FFRF raises concern over Illinois superintendent’s Christianity promotions

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling on an Illinois school district superintendent to end his religious promotion.

A concerned district staff member reported to FFRF that Effingham Unit #40 District Schools Superintendent Mark Doan has been promoting his personal religious beliefs in emails to staff. Typically this promotion has been in attached email “notes” and involving holidays. For example, in November of 2016 Doan emailed his staff a Thanksgiving note titled “Remembering the Goodness of God,” in which he wrote:

“…It is my belief that I am grateful to have the opportunity to try and live my life as God has intended. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In December 2016, Doan emailed his staff a note including a bible verse from Luke 2:10 — 11:

“And the angel said unto them, fear not FOR BEHOLD, I BRING YOU good tidings of great joy. FOR UNTO YOU IS BORN THIS DAY in the city of David a Savior, WHICH IS CHRIST THE LORD.”

Doan also expressed to staff members his belief that they “were so fortunate that God sent his son to bear our sins so we may have everlasting life.”

This past November, Doan sent another Thanksgiving-themed email that included a biblical quote from Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

In other emails to his staff, Doan expressed religious sentiments that were less explicit but still contributed to the undeniable appearance of promotion of Christianity. In a letter sent to Doan, FFRF is requesting assurances that future communications with district staff remain secular, as is constitutionally required.

“As you know, public schools are prohibited from endorsing religious messages,” writes FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne. “This is true not only with regard to communications to students, but also with regard to district administrators’ communication to staff.”

FFRF points out to Doan that the Supreme Court has specifically held that holidays with religious associations are not an excuse for the government to promote religion. And, besides the legal issues, ending this practice is simply good policy. Religion is an inherently divisive topic, and sending specifically Christian messages is counterproductive to a work environment that is inclusive of minority faiths and staff members with no faith.

“Promoting your personal religion to your employees creates acrimony, makes minority religious and nonreligious employees feel like outsiders in their own place of work, and shows an inappropriate preference for religion over nonreligion,” writes Jayne.

FFRF is requesting assurances that Doan will refrain from using his position as superintendent to promote his personal religion to Effingham Unit #40 employees in the future.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members and chapters all across the country, including over 1,000 members in Illinois and a Chicago-area chapter. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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