The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a state/church watchdog and the nation's largest association of atheists and agnostics, has written public school officials in Petoskey, Mich., to object to unconstitutional wording on the school calendar.
On Aug. 18 during a closed session, the school board voted unanimously to change the wording of the school calendar from "Winter holiday break" to "Christmas
break." That was eight days after the board treasurer, Jack Waldvogel,
sent an inflammatory e-mail to district staff and board members.
Either make the change voluntarily, Waldvogel said, "or I will make a
motion to change it at the NEXT Board meeting, and raise such a stink,
and bring out every redneck Christian Conservative north of Clare, to
compel the District to do so." The e-mail also said: "Our children need
to know we are a Christian nation and taking all reference to a higher
being out of our educational vocabulary is wrong."
The Foundation, which has more than 400 Michigan members and 13,900 nationwide, was alerted to the situation by a member in Petoskey.
"Changing the wording to Christmas break so that Petoskey school
children know that 'we are a Christian nation' violates the most basic
and fundamental principles of Establishment Clause jurisprudence," said Rebecca Kratz, FFRF staff attorney, in a letter to the district.
The change also violates the principle set down in Lemon v. Kurtzman
that requires government action to have a secular purpose, Kratz said.
"Mr. Waldvogel's intent and purpose for recommending the change was
based wholly on religion. There is no secular purpose for the change
when the school district's top administrators and elected officials
clearly indicate to the public that they want children to know of
Christianity and of the existence of a higher being."
In an Aug. 20 story
in the Petoskey News-Review, Superintendent John Scholten said the
district will follow the board's directive. "It will now be called
Christmas holiday break."
Waldvogel told the newspaper he thought his e-mail was only
going to the board and administrators and not districtwide.
"Unfortunately, it got back to the free world. . . . I certainly would
have tempered it if I knew it was being sent to everyone." He said the
e-mail was meant to be "tongue-in-cheek." (His e-mail ended with:
"Don't assume this is a joke. I'm being as serious as I possibly can
Waldvogel chairs the Emmet County Republican Party and made news nationally
in October 2008 with another e-mail, sent after presidential candidate John McCain pulled out of Michigan: "What a slap in the face to all the thousands of people who have been energized by the addition of Sarah Palin
to the ticket," Waldvogel wrote. "I've been involved in County Party
politics and organization for 40 years, and this is the biggest dumbass
stunt I have ever seen. He has given up on our State? What a total and
complete crock of crap."
The Foundation's letter to the district also notes that the
board's action illegally advances religion over nonreligion and prefers
Christianity over all other faiths: "The previous wording reflected an
enlightened respect and viewpoint for the community's diverse
population and the District should restore its original wording on the
School board members' e-mail addresses are here. If you contact them or the school district, please be polite and concise and include your name for maximum effectiveness.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) that has been working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.
Freedom From Religion Foundation • PO Box 750 • Madison, WI 53701 • (608) 256-8900 • e-mail us
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