The Warren County Parks and Recreation Department had published a schedule of fees for the rental and use of park facilities. The fees were cheaper for churches than for everyone else. AU wrote to the Department to explain that it is a constitutional violation to provide preferential pricing for religious organizations, and to ask that everyone be treated equally. The Parks and Recreation Department then ended the preferential pricing.
A public charter school was holding its graduation ceremonies in a church sanctuary that featured several religious symbols. AU wrote a letter to school officials explaining that it is unconstitutional to hold a public school’s graduation ceremony in a church. The principal responded and said that they were unable to move this year’s graduation ceremony because of time constraints, but agreed that they would cover the crosses and other religious iconography and that they would use a secular venue for future graduations.
AU learned that a public-school district in California decided to allow the senior class at the high school to vote on whether prayer would be included at the graduation ceremonies. We wrote to district officials to explain that public schools cannot include prayers as part of public high-school graduations, whether by vote or otherwise. We received a response letting us know that the school district revoked their previous decision and instituted a moment of silence in lieu of a prayer.
AU received a complaint about a public-school teacher who was praying with her kindergarten students at snack time, displayed a picture of Jesus on her desk, and hung on classroom walls posters featuring prayers. We wrote to school officials explaining that it is unconstitutional for teachers to pray with their students or for them to display religious messages or symbols in the classroom. The district responded, assuring us that they had instructed the teacher to stop praying with students and to remove the religious displays from the classroom.
A correctional institution was including religious music in its graduation ceremonies for prisoners earning vocational certificates and high-school equivalency degrees. AU wrote to the warden to explain that the inclusion of religious music at a prison graduation ceremony posed serious constitutional concerns because of the importance of the event to prisoners seeking to enrich their lives through education and because of the risk of coercion inherent in the prison setting.
AU received a complaint regarding a proselytizing holiday performance at a VA Medical Center in St. Louis, where it appeared that VA patients were taken to the performance by Center staff without being told of the program’s religious nature. We wrote a letter expressing our discomfort with the government’s support of such programming. The hospital’s administration responded, agreeing that there had been a failure of communication about the nature of the event.
AU received a complaint about prayers occurring at Hopkins County School District events, including Board of Education meetings and annual district-wide in-service events. We wrote to the district superintendent to explain that prayer at public-school events is unconstitutional. The school district’s attorney wrote back to inform us that both practices would be stopped.
AU learned that a St. John’s County Sheriff’s Department employee had placed a cross in the back window of his police cruiser. We wrote to the Department to explain that it is unconstitutional for a government official to display a religious symbol, and to ask that it be removed. We received a response from the Sheriff assuring us that the cross had been removed from the window.