Opinion: Schools allow religious evangelism on campuses
Free Press Opinion Columnist
School District 51 elementary school students have been coming home from school with invitations for “an exciting, fun-filled hour of adventure,” which includes “fun songs, crazy games, snacks, prizes and more!!!!” The shiny stars and nine exclamation points on the promotional posters in our public schools suggest possibilities for extraordinary fun.
The Good News Club does sound like good news for students and parents. With elementary schools releasing students two hours early every Wednesday, an after-school club can be an asset to any school, especially if that club conveniently meets on school grounds and begins with the afternoon dismissal bell.
Sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), the primary purpose of the Good News Club is “to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living.”
As exclusive as the group sounds, the flyer sent home with students clearly states that every child from the school is welcome to participate. Still, though, the implication of state-sanctioned religious indoctrination does raise questions about the separation of church and state.
To the surprise of many concerned parents, myself included, it turns out that our schools are legally required to distribute the Good News Club’s flyers and to post event information on school property.
The federal Equal Access Act of 1984 mandated that if a school allowed any “non-curriculum clubs” to assemble on school grounds, then it must allow all non-curriculum clubs to use the property. The Act did not specifically include religious organizations.
To cement religion’s standing in our schools, CEF has sued schools for free speech violations when schools have tried to keep religious messages out of their buildings. The group has proven itself a force to be reckoned with since 2001 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in their favor in Good News Club v. Milford Central School.
The court concluded that denying a religious group access to students was a violation of free speech. If schools are going to share information about other community groups or allow them to use their facilities after hours, then they must do the same for everyone.
If, for example, schools send home flyers for a public library reading program or allow a private sports team to practice on their fields, then any organization, including those providing religious services, must be afforded the same privileges.
Those who wonder what the big deal is should realize that the Good News Club ruling opens the door for anyone who wants to promote their agendas to our students. There can be Ku Klux Klan clubs, Muslim clubs, atheist clubs, LGBT clubs — maybe even Democrat clubs.
School District 51 may be legally obligated to share CEF’s information, but that still doesn’t make it right. Besides the management of private body parts, there isn’t any freedom more personal or private than religion.
With as many interpretations as it has followers, religion is complex and confusing for young minds. If it’s not taught by parents, then it should at least be with their supervision. It certainly should not be taught in schools or by mega corporations like CEF.
Some of my most memorable experiences as an elementary school volunteer came from the time I spent chatting with students or listening to their conversations as they tried to process what they’d learned in church.
They were merciless in their judgment and labeling of others, not because they’d been taught to be bad but because they didn’t understand what they’d been told. They understood differences as a sign of sin and discussed which of their classmates were headed for hell. They were raising questions in schools which teachers should not be addressing, and that was all in the days before Bible clubs were meeting in schools.
Whether we like it or not, religion has become part of our schools. It’s our responsibility to provide young minds with the most diverse and enriching opportunities we can. If a mega corporation can provide activities which appeal to kids and their parents, then surely the artists, athletes, and leaders among us can offer even more. The challenge is ours.
A fourth generation Coloradan, GJ Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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