New Legal Successes
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!)