The Greene County Schools maintain a policy of allowing students to be excused from school on religious holidays regularly observed by the students’ faiths. Despite this policy, the Schools refused to excuse a Wiccan student from school to observe two Wiccan religious holidays. In a letter to the Schools, we explained that the Schools’ failure to apply the policy to Wiccans constituted invidious discrimination against Wiccans that violated the Establishment, Free Exercise, and Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution.
AU received a complaint regarding Mt. Airy’s long-standing policy of providing free water and sewer services to local churches. In a letter to the Town Council, AU explained that the arrangement favoring religious organizations was unconstitutional and urged officials to either extend this benefit to other non-profit organizations or terminate the benefit altogether. Mt. Airy’s Mayor responded via letter, informing AU that the Town had changed its policy to provide free services to all non-profits through this summer, after which the Town plans to phase out the benefit entirely.
AU was contacted by an election judge who complained that the Montgomery County Board of Elections had enforced Jewish dietary restrictions on poll workers who staffed a polling place located in a Jewish day school. Election judges, who are required to stay at the polling place for the entire day, were not permitted to eat meat or fowl in deference to Jewish religious tenets. When one election judge complained to the Board of Elections, the Election Director offered only to allow the judge to transfer to a different polling place.
AU received a complaint that a substitute teacher at Tuscaloosa City Schools posted a Bible verse and made proselytizing comments while filling in for an English teacher at a city high school. We wrote a letter to the Schools informing them that it is unconstitutional for school employees to present religious messages to students in class. The school principal subsequently spoke to the teacher about her actions and monitored her conduct. Since then, the teacher has not engaged in similar conduct. We will continue to monitor the teacher’s activities.
AU received a complaint that the Mineral County Commission granted permission to a local church to place a seven-foot cross on the lawn of the Mineral County Courthouse from March 17 to March 24 in order to commemorate the Easter holiday. In a letter objecting to the plan, AU explained that the display would send the unequivocal message that one religion, Christianity, enjoys favored status with the government of Mineral County. The cross was not erected.
AU was contacted regarding a middle-school assembly scheduled to take place in early March. The assembly was to feature Commandos! USA, a group that performs regularly at Evangelical Christian events and has previously engaged in religious proselytizing at other public-school assemblies. In a letter to the middle school, AU asked that the school either cancel the assembly or ensure that the assembly would not include religious content. The school district’s attorney informed AU two days later that the school had cancelled the assembly.
AU received a complaint that a Guilford County deputy had placed a sign bearing the message “Jesus is our savior” on the back of the front passenger seat of his patrol car. In a letter to the County sheriff’s office, AU explained that government employees may not, in the performance of their duties, proselytize or communicate religious messages to members of the public verbally or by displaying religious symbols that are visible to the public. In response to our letter, the County sheriff informed AU that the offending sign had been removed.
After receiving complaints from parents, AU sent a letter in October 2007 objecting to a Washington-state school district’s housing of an alternative school in a local Evangelical Christian church. The church was rife with religious iconography. We demanded that the iconography be covered and that the school be moved to a District facility for the 2008-09 school year. The District responded by denying that students were exposed to any religious iconography and claimed that the location was temporary while a new school was being built.
AU received a complaint that teachers at a Tuscaloosa high school showed the film Facing the Giants to their classes. Facing the Giants is an evangelical sports film, produced by a Baptist church and designed to convert viewers to Christianity. AU wrote a letter to Tuscaloosa City Schools objecting to the screening of the film and explaining that public-school teachers cannot present religious messages to their students.
In 2007, AU wrote a letter objecting to the Kimberly Area School District’s sponsorship of a religious modesty fashion show for elementary-school girls. After receiving AU’s letter, the District’s counsel informed AU that the District would revoke approval for the event to take place at a District school, remove all advertising for the event from District schools, and send a note to parents and students disclaiming any association with the event.