Atheist Group Forces Elementary School to Remove 'Numbers 6:24' Display

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The nation's largest secular legal organization has pressured an Oklahoma elementary school to remove a display that features the words of Numbers 6:24.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based atheist group that advocates for a strict separation of church and state, said Wednesday that Comanche Elementary School in Comanche, Oklahoma, has acted on its request that a Bible verse on display on a wall above the school's "front desk" be removed.

"In response to your letter regarding the unconstitutional religious display at Comanche Elementary School, please be advised that the display has been removed," Superintendent Terry Davidson was quoted as writing in response to an Aug. 22 letter from FFRF legal fellow Christopher Line. "It is always our intent to be fully compliant with the Constitution and I appreciate your letter making us aware of this violation."

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Line's letter to Davidson explained that the organization was contacted by a concerned local resident about the display, which read: "Welcome, The Lord bless you and keep you. Num. 6:24."

The letter claimed that the display violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Line cited a number of Supreme Court cases, including Engel v. Vitale in 1962 in which the court ruled against the recitation of school prayer.

It also cited Abington School District v. Schempp, a 1963 ruling that school sponsored Bible readings in public schools is unconstitutional.

The letter also cited U.S. Appeals Court cases in which the lower courts have ruled against religious displays in schools, such as Lee v. York County, Washegesic v. Bloomingdale Public Schools.

"The display violates a basic constitutional prohibition by creating the appearance that the district prefers religion over nonreligion," the letter reads. "Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools."

"The Supreme Court has repeatedly noted that "[s]chool sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are nonadherent that 'they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community."

FFRF President Annie Laurie Gaylor claimed the decision to remove the display as a victory.

"The school district officials seemed to need a little bit of prodding from us," Gaylor said in a statement. "We're glad that we were able to make them see the inappropriateness of the display."

While FFRF is steadfast in its opposition to religious displays on public property, FFRF is also now pressuring a government body in the state of Washington to end its funding of a Christian ministry that is operating a homeless shelter called "Camp Hope."

The organization claims that the Yakima Valley Conference of Governments violated the constitution by granting $416,000 to a ministry called Transform Yakima Together for operating the temporary homeless shelter and a housing project.

"The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from financially supporting churches," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote in a letter to Yakima Valley Conference of Governments Executive Director Larry Mattson on Aug. 25. "Just as the Yakima Valley Conference of Governments could not conduct worship services itself, YVCOG-funded projects may not be used to advance religious activities."

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