Your Complaints Protect the Separation of Church and State

Wash your hands for Jesus

We've all seen signs encouraging people to wash their hands in restaurant restrooms. Many of us appreciate these prompts. We don't like to think about the people who are preparing our food disregarding this advice.

The idea of such a reminder hanging on the wall of a public school restroom doesn't seem like a bad idea. These are high-traffic areas, and illness spreads quickly. One sick kid leads to many sick kids, and they bring whatever they catch home with them. It seems like another good place to encourage hand washing.

What don't picture is a sign like the one here. It says, "Wash your HANDS and say your PRAYERS because Jesus and GERMS ARE EVERYWHERE." This would be fine in a church restroom, but we don't expect it in a public school. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) intervened after a student attending a California public school found it there.

The good news is that the Victor Valley Union High School District promptly removed the sign. The bad news is that this required a letter from an FFRF attorney after a student complained. The sign would still be there if nobody in the school had the courage to come forward. This seems to be the case with most church-state violations, and that's disappointing. We all know how much pressure there is to keep quiet about them.

Why is the sign such a big deal? Why should it prompt a complaint in the first place? According to Chris Line, the FFRF attorney who sent the letter to the school,

This display violates this basic constitutional prohibition by creating the appearance that the district prefers religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all other faiths.

Yes, it does. It also communicates to all the non-Christian students that they are in the wrong place. They aren't equal here. This strikes most of us as obvious, doesn't it? It seems like whoever put the sign up at Adelanto High School should have known better. But when it comes to church-state violations, that's rarely the case.

There's an important take-home message here. If we want to preserve the separation of church and state, we cannot ignore violations. Even in cases that seem trivial, we should complain. If we don't, we are condoning something that shouldn't be condoned.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has an online form where we can report these violations. I will tell you from personal experience that they do not respond to all of the complaints they receive. I don't know how they decide which ones to follow up on and which ones to ignore. If they don't respond, here are some other resources you can try:

I'd recommend that you report to one of these organizations and give them at least a week to respond before reporting to another. They have limited resources, which is why they need our support. If one agrees to help you, you shouldn't waste the time of the others.

It would be great if we didn't need to worry about church-state violations. As long as Christian privilege continues to be so pervasive, the violations will continue. We need to stay vigilant and speak out when we encounter them. This is one small way we can create a better world for future generations.

The image used in this post is from the Freedom From Religion Foundation's post, Calif. school district removes prayer poster after FFRF communiqué.