School’s social media post violates separation of church and state, was removed hours later

Graham Mesa Elementary School’s religious Facebook post that prompted complaint

The principal of a public western slope elementary school posted a message on the school’s Facebook page April 11 that overtly endorsed Christianity in violation of the separation of church and state.

Brian Sprenger, the Principle of Graham Mesa Elementary School in Rifle, posted an Easter greeting on the school’s Facebook page yesterday evening with a photo of four children posing jubilantly in the driveway of a home with huge, chalk images of multiple large Christian crosses and the equally huge message “He is Risen.”

Message taken down after school notified

Several people who commented below the post pointed out how it violated separation of church and state. One person wrote, “Probably not a good idea to post personal beliefs on a public school page… seems like your [sic] speaking for the school as a whole…” Another person wrote, “I agree with you completely … This is something that should be posted on a personal page with personal beliefs.”

Brian Sprenger

A secular reader contacted Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF) about the post just before 8:00 a.m. on Easter morning to alert the group to the post. WCAF is a nonprofit organization that advocates separation of church and state and encourages people to report violations.

WCAF immediately contacted school officials and the message was removed about 15 hours after it was posted. The principal explained that he had asked students to share what they had been doing during the Coronavirus shutdown, and students sent him the photo as a result.

The law says public schools can celebrate secular aspects of such holidays and teach students about the belief systems that underpin religious holidays, but they are strictly prohibited from endorsing religion or engaging in religious observance of such holidays.


  16 comments for “School’s social media post violates separation of church and state, was removed hours later

  1. Actually the school has been having families send pictures of what they have been doing during the quarantine and then those fun activities have been posted on the Facebook page. Can you imagine the backlash if the principal started picking and choosing whose activities he would post. It never said the teachers or school district or school were telling anyone anything. Some of their students created art…It doesn’t matter much….their post reached over 100 people who loved it in a matter of hours. Obviously this community has more tolerance and love for their school, principal, and community on a holiday!

  2. When everyone is thru having a fit over the misinterpretation and the misrepresentation of the separation of church and state clause, maybe you can figure out what it really is about. What we see today is people, landman and the like, using the clause to promote their own views without regard to the views of others, or willing to accept ANY view other than their own, that is bigotry, look it up. This is always the case from the left, the “self anointed tolerant and accepting crowd,” unless you happen to share a different view, then all tolerance and acceptance goes out the door. The clause was never meant to address this type of instance, the clause was intended to KEEP the government from TELLING YOU what religious choice you HAD to make, the display of religious sentiment is a free expression of a free people, bigots need to get over it.

    • And don’t you think it’s just possible that a photo that says “HE IS RISEN” on an official school Facebook might just do exactly that – telling you what religious choice you must make?

  3. I want my children to be free from the influence of your Christianity. Keep it where it belongs. The Flying Spaghetti Monster, r’AMEN

  4. I know that we will never agree on this point but I feel the point that is being missed here is irresponsible journalism and sensationalism in order to create a story. People were not upset. You were upset and you chose this poor school and a Facebook post as your scapegoat. I would have had much more respect for you or any of your causes if you had said that it was you that sought out the school, that it was you that was upset, and that you were the one to reach out. Sometimes people take down posts because they do not want to fight or argue not because they are wrong. Maybe they took it down out of respect for you, another human being. However, creating a story on a man and a school community that you do not personally know and interact with shows very little respect or integrity on your part and sadly weakens your arguments. In the truth there is strength. Sensationalism will never be taken seriously.

    • Christine, your arguments make no sense.

      I did not create this story. The elementary school principal created the story by posting what appeared to be an illegal endorsement of Christianity on his public schools’ Facebook page. I just told people about it. And it is incorrect to say no one was upset by his post. Obviously, the people who alerted Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers to post, people who check the school’s Facebook page regularly, WERE alarmed by the post. That’s why they contacted WCAF, a watchdog group that advocates for separation of church and state. And of course it doesn’t matter that I don’t know the principal personally. Ask yourself, would you not turn in a burglar who breaks into your house because you had never met him personally before? Would you not report someone who ran a red light and hit someone because you’d never met him before?

      It is vitally important to tell stories like this because violations of separation of church and state occur all around us all the time — in public schools, in local government, in publicly-funded universities and workplaces — and they have previously been unconfronted and continued apace. Telling about these violations is not some kind of moral deficiency. It’s telling the truth.

      You’re going to have to do better.

  5. This is so disheartening that you have made it your goal in life to persecute the believing community. Tolerance is tolerance not just for what you believe in. Your article is very misleading. There were over 100 likes and at least 20 positive comments. There were three comments that didn’t like it and one of those was yours. You can create whatever spin you want but in the end truth prevails. Bullying is bullying on all sides. Also if you do further research there are entire school districts across America wishing their families a happy Easter proclaiming the true reason for the day (which by the way is not about a bunny). Your comment created the controversy on the Facebook page not the majority of members of the community. It is a free country and you can post what you want but with journalism ethics in place please at least report them factually and without fabrication to further support your own personal agenda.

    • I’m praying real hard that your typewriter ribbon runs dry. But I forgive you. WCAF wasn’t persecuting anyone. The law is the law. Let’s all render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, huh?

      • Bob, to be fair to Christine I don’t believe she was talking about the organization. If you had seen the post you would see that Miss Landman was the one who created the ruckus and caused the controversy, which is fine. I would have to agree that the article kind of reads as if there was a group of people who are unhappy. Based on the number of likes and all the comments that group of people was extremely small if not just 2 people. Whether it was right or wrong isn’t really the point I think it is that Christine was pointing out that there are some statements in this article that persecute that principal here in Rifle and paint a picture of something that wasn’t the case. Thanks and have a great day

    • Christine, you’ve completely missed bigger the point. It doesn’t matter how many people like it or dislike it, and there is no spin here. The problem is clear. The post violated federal law governing the separation of church and state. It is illegal for a taxpayer-funded public school to endorse or even appear to endorse or promote a religion. This falls out of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    • Also, the principal obviously agreed that he was in the wrong to post it, as he removed it immediately after being made aware that it was a church/state violation.

  6. At about 10:30 today Easter Sunday, I drove past the Glade Park community Church. The parking lot was full of cars and people. No social distancing. No one wearing any masks. thanks pro-lifers for not worrying about my life. It only matters I guess if you’re a white unborn fetus.

    • Sarah, from the Glade Park Church’s website, it appeared they were doing a drive-in service today.

      • Yes I know a lot of churches are doing that. This clearly wasn’t a drive-thrutype of service. There must have been twenty people standing together talking in the parking lot.

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