Tag: education

What it’s Like to be a Student with a Brain in the Delta County School District

Cidney Fisk, first row on the right, in red tennies, with a group of Delta High students last April, who were recognized by the Delta County Independent for displaying "exceptional leadership, service, academic excellence, and are outstanding citizens in their school and community."

Cidney Fisk, front row on the left in red sleeved shirt and red tennies, shown with other Delta High students last April who  the Delta County Independent recognized for displaying “exceptional leadership, service, academic excellence, and [for being] outstanding citizens in their school and community.”

No one disputes that Cidney Fisk, 18, of Delta, Colorado, is among the most accomplished graduates ever turned out by the Delta County School District. But some of Cidney’s personal characteristics, including her atheism, apparently rubbed Delta High School (DHS) officials the wrong way, and she has paid dearly for it.

Delta County School District Has Lots to Answer For

DDServicesThe Delta County School District is in serious need of help.

The recent exposure of the extent of Christian proselytizing in the Delta County school system has not just raised eyebrows locally, state-wide, nationally and internationally. It has encouraged Delta area residents to come forward with their own personal stories of proselytizing and discrimination in Delta public schools and their workplaces, and how it has affected their lives.

More Info Surfaces on Delta County School District’s Promotion of Religious Ideology

Shelly Donahue, an abstinence-only teacher from Elevate Youth, a religious ministry based in Plano, Texas, who was hired to give trainings to Delta County School District Students last October

Shelly Donahue, an abstinence-only teacher from Elevate Youth, a religious ministry based in Plano, Texas, who was hired to give trainings to Delta County School District Students last October. The sole funder of the program was a religious ministry.

News about the pending distribution of atheist and Satanic literature in Delta County schools April 1 is encouraging more students, parents and even teachers to come forward with information about what they say is a persistent pattern of state/church violations, religiously-based discrimination and even outright bigotry, harassment and demeaning of atheist and non-believing students occurring within the Delta County School system.

Parents from Delta County contacted Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF) Tuesday morning (3/22/16) to alert the group to what they feel is pervasive Christian proselytizing occurring in Delta County Schools. They say they and their child have suffered to a great extent from the school district’s persistent embrace of religious promotion.

Delta County School District Gives Thumbs-Up to Handing Out Atheist and Satanic Literature to Students

Brochure to be distributed to Delta County High School students on April 1

Brochure to be distributed to Delta County High School students on April 1

The Delta County School District (DCSD) has approved the distribution of atheistic, secular and Satanic literature to middle and high school students throughout Delta County on April 1, 2016, and will carry out the literature distribution on behalf of the groups who have applied to do it.

A Moneymaking Proposition

Colorado Mesa University is charging $50 these classes, but all the instructors are volunteering their time to teach them.

Notice how Colorado Mesa University is charging $50 for these classes, but all the instructors are volunteering their time to teach them. As long as all the labor for the program is 100% free to the University, perhaps a lower fee could make this educational opportunity accessible to more people. (Ad from the Daily Sentinel, January 27, 2016)

A Talk With a Grand Junction Jehovah’s Witness-Turned-Atheist

Andrew Vodopich

Andrew Vodopich, a life-long Jehovah’s Witness, left the religion to become an atheist

For most of his life Andrew Vodopich of Grand Junction was a devoted Jehovah’s Witness. His parents were raised in the faith, they raised Andrew in the faith, and like a good child he became a devout believer himself. For most of his life, he never questioned what his elders told him about the world, and he hoped as all good Witnesses do, to become one of the chosen few who would make it into the coveted Kingdom of Heaven. Andrew even met and married his wife within the religion, so the religion pretty much formed the basis of Andrew’s entire life.

That was then.

In November of 2015, at age 32, Andrew suddenly left the Jehovah’s Witnesses, gave up religion entirely and became an atheist.

Delta County School District Superintendent Brushes off Legal, Policy Violations in Bible Handout

Delta County School District Superintendent Caryn Gibson (Photo Credit: Western Colorado Community Foundation)

Delta County School District Superintendent Caryn Gibson (Photo Credit: Western Colorado Community Foundation)

After being informed that a Gideon Bible hand-out in Delta Middle School library during class time on December 18, 2015 violated U.S. laws guaranteeing separation of church and state,  violated the School District’s policy governing the distribution of non-curricular literature in multiple ways and caused students who did not take bibles to be bullied and harassed, Delta County School District Superintendent Caryn Gibson responded by saying:

“Hello

Thank you for your concern and email.  Delta County School District honors the separation of Church and State.  The Gideon Bibles were left on a table and optional for 6th grade students to take.  No staff members distributed the non-curricular materials at anytime.  Attached is the Delta County School District policy on non-curricular material.  

Caryn Gibson

Superintendent

Delta County Public Schools 50J

(p) 970-874-4438

cgibson@deltaschools.com

DMSDistribution-Posting-of-Noncurricular-Materials

That was it.

No acknowledgement that the school district’s own policy was violated, no acknowledgement that constitutional law was violated.

Zip.

Clear Violations of School Policy, No Acknowledgement by District

It is unconstitutional for public school districts to allow bibles to be distributed in classrooms during the school day. American courts have uniformly held that distributing bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited, and school officials like teachers and administrators cannot facilitate the bible handouts. At Delta Middle School, social studies teacher Michael Long took his class to the library during their regular class period, told the students there were bibles on a table by the library door, and they could take one if they wanted. The event gave the appearance that the school endorses Christianity above other religions.

Under the law, Gideons can only distribute religious literature off campus, on municipally-owned public sidewalks well off school grounds.

In addition, the DMS bible giveaway violated the District’s own literature distribution policy in not one, but in four different ways

1. District policy states (pdf) that any “printed non-curricular material” cannot be distributed in “any classroom of any building when being occupied by a regularly-scheduled class.” The reporting student’s class was held in the school library on 12/18 so the class could do research. The library was the students’ classroom that day, during regularly-scheduled class time. Moreover, this wasn’t the only class held in the library that day, or the only class in which bibles were foisted upon the students.

2. District policy states “Distribution [of non-curricular materials, like bibles] may be made 1/2 hour before school and/or during regularly scheduled lunch periods…..Any other times during the school day are considered to be disruptive of normal school activities.” [Italicized emphasis added.] This student’s social studies class was held in the library at 9:40 a.m., as was previously pointed out to the superintendent, during normal school hours. More than one teacher brought their class to the library during school hours that same day.

3. Delta School District policy also states “Students may not be used as the agents for distribution of such materials without the written consent of the student’s parents.” Mr. Long’s social studies students became agents for the Gideons’ distribution when they started pressuring other students to take a bible. No written consent was solicited from the parents of these students regarding solicitation of bibles.

4. District Policy states “No student may in any way be compelled or coerced to accept any materials being distributed by any person distributing such materials or any school official.” Both Mr. Long and some of his social studies students pressured the reporting student to take a bible. Another element of the policy states teachers can not endorse the literature.  Mr. Long endorsed the bible distribution when he told students “There’s bibles and they are free if you want one.” 

How can the Delta School District ignore these violations of their own policy, and even more importantly, why are they failing to acknowledge and remedy them?

Update – 3/23/16 – The Delta County School District only finally acknowledged that the Gideon Bible giveaway in the Delta Middle School library violated of their own policy (pdf) after the school district’s attorney was contacted by a staff attorney from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) based in Madison, Wisconsin. When FFRF asked that the Gideons be banned from further literature distribution in accordance with school policy (which permits revoking literature distribution privileges for policy violators), the school district attorney, Aaron Clay, refused, blaming the violations of policy on school personnel rather than on the Gideons.

Delta Middle School Pushes Bibles on Students During Class

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 8.17.32 PM

Delta Middle School Principal Jennifer Lohrberg

The parent of a Delta County, Colorado middle school student is reporting some of the most overt violations of separation of church and state yet discovered to be occurring in western slope public schools.

The parent’s child attends Delta Middle School (DMS) and reported to her mom on Friday, December 18, that her social studies class went to the school library with their teacher, Mr. Michael Long (michael.long@deltaschools.com). Once in the library, Mr. Long “announced to the class that there were free bibles available” and students “could pick one up off of a table located in the doorway of the library and take it home.” A student who noted this was a violation of separation of church and state in a public school, took a photo of the bibles on the table and sent it via text to her mother, pointing out that the table was located where students had to walk around it to enter and exit the library.

The student who did not take a bible was confronted by her classmates about why she didn’t take one, and they started shaming her for not conforming to Christian beliefs.

After finding out bibles were being distributed during school time with the endorsement of a social studies teacher, an outraged parent contacted DMS Principal Jennifer Lohrberg (jennifer.lohrberg@deltaschools.com) to protest the overt endorsement of Christianity on school property and during school hours. Principal Lohrberg insisted the bible giveaway was all in accordance with school policy, and sent the upset parent a copy of Delta County School District’s policy governing posting and distribution of non-curricular literature. (pdf)

DMS Violates Its Own Literature Distribution Policy, Multiple Times — And Denies It

Gideon Bibles piled on a table at the entrance/exit to the Delta Middle School library December 18, 2015

Gideon Bibles piled on a table at the entrance/exit to the Delta Middle School library December 18, 2015. (Photo credit: DMS student)

One must only read the Delta County School District’s policy, though, to see DMS bible giveaway violated the District’s own literature distribution policy four different ways

Statement from the CMU BSN Nursing Class of 2015

Colorado Mesa University’s 2015 Bachelor of Science in Nursing class graduating students have issued the following statement about today’s resolution of the Gideon Bible giveaway controversy that has taken place over the last several weeks:

 

November 18, 2015

To whom it may concern;

We, the Colorado Mesa University BSN class of December 2015, have collectively reached a resolution regarding the recent events surrounding our pinning ceremony. We respectfully request that any interested parties cease any further action and involvement. We ask that you allow us to celebrate our accomplishments amongst family and friends without controversy. Thank you.

Sincerely, BSN Class of December 2015

Congratulations to all the graduates on your wonderful accomplishments. You will no doubt do great things in the world!

Foster: Bible Giveaways Over at CMU

Victory

A victory for separation of church and state locally

In a clean win for common sense and the separation of church and state locally, Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster announced this morning that he is ending all on-campus bible giveaways at CMU.

In a note to people who had contacted him about the issue, Foster thanked those who had provided him feedback and potential solutions about what to do with the longstanding but now highly controversial tradition.

Foster wrote,

I have had additional discussions with Health Sciences faculty and nursing students. I have sought legal counsel and researched legal precedent. I have listened to the divergent viewpoints of others. Taking all that into consideration, the Bible give-away at the pinning ceremony will be discontinued.Though the presentation of Bibles to graduating nurses by the Gideons at the pinning ceremony is a long-standing, international tradition and the pinning ceremony itself does, in fact, have religious roots, it is important to remain focused upon and to celebrate the accomplishment achieved by all of our graduating students at the December 2015 Commencement.”

On-Campus Bible Giveaway Still On; CMU Nursing Students Unhappy with School’s Response to Bible Protest

GJ_CMU_sign2-630x418The anonymous Colorado Mesa University nursing students who oppose administration plans to hand out Gideon Bibles at their December 11 pinning ceremony are livid at the school’s response to their protest, and have already contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) about their plight.

“We are serious about it,” one of the anonymous complainants said.

Some students opposing the bible handout aren’t Christians, and some of them have no religious bent at all.

Bible handouts at nurses’ pinning ceremonies are normally features of religious institutions of higher learning, like Baptist or Christian colleges. It’s rare for a publicly-funded college or university to highlight a specific religion at a graduation ceremony this way, or for their graduation ceremonies to have any religious component at all, because of federal laws governing the separation of church and state.

The students want to remain anonymous because they’ve already gotten harassment and ridicule for speaking out against CMU’s endorsement of Christianity. They do not want to be put in the position of having to refuse to accept a bible in front of other people because a Catholic hospital is the biggest medical employer in the area, and they feel refusing to take a bible (or failing to be seen picking one up off a table) could negatively impact their ability to get jobs locally. Some of them may continue to have to interact with the same instructors in graduate programs.

Beyond that, the bible handout is more than just unfair to the nursing program’s non-Christian, atheist and agnostic students. It’s most likely illegal, and by allowing bibles to be given out on campus at a school-sponsored function, CMU may be crossing a legal line.

Under U.S. law, publicly-funded schools cannot give the appearance of endorsing any religion.

In a June 19, 2000 Supreme Court, ruling (pdf) in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe, the Court wrote:

“[S]chool sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are nonadherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community and accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.’”

Giving away Christian bibles at an on-campus, school-sponsored event like a pinning ceremony — even if the bibles are simply set on a table for pickup — would give the distinct appearance that the school endorses that religion.

“Outing” the Protesters

Some school staff have claimed that the 31 students of the graduating class had already voted on the matter some time ago, but that’s not the case.  A memo nursing students got from staff earlier in the fall listed pinning ceremony requirements and indicated quite clearly that the bible giveaway was a non-negotiable part of the program. Also, the Director of CMU’s nursing program, Debra Bailey, sent out an email only yesterday, November 12, asking all of the students to vote by email on whether the bible giveaway should be part of the ceremony. The problem with this, aside from this vote being taken very late in the game and only under pressure, is that Ms. Bailey made the vote mandatory and ordered all of the students to submit their votes by email, which would of course allow her to “out” all of the protesters.

Is a vote like that fair? “No, of course not,” say the complaining students, who sought an anonymous vote on the matter. This vote seems more like a trap than anything else.

Screen shot 2015-11-13 at 4.41.51 PM

An Easy Fix

There is really no reason for all the hand-wringing, finger-pointing and agonizing that’s going on over this event, by students or staff. There is a very easy way to defuse the whole problem, stop cold any potential threat of litigation against CMU and its instructors and satisfy the upset nursing students 100% percent without inconveniencing anyone or costing anything: Move the Gideon Bible giveaway off campus entirely.

The Gideon volunteer could sit at the Christian coffee bar across 12th Street from CMU with the bibles, and nursing grads can be instructed to go to the coffee bar after the pinning ceremony to get one if they want it. Rather than putting unwilling people in the uncomfortable position of having to refuse a bible or be seen not taking one at the pinning ceremony, just make the books available to all the people who want them at an easily-accessible, comfortable location nearby off campus.

Voila’! Problem solved.

How Far Will CMU Staff Push the Matter?

All that remains to be seen is how far CMU Nursing Program staff are willing to push their luck with this issue, in the face of clear and fairly recent case law on the subject. Staff can insist on keeping the bible giveaway on campus and take their chances with a group of upset students contacting the ACLU and the FFRF, or they can solve the entire problem, placate the students and save CMU and themselves from any legal threat and just move it off campus.

It’s so easy to fix this problem and make everyone happy, but will they?

Given how issues of separation of church and state have played out in Grand Junction in the past, where elected officials have tried to prove a religious point by avoiding the easy, sensible solution and instead choosing expensive, convoluted solutions that cost taxpayers a lot of money, this issue could go either way. If this issue goes the wrong way, though, it could put CMU out on a limb.

Let’s hope that’s not the case with this issue at CMU. Let’s hope that the school administrators choose the simple, sensible solution, and move the bible giveaway off campus. Then they can avoid this thorny problem into the future by learning from it, honoring and respecting the diversity that exists on campus, and steadfastly avoiding any activity that resembles an endorsement of religion on campus from here on out.

 

 

 

 

CMU to Force Christian Bibles on RN/BSN Grads; Nursing Students Fight it

A box of Bibles from Gideons International

A box of Bibles from Gideons International

Students about to graduate from Colorado Mesa University’s RN/BSN nursing program are fighting a school-sponsored plan to hand out Gideon Bibles to nursing graduates after they step down from the dais at their pinning ceremony. The December 11 pinning ceremony is a symbolic welcoming of newly-graduated nurses into the nursing profession, and is the nursing students’ official, school-sponsored graduation ceremony.

Students Given No Choice

RN/BSN Nursing program administrators let students vote on many details of their own graduation ceremony, like the location and photographer, but made it clear to students that the Bible give-away was a non-negotiable part of the ceremony.

The Bibles are to be distributed by a local volunteer for Gideons International, a Christian evangelical organization that works to convert people to Christianity. According to their website, Gideons International is “dedicated to telling people about Jesus through sharing personally and by providing Bibles and New Testaments.” The Gideons are primarily known for putting Bibles in hotel and motel night stands, but they also distribute Bibles to elementary schools starting in the 5th grade, and to colleges, prisons, jails, hospitals and medical offices.

CMU nursing students who aren’t Christian and some who aren’t religious were appalled that they would be forced to either accept or reject a Christian Bible in front of the entire audience at their graduation ceremony. The students protested the Bible give-away to CMU president Tim Foster, but nursing program faculty attempted to ridicule the complaint and told students it is simply “what we do,” and they should just accept the Bible as a gift.

christianNurseThe disaffected students then contacted Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF), a group that advocates for the separation of church and state. WCAF wrote a letter (pdf) to CMU President Foster and Diana Bailey, the head of CMU’s RN/BSN program, on the students’ behalf explaining that many students in CMU’s 2015 nursing class who aren’t Christians find the Bible give-away offensive and improper.  Under the law, WCAF said, the Gideons can give away Bibles, but only if they stand on city-owned sidewalk, well off school property, while they do it.

CMU Focuses Exclusively on Christianity

“It’s a blatant disregard of other peoples’ religion,” said one student, who wished to remain anonymous, to WCAF members. Another student wondered why just one religion would be represented at the ceremony. To be fair, the students said, CMU needs to distribute texts from other religions as well, like Books of Mormon, Korans and Talmuds.

The students have a point.

Public schools can’t do anything that gives the appearance of endorsing a single religion.

The Supreme Court, ruling (pdf) in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe (June 19, 2000), explained that,

“[S]chool sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are nonadherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community and accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.’”

Publicly-funded institutions like CMU have to stay neutral in matters of religion, and cannot do anything a reasonable person might construe as an endorsement of a particular religion.

And that’s exactly how the nursing students see the Bible give-away: as an improper endorsement of one and only one religion: Christianity.

The nursing students have three main goals:

  1. They want to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution and the potential for compromising their future careers locally,
  2. They want their entire class to be able to vote on the Bible give-away, and if a majority of the class approves of it, the students want other religious texts, as well as information on atheism, to be included in the give-away.
  3. The want CMU to acknowledge that the Bible give-away violates the law, and they want to keep future nursing classes from having to grapple with this same issue over again in future years.
CMU President Tim Foster

CMU President Tim Foster

One thing that’s working in the nurses’ favor is Gideons’ own internal policy governing the distribution of Bibles in schools. Gideon International’s Form 115 policy on school scripture distribution (in Section 4-1, under “Reaching the Hearts of our Young People”) says,

“If any method of distribution [at a school] has the potential to create media publicity, the distribution must be cancelled or postponed.”

If CMU refuses to work with the nursing students to change or eliminate the Bible give-away, WCAF has vowed to contact the local media, protest at the pinning ceremony and, if necessary, contact the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) for legal help fighting it.

AnneLandmanBlog Voter Guide, November, 2015

ALVoterGuideThis guide offers AnneLandmanBlog’s opinion on upcoming ballot measures and candidates for District 51 School Board, in case you’re wondering who and what to vote for.

Recommendations

Mesa County Valley School District 51 Director for District A (four year term) – Recommended vote: Doug Levinson. 

Mesa Valley School District 51 Director for District B (four year term) – Recommended vote: Paul Pitton

Proposition BB (State-wide measure)- Lets the state keep $52 million of excess marijuana taxes over and above what is allowed by TABOR, and would put it towards public school construction, law enforcement, substance abuse treatment and prevention, youth programs and marijuana education, instead of refunding it to taxpayers (at the rate of approximately $8 per taxpayer).  Recommended vote: YES/FOR

You can see a sample ballot here.

Discussion:

The biggest factor determining AnneLandmanBlog’s choice of school board candidates is that both are endorsed by the Mesa Valley Education Association (MVEA) and the League of Women Voters. The MVEA’s input is particularly important because the organization is made up of teachers, principals, administrators and other employees of District 51. These are the people who are in the schools every day, interacting with students, working with schedules, policies, budgets, building integrity (or lack thereof), testing, curricula and other school-related issues day in and day out. If you want to know what works and what doesn’t in the school district, what schools need and what they don’t, the members of MVEA are the folks to ask.

A Telling Flap over Pitton’s Eligibility

Outgoing board member Ann Tisue (pronounced “Ty-shoo”) recently accused Mr. Pitton of being ineligible to run for the District B seat based on his residency. Her accusation and its aftermath have been quite informative.

It is important to note that Ms. Tisue supports Mr. Pitton’s challenger for the District B seat, Mr. George Rau, incumbent Mr. Jeff Leany, for the District A seat.

Paul Pitton

Paul Pitton

On October 20, Ms. Tisue made a statement to the media about her discovery that Mr. Pitton lives outside District B, as the area is currently drawn on D-51’s area map.

D-51 changed it’s maps not too long ago, and had an outdated map posted on its website during the time candidates were being recruited to run.

As an existing board member, Ms. Tisue should have known that the District is responsible for certifying and approving candidates to run for open board seats, so any judgement about whether a candidate’s residency renders them eligible or ineligible to run would be theirs. But instead of approaching D-51 about the error first, Ms. Tisue ran to the media and used the information to try to malign Mr. Pitton. In a statement to KKCO-TV News, she sniffed,

“I just have a really hard time understanding how he [Mr. Pitton] couldn’t be more careful. If he’s going to be in control of a $100 million budget with 44 schools, I would expect someone that would be a lot more careful.”

The facts were that Mr. Pitton had fulfilled all of the requirements to become a candidate, and the District had qualified him for the ballot. D-51 employee Terri Wells, who serves as secretary to the Board and is the person who certifies candidates’ eligibility to run for open School Board seats, was responsible for the error, not Mr. Pitton.  Mr. Pitton had played by all the rules.

To his credit, Mr. Pitton has said if he wins, he will sell his house and move his family into District B, as it is currently drawn on the map.

That’s dedication.

Ms. Tisue’s hurry to use District 51’s error to try to tarnish Mr. Pitton and malign his ability to serve as a school board member is instructive more about her character than anything else. By association, it is also likely instructive about the character of the people she backs for school board, namely Mr. Rau and Mr. Leany.

P.S. – If you want to avoid the drama of the residency flap completely, Cindy Enos-Martinez is also a good choice for the District B Seat. She has served on the D-51 School Board before and has been on City Council and served as mayor of Grand Junction.

 

Western Colorado Atheists & Freethinkers Booth a Hit at the G.J. Farmers Market

WCAF's "Atheist Quiz" is always a hit at the downtown Grand Junction Farmers Market

WCAF’s popular Atheist Quiz is always a highlight of the downtown Grand Junction Farmers Market, and the only booth that offers passers-by a knowledge challenge

Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF) again hosted their highly popular booth at the Main Street Farmers Market in downtown Grand Junction on Thursday, 9/24.

So far, WCAF’s has been the only booth at the Farmers Market to challenge people’s knowledge and sense of fun by offering a short and always-entertaining Atheist Quiz.

People seem to love it, too.

Atheist Billboard Graces I-70 Business Loop at Easter

WCAF's billboard graces I-70 Business Loop right in front of Hobby Lobby, which sued the federal government to deny its female employees' coverage for contraception due to the company owners' personal religious beliefs.

WCAF’s billboard graces I-70 Business Loop right in front of Hobby Lobby, which sued the federal government to deny its female employees’ coverage for contraception due to the company owners’ personal religious beliefs. (Photo Credit: JT)

A new digital billboard is up on I-70 Business Loop in Grand Junction, Colorado, supports people who don’t believe in God by reassuring them that they’re not alone. The board was put up by Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF), the area’s first secular group. WCAF was founded in February, 2007, to give western Colorado atheists voice in a part of Colorado where religiosity has historically dominated the culture and people were afraid to admit they didn’t believe in God.

WCAF billboard

WCAF’s billboard on I-70 Business Loop, just west of Chick-Fil-A. It reads, “Don’t Believe? You’re not alone,” and lists WCAF’s website at WesternColoradoAtheists.org.

“If you had told me 25 years ago a day would come in Grand Junction when a big, glowing atheist billboard would be up on the main highway into town on Easter weekend, I never would have believed it,” said Anne Landman, Board Member at Large of WCAF. “But times have really changed here. We’ve had a huge amount of support for this board. It’s all right now to be an open atheist in western Colorado, and that’s what WCAF is saying with this board. It’s fine not to believe in God. Lots of people don’t, and if you don’t, you’re joining a fast-growing number of people in the U.S. who don’t.”

WCAF meets regularly twice a month and invites people to visit its website at WesternColoradoAtheists.org for information on meeting times and locations.

FFRF: Fruita Monument High School’s Baccalaureate Violates First Amendment

FMHSLogoA concerned member of the Fruita Monument High School community has sought help from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) over a “baccalaureate” ceremony held in the school’s gym last year on May 12, 2014, and possibly over concerns of a similar event occurring this year around graduation time.

A baccalaureate is a religious ceremony held a few days before a school’s official graduation ceremony. Baccalaureates often feature prayers, bible readings, sermons or benedictions, and music. Students may wear their caps and gowns, and readings may be given by school employees.

Because baccalaureates are religious events, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires publicly-funded schools to divorce themselves from any connection to these events. Schools cannot help plan, design or sponsor these ceremonies. School employees cannot participate in organizing such events or appear at them in their official capacities. If school auditoriums or gyms are used for the ceremonies, a private party must rent the venue out for the event. The law requires a complete separation between the school and the baccalaureate in every sense.

Students Who Didn’t Want to Attend Allegedly Threatened

The anonymous complainant reported that FMHS Principal Todd McClaskey, Vice Principal Lee Carleton, and other school staff members helped plan the May, 2014 baccalaureate ceremony at FMHS. They reported that FMHS teachers and administrators spoke in their official capacities at the event, reading bible verses and speaking in general terms about the virtues of being a Christian. FMHS’ choir and orchestra students were required to perform at the baccalaureate, and students who didn’t want to take part in the ceremony were threatened with lower grades and told that if they failed to attend, they would have to perform all of the concert music, solo, in front of the entire class, at a later date.