A correctional institution was including religious music in its graduation ceremonies for prisoners earning vocational certificates and high-school equivalency degrees. AU wrote to the warden to explain that the inclusion of religious music at a prison graduation ceremony posed serious constitutional concerns because of the importance of the event to prisoners seeking to enrich their lives through education and because of the risk of coercion inherent in the prison setting.
AU received a complaint regarding a proselytizing holiday performance at a VA Medical Center in St. Louis, where it appeared that VA patients were taken to the performance by Center staff without being told of the program’s religious nature. We wrote a letter expressing our discomfort with the government’s support of such programming. The hospital’s administration responded, agreeing that there had been a failure of communication about the nature of the event.
AU received a complaint about prayers occurring at Hopkins County School District events, including Board of Education meetings and annual district-wide in-service events. We wrote to the district superintendent to explain that prayer at public-school events is unconstitutional. The school district’s attorney wrote back to inform us that both practices would be stopped.
AU learned that a St. John’s County Sheriff’s Department employee had placed a cross in the back window of his police cruiser. We wrote to the Department to explain that it is unconstitutional for a government official to display a religious symbol, and to ask that it be removed. We received a response from the Sheriff assuring us that the cross had been removed from the window.
The National Park Service holds an annual Constitution Day event that doubles as a swearing-in ceremony for new citizens. In 2009, the ceremony featured religious content, including a prayer and gospel songs. AU wrote park officials to explain that the inclusion of prayer and other religious content in official government events is unconstitutional. Park officials responded and agreed that they would discontinue the practice of including religious messages and performances in the festivities.
The Township of Montville erected a holiday display on the lawn of the Montville Municipal Building. The display prominently featured a créche and a menorah near the front of the Municipal Building. AU wrote a letter to the town and explained that it is unconstitutional for the government to display religious items unless they are integrated into a larger secular display. The township responded to our letter by erecting several secular holiday decorations, including a snowman and a nutcracker.
AU learned that a créche and menorah were displayed on the lawn of the Luzerne County Courthouse. AU and the ACLU of Pennsylvania wrote a joint letter to county officials explaining that the government may not display religious symbols unless they are a part of a larger display that communicates a secular holiday message. In response, both displays were promptly removed.
AU received a complaint about the Village of Saukville’s display of a créche on government property. We wrote a letter to the village explaining that it is unconstitutional for the government to display a religious symbol on public property when the religious symbol stands alone or is predominant. We received a response that the village had removed the créche within six days of receipt of our letter.
AU learned that a Christian prison ministry was pursuing plans to open a privately-owned prison in Oklahoma. The ministry then planned to seek a contract with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to house inmates at this facility, which would require inmates to participate in religious activities. We sent a letter to the Department of Corrections noting that any such contract would likely violate the separation of church and state.