FFRF discovers hushed First Amendment victory within TX school district

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation was pleased to recently discover a hidden victory for state-church separation in an eastern Texas school district.

Back in 2014, FFRF was informed by a concerned community member of the Mt. Vernon Independent School District that the district was displaying several religious quotes on the walls of its schools. The quotes included both biblical passages and alleged statements attributed to a variety of prominent individuals in American history. After seeking and obtaining an open records request in 2015 for a copy of all records related to the selection and display of the quotes on the district’s walls, FFRF found that a significant portion of the quotes on display were not only unconstitutionally endorsing religion, but also fallacious.

FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to Mt. Vernon Independent School District Superintendent John Kaufman requesting that the district remove the quotes as it is a fundamental principle of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment that a public school may not advance, prefer or promote religion. Courts have time and again held that public schools may not endorse religious messages — including texts taken from the bible.

“The numerous biblical quotes currently displayed on Mt. Vernon Independent School District property unconstitutionally promote Christianity, creating the appearance that it is favored by the district,” wrote Grover. “A court would undoubtedly rule that the purpose behind posting numerous bible quotes on district walls is to promote Christianity.”

FFRF also pointed out that in its attempt to proselytize to its students, the district used quotes that had been shamefully manipulated by removing the context or isolating lines that promoted Christianity or religion in general.

“The district cannot even fall back on the argument that these quotes have educational merit, given the many examples of misquotes, misattributions, and entirely fraudulent quotes displayed on its walls,” wrote Grover. “The district sets a poor example for its students if it cannot be bothered to fact check the message it chooses to endorse.”

Earlier this month, the original complainant informed Grover that a new superintendent who was hired soon after FFRF sent its 2015 letter to the district quietly removed the religious quotes over the summer of 2016.

The violation was a clear example of using an alternative version of American history in order to target a captive audience of young students, including elementary school students, with religious indoctrination. FFRF is thrilled that this assault on the right of conscience of Mt. Vernon students has been rectified.

“We don’t always know the full extent of our impact, but it is vast,” says Grover.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with the purposes of protecting the constitutional separation between state and church and educating the public on matters relating to nontheism. It currently has more than 33,000 members across the country, including over 1,300 in Texas.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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