
Read FFRF's Aug. 7, 2009 letter
Read the IPS Dec. 4, 2009 response
An employee of Louisiana's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) sent a mass e-mail on May 7, 2009, via the statewide e-mail system to invite government employees to attend a National Day of Prayer observance—specifically to "pray for our state and our country"—at the DEQ headquarters. The e-mail included a "God bless you," and stated that DEQ administration cooperated in hosting the event at the DEQ building. FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca S. Markert (then Kratz) wrote a letter to DEQ Secretary Harold Leggett, who authorized the prayer event, pointing out that it was "grossly illegal and inappropriate for DEQ to be hosting, organizing, supporting or otherwise promoting a patently religious event." Markert cited Establishment Clause concerns and noted that the misuse of the government e-mail system violated DEQ's own Computer System Usage Policy, which requires the computer "be used primarily for official business purposes in furtherance of the DEQ agency mission." The Office of the Secretary responded with a letter, which noted, "The Department has warned its employees against the unauthorized use of state equipment or facilities for private purposes. . . . We appreciate the opportunity to respond to this important issue of public concern."
A longtime FFRF member from Greensboro, N.C., alerted the Foundation to a state/church violation at Poblano's Mexican Grill, a popular restaurant in the member's city. The restaurant was offering a 15% discount to patrons that presented a "church bulletin" when dining. FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Kratz called the restaurant's owner to inform him that the discount violated the federal Civil Rights Act and a Greensboro City Ordinance, both of which prohibit discrimination based on religion. He agreed to discontinue what Kratz, in a follow-up letter, called, "Poblano's restrictive promotional practice [that] favors religious customers and denies customers who do not attend church, and nonbelievers the right to 'full and equal' enjoyment of Poblano's" (June 11, 2009).
A student alerted FFRF, in May 2009, that churches in New Glarus, Wis., sent invitations to area high school seniors for a church-sponsored graduation celebration. The invitations were distributed through the high school and students were asked to RSVP to the New Glarus High School main office. The Foundation wrote to New Glarus’ Superintendent requesting the school be omitted from the invitation and planning process of the church-sponsored party. School and district officials complied by discontinuing any coordination and promotion of the event, in writing and practice. Students were additionally notified that the event was voluntary and not school-sponsored.
An FFRF member was dismayed at the displaying of religious materials at a public rest area in Portage, Wis. One publication entitled "The Law of Liberty" discussed "God's law," the Ten Commandments and biblical verses. In a letter of complaint to the state Secretary of the Department of Transportation, the Foundation wrote: "The availability of Christian literature alongside maps and other publications provided by the government, could lead a reasonable observer to conclude that the government is endorsing religion. To avoid further confusion, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation should remove any and all religious literature displayed and set out for taking in publicly owned and operated rest areas" (April 21, 2009). The Director of the Bureau of Highway Operations wrote in response: "The literature you described has not been approved for distribution in the location where it was available and has been removed . . . Please be assured that the literature does not reflect any official position of the State of Wisconsin and appears to have been inappropriately placed in the facility by a third party" (May 1, 2009).
Read FFRF letter (April 21, 2009) (pdf)
See excerpt from "The Law of Liberty," Example A (pdf)
See excerpt from "The Law of Liberty," Example B (pdf)
See excerpt from "The Law of Liberty," Example C (pdf)
Read the DOT's response (pdf)
An area resident and taxpayer alerted FFRF that reading materials promoting Christianity permeated both the staff and inmate areas of the state-run Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility in Nashville, Tenn. This prompted the Foundation to write a letter of complaint to the Nashville facility. FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Kratz wrote to the facility's warden: "The undoubtedly Christian atmosphere created by these overwhelming displays . . . inexplicably leads a reasonable observer to perceive the State of Tennessee is not only endorsing religion over non-religion but also Christianity over all other faiths. This atmosphere also tends to create an environment hostile to non-Christians and non-believers" (March 12, 2009). In response, a Tennessee Department of Correction investigation confirmed the existence of inappropriate religious materials placed throughout the Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility. A Commissioner informed FFRF that all religious materials were removed as of April 2009, and staff was reminded to keep private any religious resources.
Student complaints to FFRF in March 2008, helped prevent prayer from opening an academic banquet, as was the practice of previous years, at a public high school in Fulton, Mo. FFRF formally requested, on the day of the banquet, that Fulton’s Superintendent take action to ensure a prayer would not take place at the banquet. FFRF’s complaint stated: "[B]anquets are school-sponsored events, which occur on school property. It does not matter that this event occurs after-school hours because prayers at other traditional after-school events such as football games and graduations have been found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court." The Superintendent promptly responded, confirming that no invocation was delivered or would be in the future.
On Election Day 2008, in Tobyhanna, Pa. (Monroe County), employees and volunteers of the Shawnee Tabernacle, a voting site, distributed bags of religious literature to voters, and displayed religious materials in the registration area and between polling booths. In a letter of complaint, FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Kratz wrote: "We are sure there are many secular options—perhaps public schools, firehouses, public libraries, or even private businesses—which could accommodate voters and be relied on not to abuse voter trust" (Jan. 8, 2009). Following the complaint from FFRF, the Monroe County Director of Elections indicated they would not likely use the Shawnee Tabernacle as a polling location in the future.
FFRF received a complaint from a taxpayer and parent with a child enrolled at Live Oak Elementary School, in Valencia, Calif., which allowed the Good News Club to religiously indoctrinate children during school hours. The Good News Club is an Evangelical group that encourages children to "hear the Gospel and learn Truth from God's Word." Further, the school sent students home with Good News Club flyers stating children will "learn that 'Character Counts' through Bible stories" and there will be "inspiring and amazing Bible memory verses and songs." In Oct. 2008, FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Kratz wrote to the school district's Superintendent: "By allowing this group to hold meeting during instructional hours at this public school, you are in effect endorsing a particular religion, which is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution." As a result of FFRF's complaint, the Good News Club moved their meetings to after school hours, as of Jan. 2009.
In Dec. 2008, a resident placed a massive nativity scene at a prominent intersection on county property in Warren, Mich., Macomb County. Following a complaint from a Macomb County resident, FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Kratz wrote the Macomb County Road Commission: "Once the government enters into the religion business, conferring endorsement and preference for one religion over others, it strikes a blow at religious liberty, forcing taxpayers of all faiths and of no religion to support a particular expression of worship" (Dec. 10, 2008). The Commissioners discovered a permit had not been granted for the display and ordered immediate removal of the nativity scene.
A U.S. Army non-commissioned officer in the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command stationed in Iraq, notified the Foundation that, as part of a twice-daily shift-change briefing, soldiers were required to attend Christian prayers and bible readings. The Freedom From Religion Foundation responded to the claims citing violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Kratz, in a 4-page letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, wrote: "The potential for government coercion is strong in this case. Given that the chain of command, particularly in foreign military operations, presents an inherently coercive atmosphere, daily prayer at shift change briefings is unconstitutional. [Soldiers] should not be compelled to participate in or listen quietly to government-sponsored prayer before reporting for duty, nor when they are 'on the clock'" (Nov. 5 2008). The Staff Judge Advocate Office determined, based on FFRF's complaint, the current practice of prayers should cease. The Chief of Chaplains promised to end the shift-change prayers as of November 2008.
In 1976, the Foundation ended an arrangement whereby public schools in Madison, Wisconsin, were financially sponsoring an annual nativity pageant using public school students at the state Capitol. A Foundation complaint that public school teachers were still organizing and recruiting for the Christian event resulted in firm guidelines adopted by the Madison schools and some surrounding areas in 2004. View Article...
Foundation complaints downed a large Christian cross from Terry Andrae State Park, Wisconsin (complained 1979, removed February 1980).
In April 2003, Oklahoma City officials removed a permanent cross from city fairground property, following a complaint by a Foundation member backed up by the national Foundation.
Following several years of negotiation, the Milwaukee City Council agreed to remove a Ten Commandments monument from city property in July 2001. The move came in May 2002. The action was significant because Milwaukee was the first city to be given a Ten Commandments monument by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. Yul Brenner even attended the dedication ceremony. View Article...
In April 2002, the city of Monroe, Wisconsin, followed suit, removing a Ten Commandments monument which the Foundation had originally asked it to move in 1983! View Article...
In December 2003, officials in Casper, Wyoming, removed a Ten Commandments monument from a public park following a Foundation complaint. View Article...
The city of Bolingbrook, Illinois, agreed to remove religious playground equipment from a public park in 2001. Religious playground equipment was removed from Lily Cache Greenway, shortly after the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter of complaint on behalf of a Foundation member. One piece of equipment with a biblical Noah's Ark theme was covered with text paraphrasing the entire bible tale, and informing children that Noah "was 950 years old when he died." The Foundation received a prompt response from a city official thanking it for letting the city know about the presence of the religious equipment, and assuring the Foundation it would be removed. View Article...
The Denver chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, represented by attorney Robert R. Tiernan, in 1999 protested the low rent (sometimes no rent) charged to the area ministerial association to hold an annual Easter Service at the public amphitheatre. Denver officials agreed that year to discontinue the reduced rate for the Easter Sunrise Service.
Protracted legal letters halted a religious discount at a grocery store in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1998, where the Catholic owner gave out "free milk" coupons to anyone showing a Catholic church bulletin to prove they had attended mass. The Foundation has ended similar violations of the Equal Rights Act, forbidding discrimination on the basis of religion by places of public accommodation, around the country.
After tenacious complaints and requests for public documents, the Foundation persuaded the University of Wisconsin-Madison to end a de facto Catholic chaplaincy for the University of Wisconsin Badgers (1994). (The free airfare and expenses for the priest to accompany the Badgers was ended.) Foundation complaints later ended prayer and religious ritual at a basketball camp for young girls led by a UW coach in 1996.
After learning that the school board of Madison, Wisconsin, was not charging Boy Scouts rent to meet in public classrooms, while all other kids' groups were charged rent, the Foundation successfully complained in 1994. The Foundation has also monitored public schools in Wisconsin which do not comply with wording in the State Constitution requiring that outside religious groups meeting in schools must pay rent.
A complaint to the U.S. Secretary of Labor halted subsidy of "Our Lady of the Rockies" by the federal Job Corps in Montana. Job Corps recipients were being ordered to help build the Catholic shrine, violating Job Corps' own prohibitions (1994).
First complaining (successfully) about religious artifacts on display at the Post Office in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin (a community entirely made up of nuns), the Foundation got the U.S. Post Office to delete a job description requiring the Postmaster to be a nun in 1993.
The Foundation was the first group to formally call for an ethics probe into an Alabama governor and his state-financed preaching (1991). Probable cause was found in the ethics probe. Scrutiny of the governor's record brought legal indictment.
A complaint by the Foundation expelled a preacher from the state docks in Mobile, Alabama, who was hired as a contractor using underage teenagers under his care at a Christian home as unpaid labor, in conditions that violated federal law (1989). The investigations started by the Foundation protest eventually closed down Bethel School in Mississippi (1990).
Foundation complaints have ended "grace" at public schools in Janesville, Wisconsin (1977); at the publicly-financed Independent Living, Madison, Wisconsin (1977); at Conway, Arkansas schools (1978). The Foundation halted paid prayers for at least one session in the Wisconsin Senate (1985). The Foundation has also ended school sponsorship of religious baccalaureates in several public school districts, such as in Monroe, Wisconsin (1989). The Foundation has widely circulated "The Case Against School Prayer" to many school districts around the nation. It has ended unlawful distribution of Gideon bibles in public schools.
In the "war of the bus ads," the Foundation began protesting "Keep Christ in Christmas" posters which were displayed free of charge on city buses in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1982. The free ads came down. In 1983 and 1984, the Foundation launched its own signs on Madison buses, reading: "The Bible: A Grim Fairy Tale" and a tongue-in-cheek cartoon showing Mary announcing, "It's a girl!"
In 1976, a complaint by co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor, then a college student, ended a 122-year violation of prayers (invocations and benedictions) at University of Wisconsin-Madison graduation commencement ceremonies. (They haven't been missed!)