For Immediate Release
Merrill Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 105, firstname.lastname@example.org
Monica Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 120, email@example.com
(Washington, D.C., June 11, 2014)—The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center (AHLC) collaborated with the Birdville Independent School District in Haltom City, Texas, to correct several infringements of the Establishment Clause to the First Amendment.
Senior student Isaiah Smith reported a series of Establishment Clause violations to the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, including school sponsorship of religious Baccalaureate ceremonies, overnight retreats held at a local church, and Christian iconography in the public school classrooms. After the Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter in May to the school district reporting these violations, school officials responded promptly by collaborating with the AHLC to correct these violations while ensuring that students’ and teachers’ First Amendment rights are maintained.
“We are very pleased that the school has been willing to cooperate with us to correct these violations,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “These reasonable accommodations strike the appropriate balance between free speech rights and the Establishment Clause.”
“Public schools must maintain the separation of church and state,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “By taking steps to halt these constitutional violations, the school district is respecting the rights of all students.”
The school and the legal center agreed that principals and other school administrators cannot participate in the Baccalaureate ceremonies, though they can still attend as spectators. The school has also agreed that it will no longer hold its retreats in a church but will instead use a local community center. The school will also remove the cross displays in classrooms, though teachers may retain small, personal religious items in or near their desk space so long as the items are not obvious to students. To ensure it maintains its neutrality on religious matters, the school drafted a series of guidelines on handling First Amendment Speech and Religion issues that will be part of the annual faculty training.
The Appignani Humanist Legal Center previously worked with Isaiah Smith and the Birdville Independent School District in December 2013, when the legal center sent a letter on Smith’s behalf after he was suspended for ripping his own Bible in class.
A copy of the letter sent to the school in regards to the violations can be found here.
Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other non-religious Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.