A leading secularist group has raised concerns about cross memorials that were created by high school students in Georgia as part of a city effort to honor local military veterans.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) had sent a complaint letter earlier this year to the attorney for Catoosa County Public Schools, asserting that the practice of making the wooden crosses at Ringgold High School was unconstitutional.
The crosses, which hold American flags and bear the names of fallen soldiers, were reportedly made by construction classes at Ringgold High School for the biannual Festival of Flags event. The symbols are placed on the ground throughout the city for Memorial Day and Veterans Day, according to Christian News Network.
In the complaint letter, the FFRF asked the district direct teacher, Tim Elliot, to discontinue the project with the students.
"Public school teachers may not assign students to create religious symbols," the organization stated in the letter.
"This assignment violates the principle that 'the preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and choice committed to the private sphere.' It also sends a message that the government only cares about the deaths of Christian soldiers, not other non-Christian and non-religious soldiers," it continued.
The secularist group had also complained about another school's initiative to raise money to build a school in a community in western Nicaragua because the effort involves a partnership with a Christian missions organization.
Times Free Press reported that Heritage High School's leadership class had formed a partnership with Nicamerican Missions, which is a nonprofit group that helps build schools, churches and homes. In its Facebook page, the nonprofit indicated that its main objective is to evangelize.
Students had reportedly pitched the plan to business leaders in Catoosa County in December 2016 and had raised about $20,000 in 10 days. In February, the partnership hosted a student-faculty basketball game to raise money for the project.
The FFRF argued that the partnership is not merely a student-led initiative and violates the separation of church and state.
In response to the FFRF's complaint, Catoosa County Schools Superintendent Denia Reese issued a statement, saying the district supports the students' participation in service activities. She added that that the cross memorials honoring fallen soldiers, as well as the project to build a school in Nicaragua 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," she further stated.
FFRF staff attorney Madeline Ziegler said that this was the second time that the FFRF has sent a complaint letter to Catoosa County.
In October 2016, an FFRF lawyer had complained about a baptism that took place after a Heritage High School football practice. The secularist group argued that the baptism was unconstitutional, noting that it was supported by the football coach.
However, Renzo Wiggins, an attorney who represents Catoosa County Public Schools, said told the FFRF that the baptism was performed without the knowledge of school administrators and assured the group that the school would not endorse a religion.