Freedom From Religion Foundation files complaints against county schools

The Freedom From Religion Foundation recently sent a letter to Catoosa County Schools stating that it was unconstitutional for Ringgold High students to make crosses for Ringgold's Festival of Flags. The letter also maintains it was unconstitutional for Heritage High School to help a Christian mission build a school for impoverished children in Nicaragua.

Catoosa News photo/Tamara Wolk

In July of this year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to Catoosa County Schools' attorney Renzo Wiggins leveling two charges at the district, one regarding Heritage High School and one regarding Ringgold High School.

"A local resident informed us," says the FFRF letter, which was released by FFRF to local media outlets on Nov. 29, "that a leadership class at Heritage High School ("HHS") partnered with an organization called Nicamerican Missions ("NM") during the 2016-2017 school year to build a school in an impoverished area of Nicaragua."

The letter went on to say that because the mission "is an explicitly Christian group with an explicitly Christian mission" it was a "poor choice" for the school to decide to partner with it. FFRF says in the letter that HHS's partnership with

the mission sends the message that HHS prefers Christianity over other religions and prefers religion over non-religion.

The letter then states, "HHS must immediately terminate its partnership with this religious organization and cease all fundraising for religious projects."

The second complaint in the letter regards students at Ringgold High School who helped make crosses for the Festival of Flags celebration in Ringgold. FFRF indicates in the letter that it learned of this activity by reading about it in The Catoosa County News.

The letter says that "public school teachers may not assign students to create religious symbols." The heavilyfootnoted letter does not cite a source for believing the work was required.

In closing, FFRF says to the Catoosa County School District, "Please inform us in writing of the steps the District takes to ensure that these constitutional violations are resolved."

The letter is signed by a staff attorney for FFRF but is not backed by any court order.

Catoosa County Schools Superintendent Denia Reese issued this statement on Nov. 29: "Catoosa County Public Schools supports students' participating in service activities. The flag holders that the RHS construction class built to support honoring our veterans, and the money that our HHS students raised to build a school for underprivileged children are examples of our students working to serve others. The system's attorney is thoroughly researching the allegations from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and when he has completed this research he will respond to them explaining how our students can continue to participate in these service activities."