A First Amendment right group sent a letter to school officials in West Virginia on Jan. 20 about religious images used in a memorial commemorating a teacher who passed away.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis., based group, contacted administrators at Ravenswood Middle School over a memorial for former teacher JoAnn Christy. She taught at the school for over 25 years before passing away in an accident in 2004.
"The First Amendment mandates that schools cannot advance or promote religion, so that's what this display is doing," said Patrick Elliott, a staff attorney with Freedom from Religion Foundation.
Lying in the school’s garden rests a display with crosses, Bible verses and angles in honor of the late teacher.
Ravenswood Mayor Michael Ihle said the school decided to dedicate the memorial in honor of Christy.
“She touched so many lives, including mine,” Ihle said. “This is a small token in remembrance of her at a place she loved. She was taken too soon from us.”
While attorneys at the Freedom from Religion Foundation said they did not know the purpose of the memorial, the inclusion of religious images gives the appearance that the school puts a preference on Christianity.
“Whatever the purpose of the school’s garden display, that purpose can be achieved without the use of sectarian religious symbols and biblical passages,” Elliot wrote.
The school board removed the crosses, but decided to keep some of the angels in the display - the ones imbedded in the concrete.
Those close to Christy said she collected angels and they thought including those images would personalize the memorial.
“She never pushed her views on anyone,” Ihle said.
In the same letter, the Freedom from Religion Foundation also criticized a live nativity scene at the Ravenswood High School Christmas concert last December.
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