In December 2013, the Florida State Capitol building set aside a space in its rotunda for holiday displays created and erected by private citizens. A mix of displays, both religious and not, had been approved, but when the Satanic Temple (a rationalist group) requested permission to erect its own holiday display, government officials balked and refused to allow the display. The next year, AU wrote on behalf of the Satanic Temple to explain that when the government creates a public forum, it cannot deny access to that forum simply because it does not like a group’s viewpoint.
A professor at the University of California Davis was teaching an overtly religious course entitled “Chaos, Complexity & Christianity.” AU wrote to the University to object to the course on the grounds that it is unconstitutional for a public university to offer a course that explicitly endorses Christianity. The University agreed and has worked with the professor to ensure that his teaching is brought within constitutional guidelines.
AU received a complaint regarding a display in a public playground that depicted the story of Noah’s Ark. We wrote to the Newark Parks and Recreation Department and explained that the display was unconstitutional. The Department agreed to remove the display.
A local middle school conducted fundraisers where students were granted permission to wear a hat to school if they donated to, or volunteered with, the Salvation Army. AU’s letter explained that the law does not permit public schools to provide financial support for a religious organization, or to encourage students to donate or volunteer for a religious organization. The district agreed that the Salvation Army will no longer be a beneficiary of school fundraisers, and that students will be encouraged to complete whatever community service they choose.
The City of Milton collected information from its residents about local veterans in order to create hundreds of memorial Latin crosses, each adorned with a veteran’s name and an American flag. These crosses were displayed along major thoroughfares in the weeks surrounding Memorial Day and Veterans Day each year. AU wrote to the city to explain that these memorial displays honor only Christian veterans and unconstitutionally endorse Christianity. In response, the city decided that it will no longer create the religious memorials or place them on government property.
The religious organization Answers in Genesis filed an application for tax incentives to assist in the financing of an evangelical Christian theme park, the Ark Encounter. AU wrote to state officials opposing this application on the grounds that Answers in Genesis discriminates in its hiring on the basis of religion and that it is inappropriate for the state to subsidize either Answers in Genesis’ discriminatory practices or its ministry. The State agreed and denied the application.
AU received a complaint about Bibles being placed on the Missing Man Table—a formally set, but empty, table serving as a memorial to fallen soldiers—at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. Our letter explained that the use of the Bible created the appearance that the memorial was meant to honor only Christian soldiers, and asked that the book be removed to make the memorial honor the sacrifice of all soldiers, regardless of religious belief. The military informed us that the Bible has been removed.
When the Huntsville City Council rescinded an invitation to a Wiccan priest to offer an invocation to open one of its meetings because residents objected to his faith, AU explained that the Constitution does not permit the council to exclude speakers or treat them differently because of their religious beliefs. After receiving AU’s letter, the council invited the Wiccan priest to be part of a rotating schedule of invocation speakers for future meetings, and it also permitted an atheist to deliver an invocation.
The Hanahan City Council opened each of its meetings with a councilmember-led recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. AU wrote to the Council to explain that the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway does not permit legislatures to exclusively advance Christianity or to prescribe a particular prayer for official recitation. The council agreed to discontinue its practice and open council meetings with a moment of silence or by permitting a community resident of any religious persuasion to deliver an invocation of his or her choice.
AU received a complaint that the Tiffin City Council opened meetings by having a councilmember recite the Lord’s Prayer. Our letter explained that this practice is unconstitutional because the lawmakers themselves were reciting a single proscribed prayer, and because the practice favors Christianity and ensures that there is no diversity in prayer-givers. The Council did not respond, but our complainant informed us that the invocation is now delivered by a chaplain and that it is always non-sectarian.