The Freedom From Religion Foundation has ensured an end to a North Carolina school district’s unconstitutional advertising of weekly religious services at a local church.
Southwest Elementary School in Durham, N.C., was allowing Keystone Church to place a large sign on the school’s lawn to advertise its Sunday worship services. FFRF’s local complainant reports that the sign was up at all times, including during the school week. The school had also allowed the church to store materials visible to students in the gym, including signs advertising the church.
It is well settled that public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion, FFRF reminded Durham Public Schools. Advancing, preferring and promoting religion is exactly what a school does when it allows a church to prominently place an advertisement for students, parents, school employees and anyone passing by to see.
“Southwest Elementary School may not display messages on school grounds that recruit participants to engage in religious worship,” FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott wrote to the school district’s legal counsel. “Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools.”
When a school continuously displays an advertisement for a church on its property, it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message — here a Christian message, FFRF stressed. This alienates non-Christian students, teachers, and members of the public, particularly the 24 percent of Americans, and 38 percent of Americans born after 1987, who are not religious.
FFRF’s request that the school district remove all church property from school grounds during times when the church was not renting school facilities was heeded.
“The church street sign has been removed and the signs that are stored in the gym have been completely covered,” the school district’s representative replied in an email.
FFRF appreciates the school district’s responsiveness.
“We would prefer that churches not rent public school facilities for worship,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “But when they do, public schools must ensure signage is confined to rental periods and conforms to other school policies.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 32,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 600 members and the Triangle Freethought Society chapter in North Carolina.