FFRF-ETC in Action
A parent at Karns Middle School reports that the football club posted on their Facebook page an Easter message with a Bible quote and a religious logo, “on behalf of the Karns Middle School Football Coaches and staff”. FFRF-ETC will send a letter of complaint to Karns Middle School.
The "Everyone's Wilson" initiative in Wilson County is a coalition of churches, businesses, and non-profits in the Mt. Juliet area which is planning to partner with every school in our county to promote education and combat drug addiction, hunger, and violence. Volunteers would provide tutoring and school supplies. A local parent is concerned that these laudable, secular goals may be accompanied by proselytizing: a local minister is quoted in the press regarding the initiative that "from a church’s perspective, we believe the ultimate transformation comes with a personal relationship with Jesus. The ultimate goal is for life transformation, but we believe that people can experience a little bit closer to what God intended for them to experience if we meet them in the pocket of their vulnerability.” The parent sought assurances from the director of schools that there will be no violation of the First Amendment, but has gotten no response. Following a complaint by a parent to FFRF-ETC which we referred to FFRF national, the FFRF legal team will work to insure that volunteers refrain from proselytizing.
Blount County Schools Several parents have complained to FFRF-ETC regarding distribution of Bibles to 5th-graders. Bibles provided by the Gideons are actually being handed out by public school teachers! Following complaints from FFRF-ETC and FFRF national and efforts by FFRF-ETC (in coordination with the Rationalists of East Tennessee) to organize a counter-distribution of Dan Barker’s book Just Pretend (an age-appropriate book which teaches children to apply reason to religion and other myths), Blount County has changed their policy. Bibles will be distributed to middle and high-school students (not elementary-school) and only passive distribution (such as leaving books out on a table) outside of classrooms will be permitted, not distribution by teachers in class.
It’s gratifying to see that complaints by FFRF-ETC have served to protect the most vulnerable students from promotion of Christianity in the public schools. Yet it’s still problematic that religious material is being distributed there. FFRF-ETC is considering a revised counter-distribution in light of the new Blount County policy. Appropriate books for high-school students might include The Humanist Approach to Happiness by Jennifer Hancock, or What If I'm an Atheist? A Teen's Guide to Exploring a Life Without Religion by David Seidman.
Robertson County Schools: parent reported to FFRF-ETC that the Gideons were distributing Bibles in classes, and that a teacher is promoting Christianity in class. The complaint will be forwarded to FFRF-national
At Westside Elementary (Macon County) a parent reported that students were taken to see “The Star”, a movie which promotes Christianity by telling the Nativity story. FFRF national sent a letter to the Macon County Director of Schools demanding cessation of field trips for religious programs. Director Boles has not responded to the original letter, nor to three follow-up letters.
Smith County School Board: A concerned citizen reported that the Board begins each meeting with a prayer. FFRF-ETC sent a report to FFRF-national, including a video of a prayer. FFRF-national has warned the Board to stop these constitutional violations. The citizen (a veteran) followed up with a report of student-led prayers at a Smith County school Veterans Day program. The School Board has not responded to FFRF-national.
Hamblen County Schools A concerned citizen reported that the Veteran’s Day program at Hillcrest Elementary School included a Christian prayer, providing a video of the violation. FFRF-ETC referred the matter to FFRF-national, who has warned the school Superintendent to stop the prayers. Hamblen County School Superintendent Jeff Perry promised that he would be more vigilent in preventing violations.
Governor Bill Lee’s Prayer Breakfast: FFRF national is investigating the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast. FFRF-National has sent a letter to request records, using FFRF-ETC as the local contact. The Governor’s office replied that “no such record(s) exists or this office does not maintain record(s) responsive to your request.” FFRF national will not follow up because this is a one-off event.
Santa Fe, TN PSTO meetings: The Vice President of the PSTO complained that the meetings begin with a prayer. FFRF-ETC reported this to FFRF national and got this response: “Parent-Teacher Organizations are technically private organizations that are separate from the school district. Therefore, unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do to stop the prayers. If your contact has evidence of school involvement or promotion, we may be able to look into this further.”
Tennessee is #2!
FFRF's national office sent 1,200 letters of complaint in 2018, demanding that government entities and officials keep religion out of government. Tennessee ranked #2 (behind Texas) in the number of complaints (we are #16 in population). Does this reflect the religiosity of our government, or does this mean that we are more vigilant in policing violations? Please continue to report violations, either to our Facebook page (FFRF, East Tennessee Chapter) or directly to FFRF-national (https://ffrf.org/legal/report)
A creche has been erected on the front lawn of the Loudon County Clerk’s Office, as reported by an outraged citizen who provided FFRF-ETC with the above picture. FFRF-ETC reported the violation to FFRF-national, who suggested that citizens erect an alternative display. FFRF-ETC is looking for a Loudon County volunteer.
Greeneville Parks and Recreation: The Greeneville City government erected a nativity scene, then documented their own constitutional violation by reporting that Baby Jesus had been stolen and later recovered. FFRF-ETC reported this to FFRF-national, who suggest an alternative display. Again, FFRF-ETC is looking for a local volunteer.
The Opp (Alabama) Police Department is promoting religion and denigrating Satanism on their official Facebook page. FFRF-ETC passed a citizen’s complaint to FFRF-national, who sent a letter to Opp demanding a stop to such violations. FFRF is waiting for a response.
Maryville-Alcoa-Blount County Senior Center: seniors report prayers at a pot-luck luncheon at the Everett Senior Center in Maryville. FFRF-ETC will write a letter to the Everett Senior Center, which is part of Blount County Parks and Recreation.
The Anderson County Clerk's office is reported to be encouraging clients to choose the “In God We Trust” license plate, rather than secular alternatives. FFRF-ETC is seeking a more definite account of their actions.
The Oak Ridge schools are reportedly promoting a religious Baccalaureate Service for their high school graduation. FFRF-ETC is looking for clear documentation of the violation.
Hillcrest Elementary School (Hamblen County) held an in-school Veterans Day assembly that included a Christian prayer delivered "in Jesus' name". A parent's complained to FFRF-ETC was forwarded to FFRF-national; they have written to the County School Superintendent asking that prayers not be included in future programs.
Smith County Schools: A concerned parent reports that the Smith County School Board begins each meeting with a prayer, providing a video as documentation. FFRF-ETC has forwarded the complaint to FFRF national, which has written to the school board to request and end to these constitutional violations
Russellville-Whitesburg Utility District: Bible verses are being printed on utility bills. Following a complaint from a customerand a letter from FFRF national, the utility board has agreed to discontinue these messages.
Tennessee schools are now required to display the "In God we Trust" motto. FFRF-ETC will be offering schools a minimally-offensive poster provided by the Original Motto Project.
East Ridge Elementary School in Hamilton county has been distributing fliers promoting “vacation bible school” and other religious events occurring at local churches. Following a complaint by FFRF-ETC, FFRF national asked the Hamilton County Schools to stop these violations of the First Amendment. Hamilton County has agreed not to send home any flyers of any nature whatsoever unless they pertain directly to school programs.
Clarkrange High School (Fentress County): Principal Judy Jones delivered a Christian prayer at the school's graduation ceremony, according to a complaint from a student. FFRF national wrote to the County Director of Schools demanding that these constitutional violations be stopped. The Superintendent of Schools denies that the Principal gave a prayer.
Cumberland County Schools: A concerned resident complained to FFRF-ETC that the schools were using a sex education program administered by Plateau Pregnancy Services, a Christian ministry. In response to an Open Records request by FFRF-ETC, Cumberland County Director of Schools Janet Graham stated that the Plateau Pregnancy program was terminated in 2014 and that their schools now use the “Life on Point” program, “a research-based and evidence-based curriculum approved by the Tennessee State Department of Education Coordinated School Health Department”. Graham further noted that prayer meetings are voluntary, student-led, and generally before or after school. Graham says that she told the Fellowship of Christian Athletes that they could not present a message about Jesus and promote the gospel for Cumberland County students. PPS still has Cumberland County listed on their Web page along with other TN Counties. A follow up letter of appreciation will go to Cumberland County and letters were sent to the other counties and PPS. Kurt Dronebarger of the White County Board of Education replied that PPS does not work with White County Schools, who use the secular Cookeville Pregnancy Clinic for sex ed. Mike Jones of Fentress County replied that their schools do not work with PPS. Plateau Pregnancy Services has removed reference to serving students of Cumberland, Fentress and White Counties from their website.
Tennessee Department of Children’s Services: Tennessee requires aspiring foster parents to go through training which includes a video segment on “spirituality” which advises parents that they will need “a belief in something greater than you”, promoting spirituality, God, prayer, and faith. Parents must sign a “statement of faith”. FFRF-ETC, following a complaint by an aspiring parent, referred the matter to FFRF national, who sent a letter to the State. DCS agreed to stop using the offending video segment.
Van Buren County recently installed a 10 Commandments monument in front of their Justice Center. FFRF national would like to move forward with legal action against this violation of church/state separation. Litigation requires a resident of Van Buren County willing to be the complainant. FFRF national has been successful in similar lawsuits.
Knox County promotes Baccalaureate services. As described on the Bearden High School website, “baccalaureate is an optional, non-denominational service. It is an opportunity for parents, family and friends to give their blessings to the graduating seniors, thanking God for them, and challenging them to seek Him in the next chapter of their lives.” Litigation requires a family willing to come forward as complainants.
Cleveland Middle School: A student complained that a teacher told students that they needed to be saved and that religious paraphernalia is displayed in library. The student was willing to come forward without anonymity. Responding to complaints from FFRF-ETC, the Principal committed to dealing with the issue, acknowleding the need for tolerance of diverse beliefs.
West Hills Elementary (Knox County): Signs promoting an Easter program by Concord West Hills Church were observed in front of the school. Following complaints by parents, FFRF-ETC asked West Hills Elementary Principal Kimberle Harrison and Clifford Davis, assistant to the Knox County Schools Superintendent, to remove the signs. Both Davis and Harrison assured FFRF-ETC that it would not happen (at that school) again.
Cumberland County Schools: Some County schools have posted the 10 Commandments. Following complaints from local parents, the national FFRF asked the County to remove the signs. On March 22, the County Board of Education voted 6-3 to keep the signs. FFRF-ETC issued an Action Alert encouraging citizens to contact the Board. Patricia Jones, a state representative for FFRF, spoke at the meeting to voice disapproval of the measure. The matter has been referred to FFRF national.
Alcoa High School: Students walked out of class on April 21 to protest school shootings. Principal Becky Stone tells the Blount County Daily Times that she responded by leading the protesting students in prayer. In response to a report from FFRF-ETC, FFRF national has sent a warning letter to Alcoa City Director of Schools Brian Bell.
Wayne County High School: Following multiple reports by community members of prayers broadcasts over the P.A. system to students during the morning announcements, FFRF-ETC reported the situation to FFRF national, which has sent a cease and desist letter to the Director of Schools, who has agreed to stop the broadcasts.
Lanier and Mary Blount Elementary Schools (Blount County): Parents report that teachers were handing out Bibles to 5th grade classes. FFRF-ETC has filed complaints with the Principal and Director of Schools, but an attorney representing Blount County declined to address the issue, claiming the FFRF-ETC has no standing because we do not have kids in the Blount County schools. FFRF-ETC has referred the matter to FFRF national.
Reach Them to Teach Them is a local nonprofit which encourages teachers to share their Christian faith with students. On October 24 they held an event called “Right Here 2017” at the Tennessee Theatre. While teachers are free to attend religious events, Knox County is providing in-service credit for attendance. FFRF-ETC has given FFRF national contact information for a teacher who attended the event so they can determine the extent of the constitutional violation and plan appropriate action.
Several violations have been observed by a teacher at the Lenoir City Schools; they have been reported to FFRF-national, but they have not taken effective action. 1) A nativity scene is displayed on a secretary’s desk in the high school guidance office, along with a red cross, while playing religious music plays. In response to a teacher'scomplaint the principal says that this is the secretary’s “personal space”. 2) At Lenoir City School Board meetings, Ron Jordan, President of the Lenoir City Committee of 100, reports on the Committee’s activities, then performs a Christian prayer. FFRF-national has been notified; they send letters which are ignored. FFRF-ETC might request a secular prayer. 3) Ron Jordan calls himself the chaplain for Lenoir City Council and Lenoir City Schools Board of Education; it may be a first amendment violation for these government bodies to have a chaplain promoting Christianity. 4) The School Superintendent displays a plaque in his office: “The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you,” a clear first amendment violation. The Assistant Principal has his own plaque: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.
Knox County Schools: A Knox County School employee asked FFRF-ETC to help them have a religious display removed from their offices in the Andrew Johnson Building.
The Knox County Schools complied with a request by FFRF-ETC and removed the display.
Coverage of the issue by the Knoxville News Sentinel is here. This was followed by a vicious attack on FFRF-ETC by News Sentinel columnist Greg Johnson, with a response by FFRF-ETC President Aleta Ledendecker.
Knox County Health Department: an employee is displaying religious material on a bulletin board facing the public. In response to FFRF-ETC complaints, County Mayor Burchett has said that such displays are permissible. FFRF-ETC has referred the matter to FFRF-national for possible legal action. Coverage in the Knoxville News Sentinel is here. Coverage on WBIR is here.
Grundy County: A Facebook correspondent has reported two issues in Grundy County. Proceedings at a Grundy County Court are opening with a prayer. Our correspondent will try to record them, and give us the specific date and location. A memorial containing a bible verse stands in front of the courthouse; our correspondent will send a picture.
Dyllis Elementary School (Roane County): As part of their Veterans Day observance, the school displayed a poster reading “God Bless” our troops. FFRF-ETC has e-mailed the principal requesting remedial action.
Blount County Seal: depicts a church to illustrate that religion is one of three pillars of the county. Residents are asking the county to remove the religious references, and are appealing to FFRF-national to take legal action.
Lanier Elementary School (Blount County) parents have been invited to stay at school during after-school tutoring; local churches will provide a dinner and a program fro the parents. FFRF-ETC is concerned that this will include religious content, but has not found a parent who can report on the meeting.
Camelot is a nonprofit which provides foster-care support services for the State of Tennessee. A member attended the foster-parent training program provided by Camelot. The training includes videos are produced by the State. Parents must sign a “statement of faith”. According to the “Charitable Choice” laws signed by Bill Clinton, many social service programs are required to allow the participation of faith-based organizations, but service providers are required to serve all clients regardless of their religion of lack thereof. FFRF-ETC will review the paperwork
A parent reports that a teacher offered Bibles to students as they finished lunch at Mary Blount Elementary School (Blount County). FFRF-ETC sent a letter of complaint to the Director of Schools and the Blount County Attorney.
"Bible in the Schools" has donated $1.1 million to Hamilton County to cover the costs of Bible History classes in Chattanooga area schools. Students in one such class report that the teaching was fair; FFRF-ETC is interested to hear reports from other students to check for unconstitutional religious content.
Parents complained that Linden Elementary School, Oak Ridge, promoted Christianity by broadcasting the "Hallelujah Chorus" over the P.A. system during morning announcements. The school's principal and the city's attorney have responded to complaints by FFRF-ETC by claiming that this devotional music is a small part of a balanced curriculum. FFRF-ETC filed an open records request to examine the school's music curriculum and concluded that a legal challenge would not be productive. Coverage by the Oak Ridge is here.
In response to complaints from FFRF-ETC, the Knoxville Police Department has removed a Bible verse which was on display at a KPD office. Knoxville News Sentinel story here.
Emerald Youth Center: the City of Knoxville has proposed a partnership with the Christian Emerald Youth Foundation to build a multipurpose facility and sports complex in the Lonsdale neighborhood of Knoxville, including a worship center. FFRF national has sent the City a letter protesting this government subsidy of religious activity.
Home Federal Bank: "Jesus" signs at employee desks have been reported by a patron at the Gibbs Branch. The president and vice-president of the branch responded to FFRF-ETC complaints by stating that employees can post whatever signs they like. FFRF-ETC has complained to the national office of Home Federal and is awaiting a response.
Loudon High school: A parent complained to FFRF_ETC that a Loudon High School Spanish class gave students a quiz on Christian doctrine. Following FFRF-ETC complaints, the teacher was forced to apologize and grades for the quiz were removed from student records. The Director of Schools and the principal apologized to FFRF-ETC, saying that this won’t happen again.
Bearden High School: a teacher reports that a classroom at Bearden High School (Knoxville) looks like a Christian shrine, complete with a large Christian cross, a quote from CS Lewis about how miracles do not contradict the laws of nature, quotes from Psalms and Corinthians, and a bible. FFRF will ask the Knox County Superintendent of Schools to clean this up.
Coffee County Middle School: a parent has complained and sent pictures of students and teachers praying together at a softball gave at Coffee County Middle School (Manchester, TN). FFRF-ETC will write letter to the Coffee County Superintendent of Schools.
Little Library: the Lenoir City High School Secular Student Alliance is working to erect a Little Library on the Lenoir City greenway. An initially positive response by Lenoir City Director of Parks followed by a denial of the request, after the Director learned who the sponsor was. The Director cited the threat of vandalism. This is likely a pretext rather than a bona fide reason, especially since a “Jesus Calling” book was photographed on the Director’s desk. A complaint from FFRF-ETC to the Director has been forwarded to the Lenoir City Attorney. A petition or an e-mail campaign might influence the Lenoir City government.
Lanier Elementary, Alcoa, Blount County: violations here are egregious. Teachers have been sending religious flyers home with kids. The principal has been promoting their “sponsor church” and telling parents how to vote. Christmas songs have been performed at the school, and students (and perhaps staff) participate in flagpole prayers. Complaints to FFRF national have not led to action. Since this is a high priority, with motivated parents, FFRF-ETC will take up the ball. FFRF-ETC has written to Blount County Director of Schools. In response, the Blount County Attorney denies wrongdoing, asserting that prayers are student-led and that the Christmas songs are not religious. FFRF-ETC has responded, pointing out how the church-school entanglement violates the first amendment.
The annual Gun & Knife show, co-sponsored by Cumberland County, advertised free admission upon presentation of a church bulletin. Following notice from FFRF national that this was illegal discrimination, Cumberland County will ensure that this discrimination is discontinued.
Emmanuel Assembly Church has posted a sign in front of Holston Middle School (Knox County) promoting their meetings in that school. FFRF-ETC found a parent willing to take the matter to court, if necessary, and contacted the Knox County Schools, who directed that the sign be taken down.
Bearden High School displays a logo in their foyer which includes a Roman cross. FFRF-ETC has contacted FFRF national regarding the Bearden High School logo and awaits a response.
A bill has been sent to Governor Haslam making “In God we Trust” an optional, no-cost addition to Tennessee License plates. Contact Governor Haslam with your opinions.
Governor Haslam has signed a bill defining “mother”, “father”, “husband”, and “wife” as having their “natural and ordinary meaning”.
The Gideons have been distributing Bibles at Chuckey Elementary (Greene County) FFRF-ETC is working with FFRF attorneys to stop this illegal promotion of religion. FFRF-ETC is considering the distribution of freethought literature as an "equal time" measure.
Following complaints from FFRF-ETC, the Postmaster of the South Knoxville Post Office has removed religious artwork which was publicly displayed.
At Belle Morris Elementary (Knox County) a banner was on display advertising a church event while teacher-led prayers were being conducted in a kindergarten class. Both illegal practices have been discontinued following complaints from FFRF-ETC.
Cumberland County has sponsored a gun and knife show offering a discount to those presenting church bulletins. Following protests by FFRF-ETC, the county will discontinue this illegal promotion of religion.
Following protests from FFRF-ETC, Meadowview Middle School (Hamblen County) will discontinue prayers illegally led by coaches at football practices and games.
Teachers at Lee Elementary School (Tullahoma City) have been wearing t-shirts with biblical references, with the support of the Tullahoma City School System. FFRF-ETC is working to stop this illegal promotion of religion.
Ball Camp Elementary School has signs promoting local churches displayed on its baseball field. FFRF-ETC, along with other local secular groups, as asked the school to put up our sign as will. A banner has been designed and awaits deployment.
Emmanuel Assembly Church has posted a sign in front of Holston Middle School (Knox County) promoting their meetings in that school. FFRF-ETC is working with the City of Knoxville and the Knox County School district to have this illegal sign taken down.
Other FFRF-national Actions in Tennessee:
McEwan Junior High (Waverly) Christian prayers delivered over the loudspeaker at the start of football games have been discontinued followingn complaints from FFRF
FFRF has persuaded Shelby County to suspend land give-aways to churches.
The post office in Morristown removed the Christian "Sign of the Times" magazine rack from its property following FFRF complaints.