FFRF stops religious propagation at Wisc. school

Thrivent

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has snipped the ties between a Wisconsin elementary school and a religious financial firm.

Last month, it was brought to the attention of FFRF that Bristol Elementary School in Bristol, Wis., had partnered with Thrivent Financial, a Christian financial services firm that openly discriminates based on religion. FFRF sent a letter to the Bristol School District asking that it investigate state/church separation concerns.

The school and financial firm had collaborated for a “Feed My Starving Children” event. Feed My Starving Children is a Christian nonprofit with a mission to nourish “God’s starving children hungry in body and spirit.” After the students packed food, they were invited to participate in a Christian prayer over the food. In exchange for the funding Thrivent provided to transport students to the event, students all wore T-shirts with the religious firm’s logo that includes a Christian cross.

In its letter, FFRF highlighted two serious constitutional violations committed by the district. First, school-sponsored events may not include scheduled prayers or other adult-led or adult-organized religious rituals. Even if students are able to opt out of prayers to avoid a school-sponsored religious message, it is unconstitutional because it would require them to out themselves as non-Christian. Second, students participating in a school-sponsored activity may not be given or asked to wear clothing that includes religious imagery — such as a Latin cross. This illegally promotes Christianity on behalf of the school district and coerces students into wearing a religious symbol that may conflict with their religious beliefs.

“While it is commendable that Bristol Elementary teaches students to engage in humanitarian efforts, it must ensure that the events will be secular,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne. “And while Thrivent could certainly donate funds for student transportation, the school may not offer to advertise for a religious organization, particularly by asking students to don clothing that promotes one religion above others.”

The district responded promptly to FFRF’s request that it investigate the concerns, and took appropriate action.

Bristol School District Superintendent Michael Juech informed FFRF in an email that the district had contacted Thrivent Financial to let the group know that no future partnerships would take place. Additionally, the school district has taken steps to remove social media posts from the Bristol School District pages highlighting the relationship with Thrivent Financial.

“Religion is a divisive force in public schools, ostracizing some students and favoring others,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’re heartened to see that the district has responded so agreeably to remain neutral on matters of religion.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Wisconsin-based national nonprofit organization that works to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism. FFRF represents more than 29,000 members across the country, including more than 1,200 in Wisconsin and a chapter, Kenosha Racine Atheists & Freethinkers (KRAFt).

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