The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist rights group, called for the immediate removal of a Christian flag from an East Texas high school campus or it will risk legal action.
A letter from Sam Grover, associate counsel for the Wisconsin-based organization, also questioned some practices regarding religious expression at the LaPoynor Independent School District, demanding that faculty and staff do not organize, promote, or participate in religious events while acting in their official capacities.
Grover noted the letter came in response to a complaint from a local Henderson County resident and former LaPoynor ISD student.
“It is unconstitutional for the school to display the Christian flag,” wrote Grover about the flag that flies alongside the American and Texas flags on the high school’s campus. The flag was placed on the campus in April, a decision made by the district’s Superintendent James Young, who is also a local pastor, according to KLTV.
The FFRF attorney also argued that LaPoynor ISD’s Facebook postings of religious events violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. One purported event that came under fire, See You at the Pole, is a moment of prayer held by the campus Fellowship of Christian Athletes. FFRF questioned the role of public school administrators, staff, and faculty, who are legally prohibited from participating and must remain neutral when acting in their official capacities.
Shaine Snyder, the group’s parent liaison, shot back, telling KLTV: “It’s free social media, it’s not bought or paid for by the state or by the district.”
See You at The Pole, a student-led and organized Christian prayer rally group, has chapters across the country. Snyder added that prayer is “done before school hours, it’s student-led, no one’s forced to go.”
FFRF also took exception with the school district posting an image of “a diploma and mortarboard laying across a bible opened to Proverbs” to purportedly “promote” the high school’s annual baccalaureate ceremony for graduating seniors.
“To the extent that the District is responsible for organizing the See You at the Pole event or baccalaureate services, it is in violation of constitutional law” which “prohibits public schools from sponsoring any type of religious practices,” wrote Grover.
He asserted the school district’s alleged practices “has an exclusionary effect, turning non-Christian and non-believing students into outsiders.” He added: “The District should be particularly mindful of being inclusive of minority religious and nonreligious people.”
Grover cited a Pew Research Center report that indicated 44 percent of younger Americans born after 1990 are non-Christians. In the letter, Grover asked the district to inform them in writing of the steps “you are taking to remedy these constitutional violations.”
On Thursday, the LaPoynor ISD superintendent responded that the district is reviewing the FFRF complaint and noted it was prepared to “take any action deemed necessary.”
In a statement, Young wrote:
LaPoynor ISD is in receipt of a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation in which they take issue with some district practices regarding religious expression. As always, we appreciate members of our community bringing any matters of concern to our attention. We are in the process of reviewing the concerns addressed in the correspondence and will take any action deemed necessary.
LaPoynor ISD is committed to achieving an appropriate balance between permissible religious expression and the obligation to maintain neutrality in its policies and practices.
Thursday evening, the school board met before a packed room. During their public comments forum, three people spoke up about the FFRF complaint, KYTX reported.
“It’s important, when you’re dealing with a bully, to stand up to that bully,” said one man. Another called FFRF “tyrannists,” for fighting “against what’s right, what’s holy, and what’s sacred to Christians.”
The school board only introduced the issue as an information item, which means it did not require an action or vote. However, Young later said: “We may need to take action on the next board meeting.”
In 2011, FFRF unsuccessfully tried to force the Henderson County Commissioners Court to remove its annual Christmas nativity scene display from the courthouse lawn.
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