AU received a complaint from a student at Challenger Early College High School that an English teacher at the school was proselytizing students and posting religious displays in his classroom. AU wrote the school district objecting to both practices and our complainant reported that the displays were removed and that the teacher’s religious rhetoric had been toned down. However, less than a month later we were informed that religious content had begun to recur in the class.
The Huntsville City School Board opened its meetings with a prayer from a board member or school-district employee. The Huntsville City Schools also held an annual, mandatory in-service meeting for district employees, inviting clergy to open the meeting with a sectarian prayer. AU wrote to the school district, objecting to both practices and requesting that the district discontinue the prayers.
AU received a complaint from a man seeking a modified Oath of Allegiance for Naturalized Citizens because he objected to swearing “so help me God” or “on oath.” A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer initially told our complainant that CIS would allow a modified oath, but a different officer later told him that it was uncertain whether a modified oath would be allowed and that our complainant would need to fill out a long supplemental questionnaire.
AU received a complaint that the University of Tennessee at Martin’s baseball coach held mandatory prayers with his players before and after games and at practices. The coach also held “team meetings” on Sunday mornings during road trips; these meetings often featured proselytizing speakers. AU wrote to the University in August 2008 to explain that a public-university employee may not constitutionally endorse religion or coerce religious practices by student athletes. AU’s attorneys discussed the matter with the University’s counsel and sent a follow-up letter.
Three Lakes Elementary School allowed the YMCA to use its facilities to run a program (the Children’s Learning Center) free of charge, but required other, secular organizations to pay a fee for the use of the same facilities. In July 2008, AU sent a letter to the school superintendent challenging the arrangement as unconstitutional. We received no response, but we contacted the superintendent again in July 2009 and were informed that the school now provides free use of its facilities to all organizations that provide a service to the community.
AU learned that the Rhode Island Supreme Court sometimes holds oral argument in religious venues across the state, and that, in the past, the court has made no effort to cover visible religious iconography. AU wrote to the court in July 2008, objecting to the court’s holding a session at a private Catholic high school in Newport — a venue featuring numerous uncovered religious items, such as crucifixes and images of saints. We received no response to this letter.
The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) publishes model policies for its member school boards. These model policies are typically incorporated in the policy manuals of individual school boards. TASB’s model policy on graduation prayer stated that students could select student volunteers to deliver nonsectarian, nonproselytizing invocations. AU wrote to TASB and suggested that TASB change its model policy in light of a recent Texas federal district court ruling, in a case litigated by AU, that student elections on graduation prayer are unconstitutional.
For the third consecutive year, officials at Bucks County Technical High School scheduled the school’s graduation ceremony to take place in the sanctuary of a local Christian church, where graduating students are seated directly below an enormous cross. In a letter to the school, AU objected to the practice, and requested that the ceremony be relocated, or that, at a minimum, religious iconography be covered.
AU received a complaint from a woman seeking a modified Oath of Allegiance for Naturalized Citizens because she had religious objections to pledging to bear arms on behalf of the United States, to using the term “oath,” and to swearing “so help me God.” The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services required her to provide a letter from a religious organization certifying membership in good standing in order to qualify for an alternative oath.
In 2008, AU learned that the Yellville Summit School District had allowed Gideons to enter school grounds to distribute Bibles to fifth-grade students. We wrote to the district and explained that allowing the Gideons to distribute Bibles directly to students violates the Constitution. We thought that our letter had settled the matter. However, the next year we received word that the district had allowed the Bible distribution to happen again.