For years, the San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated Independent School District Board of Trustees had begun its meetings with prayers. At least some of those prayers had explicitly sectarian references. AU wrote a letter to the school district explaining that it is unconstitutional to present prayers at meetings of school boards, and that the sectarian nature of the prayers compounded the constitutional violation. The school district then ceased the prayers and started to hold a moment of silence instead.
AU received a complaint that the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole required a parolee, as a condition of parole, to attend Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. The Board required attendance at the AA and NA meetings, which contain religious content, despite a request for a secular alternative. In a letter to the Board, AU advised officials that coercing criminal offenders — either overtly by threat of punishment or subtly by providing incentives — to participate in a religious rehabilitation program violates the Establishment Clause.
AU received a complaint that a keyboarding teacher at a Cobb County Middle School made several proselytizing comments to eighth-grade students and appeared to be tailoring her curriculum to comport with her religious views.
AU learned that the Mayor of Olean allowed a private group to erect a crèche on the front lawn of the Olean Municipal Building, but would not allow other groups and individuals to put up other holiday displays. We wrote a letter informing the City that the private display violated the Establishment Clause, and asking that the City either remove the crèche from City property or adopt a formal policy allowing other community groups, religious and non-religious, to erect displays there. After receiving AU’s letter, the City eventually had the crèche display relocated to private property.
AU learned that the Reynoldsburg School District regularly held students’ orchestra-class performances at a local Methodist church, where, among other visible religious iconography, a spot-lit 15-foot cross was suspended directly over students as they performed.
AU received multiple complaints that the Menominee Parks & Recreation Committee was considering erecting a crèche in the bandshell of a public park. In past years, the City had displayed an illuminated manger. In a letter to the City, AU explained that a public entity may display a religious symbol only when it appears among other items that — together — communicate a secular message. The letter cautioned that the City’s planned display would run afoul of the Establishment Clause because it would send an unmistakably religious message.
An October 2007 performance by the Gunnison High School choir featured several religious songs. Choir students were told that if they did not sing the songs, they would receive a reduced or failing grade in choir class. In a letter to the District, AU explained that, while some federal courts have permitted school-sponsored performances that contain religious music in recognition of the secular educational value they present, the courts have been equally clear that students may not be forced to perform in the religious portions of the program.
As the faculty “sponsor” of Naperville Central High School’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a teacher maintained the group’s website, which was hosted on the school’s official server and was accessible through the teacher’s official school webpage and the school’s student-club page. On the website, the teacher described the chapter’s expressly religious mission, invited students “interested in growing closer to the Lord” to attend FCA meetings, and posted proselytizing narratives recounting FCA events.
AU received a complaint that several teachers at Hawthorne High School were leaders in Young Life ministry — a religious club — and actively promoted Young Life to students during the school day. These teachers displayed Young Life posters in their classrooms, wore Young Life apparel, distributed Young Life flyers, announced Young Life meetings to students during class, and transformed honors and AP study-group sessions at their homes into impromptu Young Life meetings. AU wrote a complaint letter about these practices to the school district in October 2007.
In December 2006, AU received a complaint that a choral teacher at a Virginia Beach high school had arranged a mandatory choral performance of four religious songs at her church’s Sunday-morning worship service. AU wrote a letter to District officials, explaining that requiring students to attend and participate in a religious service is impermissible under the Establishment Clause. A few hours after receiving the letter, the District’s attorney informed AU that the performance had been cancelled.