AU learned that the religious-right organization Liberty Counsel had contacted the City of Santa Monica regarding the City Council’s deliberations over whether to continue to allow holiday displays in a public park during the holidays. AU wrote to the Council to debunk Liberty Counsel’s legal arguments and to urge the Council to either maintain the then-current display policy — which provided equal opportunity for anyone to place a holiday display in the park, regardless of whether the display had a religious viewpoint — or to close the forum altogether.
A student at Poteet High School contacted AU to complain that the school was planning to include school-sponsored invocation and benediction prayers at an upcoming graduation ceremony. Moreover, school administrators had instructed two students that they were expected to deliver these prayers, and that the students had to submit the proposed prayers for approval by the school. AU objected to this practice, explaining that there were numerous constitutional problems with it, not the least of which was coercing students into delivering prayers against their will.
The Pennsylvania Music Educators Association is an organization utilized by the State of Pennsylvania to organize and run its public school honors choir competitions. AU received a complaint that certain events run by the Association included official prayers. We wrote to the Association to inform them that it is unconstitutional to include prayers in government events. The Association agreed and will no longer allow prayers at its public-school events.
A parent complained that a teaching assistant at her daughter’s middle-school had given her daughter a note instructing her to read certain Bible verses which are often cited to communicate religious disapproval of same-sex relationships. AU objected, explaining to the school that this action violated the separation of church and state and the school district’s policies against sexual harassment. The school quickly initiated an investigation, and the complainant has told us that there have been no further problems.
Pine Forest Elementary School held a school play in a nearby church. Large crosses hung over the stage used for the play and the church’s entrance. The school also listed the church as its emergency evacuation point in the school handbook. After AU’s letter of complaint, the school agreed not to use this or other churches for future school events and to use a next-door community center as its primary evacuation point.
A local elementary school was screening a movie called “Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey” in a music class. The film features scenes that depict the birth of Jesus Christ. AU wrote to the school and explained that public schools may not show religious films to their students. The school spoke with the teacher responsible and agreed to monitor its classes for religious content. As of December 2012, the school has kept its promise and no religious activities have been incorporated into classroom instruction.
Stockdale High School held a mandatory assembly featuring a speaker from Sports World, a religious organization that sends former professional athletes into the public schools to discuss their struggles with drug and alcohol addiction with students. Here, the speaker told students that he had overcome his addictions through faith in Jesus Christ. AU wrote a letter to the school district explaining that it is unconstitutional for the school to allow religious proselytizing or the inclusion of religious messages in a school-sponsored assembly or other school event.
The Board of Education for Fayette County Schools was opening its meetings with a prayer. AU wrote to the school district to explain that it is unconstitutional for a school board to open its meetings with prayer. The Board voted to replace the prayer with a moment of silence.
Cleveland State University advertised a “Faith & Family Day” event at its basketball arena, including in the advertisement nine Christian crosses. AU wrote to the university to explain that it is unconstitutional to affiliate a university event with religion. The University responded, explaining that a third-party advertising firm had created this advertisement without the University’s consent and that it would not happen again.
The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors gave a tourism grant to a Catholic shrine to support the shrine’s celebration of the canonization of the shrine’s patron saint. In response to AU’s letter, the County considered a resolution that would have restricted the use of the grant money to secular items. AU sent a follow-up letter explaining that any money given to a religious shrine to support a religious event would unconstitutionally support religious activity. The shrine ultimately declined the grant because it could not agree to the restrictions on the use of the money.