If officials at a public school district made a list of qualities they admire, you’d expect to see “teamwork” and “unity” on there. But in North Carolina, the Madison County Schools use a logo that says “God” — or the belief in one, anyway — is just as important. They also include “spiritually” alongside “mentally,” “physically,” and “socially” as a way to be strong.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation raised concerns about this two years ago, but received no response from the District. They sent a letter to the District just after former Superintendent Ronald Wilcox, who designed the logo, told a local newspaper that it “just sums up the culture here and what we believe.”
Implicit in that comment was the idea that atheists didn’t have a place in the school system.
But prompted by a recent victory in a similar case, FFRF sent a second letter to the District a few days ago:
“It is well settled by the courts that public schools may not advance or promote religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott writes to Madison County Schools Board of Education Chair Theresa Banks. “Furthermore, courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages in schools. Displaying this inherently religious logo violates the Establishment Clause because it demonstrates district preference for religion over nonreligion.”
It is no defense that religion is one element on the logo, FFRF asserts, citing past court rulings on the issue. It warns Madison County Schools that continuing use of the logo poses a serious liability problem for the school system, since earlier this year FFRF won a judgment against the Chino Valley Unified School Board in California in a challenge to its unconstitutional religious practices that resulted in an award of more than $200,000 in costs and attorney fees.
“The Madison County Schools district should realize how egregious this constitutional violation is,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We hope that school officials will resolve this so that we won’t have to take further action.”
FFRF is seeking students or parents in the District who object to the logo, possibly for litigation purposes.