Freethought Today · December 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

It’s all OK: FFRF earns victories in Oklahoma By Molly Hanson

By Molly Hanson

FFRF has stopped some Oklahoma middle school kids from being forced to regularly listen to Christian music during the school day.

A concerned parent informed FFRF that teachers at Adair Middle School in Adair, Okla., were playing Christian music during class. One teacher reportedly played KXOJ, the local Christian radio station, whenever students were working on assignments and she wasn't actively teaching. Another teacher occasionally played Christian music in class and sang along with it.

It is inappropriate for a public school teacher to promote religion during class, FFRF informed Adair Public Schools.

"Federal courts have consistently rejected the promotion of religious viewpoints in the classroom," FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to Adair Public Schools Superintendent Mark Lippe.

FFRF emphasized that public school teachers should be inclusive of all students, particularly considering that about 35 percent of young Americans, those born after 1981, are religiously unaffiliated, while more than 43 percent are non-Christian. Demonstrating a religious preference to students is fraught with legal and moral peril, including the risk of ostracizing students, which may lead to bullying, FFRF underlined.

FFRF requested that the district take appropriate steps to ensure that the two teachers weren't impermissibly promoting religion to students by broadcasting Christian music and recommended that the district remind its staff that they must refrain from promoting their personal religious beliefs to students.

The school district took FFRF's recommendations seriously and moved accordingly.

"It is the policy of Adair Public Schools that no sectarian or religious doctrine shall be taught or inculcated into the curriculum or activities of the school," Lippe wrote back.

"During the middle school October staff meeting, the staff was trained on school policy concerning sectarian or religious doctrine in the curriculum or activities of the school. School employees will not utilize religious music in classrooms unless such use serves a pedagogical purpose related to a lesson plan in band or choir."

Baseball coaches cease prayers

After a community member reported to FFRF that coaches for the Oktaha High School baseball team in Oktaha, Okla., had been praying with the team, FFRF's Patrick O'Reiley Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to Superintendent Jerry Needham to ensure that the district coaches end unlawful endorsements and promotions of religion to district students and employees.

Line informed Needham that public school athletic coaches cannot lead teams in prayer, encourage students to pray or participate in student-initiated prayer. On Oct. 23, an attorney representing the district responded to Line's letter, informing FFRF that Needham had spoken with all the coaches regarding the prayer violation and had instructed coaches not to participate in student prayers.

FFRF ends school's violations

After it was reported to FFRF that numerous constitutional violations were taking place at Chandler Junior High School in Chandler, Okla., action was promptly taken. FFRF was informed that the dress code — which had been posted by the school on Facebook — prohibits clothing or jewelry that suggested support of "Satanism." The school's principal reiterated this code to students. It was also reported to FFRF that a teacher in the school had a Latin cross on display in her classroom, and that the school was selling official school shirts with an image of a soldier kneeling before a Latin cross.

FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the school district on Sept. 19, requesting that the constitutional violations cease. Line noted that displaying a Latin cross sends a message to students that the district endorses Christianity, as does selling shirts that depict prayer before a cross. This unlawfully entangles the school with a religious viewpoint. Line also informed the district that it is illegal to prohibit students from wearing a particular religion's symbols, such as satanic symbols.

The school district informed FFRF on Nov. 9 that the cross in the classroom has been removed, the T-shirts with a cross on them would not be required to be worn by band members and the dress code policy has been changed to comply with the Constitution.

Christian messages axed

It was reported to FFRF that a principal at Little Axe Middle School in Norman, Okla., gave a Christian invocation at a staff dinner this past August asking Jesus "to inspire" the new teachers. FFRF was also informed that the school's baseball coach had given out team luggage name tags with bible verses on them. FFRF wrote to Superintendent Jay Thomas, reminding the district that, as a government entity, it has a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion. Both the Christian invocation and the coach's promotion of a religious message on district athletic equipment had endorsed religion over nonreligion.

FFRF received a letter from the superintendent on Nov. 14 indicating that instructions had been given to all athletes to remove the bible verse tags and that all administration had been instructed to not allow prayer in any future district sponsored events.

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