Advocacy Without Lawsuits

AU often can protect your religious freedom and end church-state separation violations without ever going to court. Through nonlitigation advocacy — such as demand letters — we work to resolve problems in school districts, municipalities, and state and federal agencies nationwide.

Whenever possible, we try to resolve religious-freedom and church-state violations without going to court.

After you tell us about a potential violation, we evaluate and investigate your complaint. If appropriate, we then contact the government officials involved, inform them about the requirements of the law, and request that they cease or remedy the violation. We will keep your identity confidential throughout the process unless you give us permission to identify you.

Using nonlitigation advocacy, we have stopped or remedied hundreds of church-state violations without filing lawsuits. But when nonlitigation advocacy is not enough, we can take the fight to court.

Our Nonlitigation Successes

Our nonlitigation advocacy efforts have remedied a wide variety of religious-freedom violations, including ones involving public schools and universities, uses of public property, and promotion of religion by government officials.

In most cases, we do not publicly announce nonlitigation successes until considerable time — typically a year to two — passes after the resolution of the issue. In some cases, for confidentiality reasons, we may never publicly announce the success. Here are some examples of our prior successes, followed by a link to a full report on our successes:

Read about our non-litigation successes

AU Letter Causes Detroit to End Participation in Funding Program That Favored Religious Organizations

April 2021, Detroit, MI: AU received a complaint about the City of Detroit’s participation in the Faith Forward Fund. The Fund was intended to provide money for nonprofits, both religious and nonreligious, that had assisted the City with Covid relief efforts. But various eligibility requirements—as well as the Fund’s name—indicated that there was a preference for Fund money going to religious organizations. We wrote to the City and to the private organizers of the Fund to explain that the City could not legally be involved with the Fund if it preferred religious grantees. Our letter asked that the City and its partners ensure that nonreligious groups and religious groups be treated equally with respect to eligibility for Fund money, that this be clearly communicated to grant applicants, and that restrictions be placed on the use of the money to prevent it from being utilized for religious activity. The City of Detroit withdrew its financial contributions to the Fund, and the City and the Fund’s private organizers complied with our other requests by making clear that nonreligious groups were equally eligible for Fund grants as religious groups and by prohibiting religious uses of the grant funds.

 

Township Removes Bible Reference on Police Vehicles after AU Letter

August 2020, Martinsburg, PA: AU received a complaint regarding a decal on police vehicles in North Woodbury Township. The decal featured an image of an assault rifle and lightning bolt crossed over a sword and shield. Underneath this image was a citation to a Bible verse: Romans 13:4. The book of Romans is from the New Testament. Chapter 13 teaches that governmental authorities are appointed by God and that disobeying them is the equivalent of disobeying God. Verse 4 specifically reads: “for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” AU wrote to the Township to explain that the inclusion of a religious message on the decals was a violation of the separation of church and state and communicated a message that the Township police served only members of the favored religion. The Township then removed the Bible reference from the decals.

School District Apologizes for Proselytizing Its Staff

August 2020, Winslow, AZ: We were contacted by a large group of teachers and administrators complaining of religious content in Winslow Unified School District #1’s back-to-school kickoff event for district staff. The district’s new superintendent invited eight local religious leaders (and one other speaker who, by all accounts, still spoke about religion) to proselytize the assembled staff for a solid hour and a half, quoting the Bible, delivering prayers, telling staff that God would protect them from Covid-19, and asking staff to raise their hands if they believed in God. AU quickly wrote to the school district, demanding an immediate apology and written assurance that nothing like this would happen again. Within 24 hours both the school board and the superintendent issued separate apologies and assurances that similar conduct would not occur again.

 

Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast Changed to Nonreligious Community Activity After AU Letter

April 2019, Las Vegas, NV: A school district was sending students to a city’s annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. AU wrote to the district to explain that it is unconstitutional for a school district to send students to a religious activity. In response to AU’s letter, the district worked with the event’s organizer to change the event. It ceased being a prayer breakfast and became a “Mayor’s Community Breakfast,” with the religious elements replaced by events and speakers reflecting on respect, compassion, and community values.

AU Helps Convince University to Drop Affiliation with Religious Healthcare Provider

April 2019, Oakland, CA: The University of California was considering expanding an affiliation arrangement with Dignity Health—a religiously affiliated healthcare organization governed by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services. The affiliation would have forced University doctors and staff to comply with religion-based restrictions when working in Dignity Health facilities and would have endangered University patients’ access to healthcare based on religious dogma.

Several organizations had protested this arrangement on a variety of other grounds, but AU saw that separation-of-church-and-state concerns posed by the proposed agreement had not been raised adequately. AU brought our institutional expertise to bear by writing to the University to explain the Establishment Clause concerns raised by the proposed affiliation. Shortly after AU’s letter, the University scuttled the proposed affiliation.

AU Gets County Health Department to Stop Streaming Church Services

April 2020, Central City, KY: The Muhlenburg County Health Department was live-streaming Christian church services on the department’s official Facebook page. AU wrote to the Department to explain that governmental transmission of religious messages violates the separation of church and state. The department then stopped the live-streaming practice.

Professor Ends Extra Credit for Attending Church After AU Complaint

April 2019, Columbus, GA: A Columbus Technical College professor was offering his students extra credit if they came to his church and listened to a proselytizing sermon. AU wrote to the College to explain that this behavior was unconstitutional at a public college and to ask that the College stop this practice. The College investigated and ended the practice.

AU Stops Government Trip to Creationist Sites

February 2019, Roxboro, NC: AU received a complaint regarding a Parks and Recreation Department that was going to take local citizens on a trip to the Ark Encounter and to the Creation Museum, two venues that promote the Biblical doctrine of creationism. We wrote a letter to the department explaining that it would be unconstitutional for the government to take an official trip to either attraction. The department informed us that it had canceled the trip.

Church Will No Longer Be Used as Graduation Venue by Public School after AU letter

August 2018, Huntersville, NC: A charter school was holding graduation ceremonies at a church with visible religious iconography. AU wrote to the school to explain that this violated the separation of church and state and to ask the school to switch to a nonreligious venue. The school then changed the graduation venue.

Town Removes Religious Ceremony from Anniversary Festival after AU Advocacy

July 2018, Cohasset, MA: The town of Cohasset was making plans for its 250th Anniversary. As part of the celebration, the town intended to hold a “Blessing of the Fleet,” which involves a religious leader saying a prayer over boats in the town harbor. AU wrote to Cohasset to explain that hosting a religious service during a town festival violates the separation of church and state. Our original letter received no response, so AU followed up with a public-records request to gather more concrete information about the Town’s plans. The records request prompted Cohasset to cancel the Blessing of the Fleet.

AU Letter Results in Removal of Crosses from Government Office

March 2018, Lockhart, TX: A county-government office displayed two Latin crosses on a wall. AU wrote to the county to explain that the display of Latin crosses on government property is unconstitutional. The county then removed the crosses.

Court Program Ends Religious Content after AU letter

August 2016, Louisville, KY: A court program that requires counseling for divorcing couples with children held all program activities in churches. At least one class had included overt proselytizing. AU wrote to the court to inform it of the proselytizing and of the constitutional problems with hosting a court program in churches. The court responded that the program was not supposed to include any proselytizing and that it would take steps to ensure that none occurred in the future. The court also informed us that it was working to expand the sites hosting the program to include nonreligious locations.

AU Convinces Public School to Stop Endorsing Religious Events

February 2019, Evans, GA: AU received a complaint regarding a public school using its official messaging system to call and send text messages to parents encouraging attendance at a “See You at the Pole” religious event. We wrote to the district that using school resources to promote a religious event violated the law and to ask them not to do this in the future. The district responded that they had discussed the matter with the relevant school officials and that such conduct would not occur again.

District Will Not Hold Religious Assemblies After AU Complaint

February 2019, Montrose, PA: A public school hosted an assembly featuring a speaker who told students about his Christian faith and urged students to let Jesus into their lives. AU wrote to the school district, explaining that this assembly was a flagrant violation of the rights of students and teachers, and asking the district not to allow such speakers in the future. The district responded that it had been blindsided by the religious content in the assembly and promised that there would be no religious content in future assemblies.

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BREAKING:

AU calls out leaked supreme court opinion overturning abortion rights as a religious extremist assault on our democracy

"The end of Roe is just the beginning. Next on the hit list are a broad array of protections for personal liberty."—Rachel Laser, AU's CEO and President

Read our statement here