How Do You Get a Christian Ministry Out of Your Public School?

With all the debate over whether what teacher Jerry Buell did was permissible or not, here’s a clear cut case of what a public school teacher should not do.

A teacher in the Bossier Parish Schools (in Louisiana) — about an hour from Damon Fowler‘s school — put bracelets promoting Christian ministry Team Impact on all of her students last week:

This particular teacher didn’t even hand those bracelets out. She put them directly on the kids.

According to the pictured student’s father, this wasn’t just one teacher’s attempt to proselytize. It’s appears to be a district-wide problem:

Looks like my… kids… all had the Team-Impact assembly at their schools last week.

His kids attend elementary and middle school, by the way.

(Incidentally, Team Impact brags on their website about how they get into public schools.)

The father says he is going to speak to school officials today. He’s purposely not giving away the name of the teacher because this he thinks she’s very good at her job but just didn’t know any better in this situation — it seems like a systemic problem, anyway, not an issue with a particular individual. I’m guessing they’ll give him the runaround, though, and when that occurs, I happen to know a few good lawyers…

I would find it hard to believe that not a single district official knew that this is a Christian group whose main goal is to draw kids to Jesus. Even if the assemblies in question were Jesus-free, the website and organization sure as hell aren’t — the event that the bracelets referred to even took place in a church.

Does anyone think Christian families would sit around quietly if an atheist or Muslim group tried to run similar assemblies in public schools? Absolutely not. We’re not having it, either.

What can you do right now?

The superintendent’s name is D.C. Machen, Jr. His contact information is on this page (and his number is (318) 549-5003 in case that page mysteriously disappears).

Write him a message expressing your concern about what’s going on. Tell him why Team Impact has no business entering these schools, regardless of their message. Tell him about the importance of church/state separation — and the legal ramifications if the school chooses to ignore it. Tell him that there are plenty of groups that can provide inspiration for students without resorting to religion. Above all, be respectful in your message. I know you know this already, but you’re not going to help the situation by swearing and calling him names.

Let him know you want to see the district put out a public statement 1) apologizing for what they did and 2) ensuring the public that Team Impact and other Christian ministries will not be brought back for school-sponsored events in the future.

***Update***: The Freedom From Religion Foundation has been alerted.

(Thanks to Al for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • CJ

    Things similar to this are extremely common in Oklahoma.  On more than one occasion when I was a student, and last year at the school my wife did her student teaching at, some speaker held an assembly dedicated to motivating the students and encouraging them to attend an event that evening at a local church.

    Once you get to the church event, any pretense of it being about secular motivation goes out the window, and it becomes a recruitment tool for the church and Christianity.

    These things happen in A LOT of schools, and they are pernicious.  I was wondering how long it would take for it to hit the atheist community radar.

    • William Poire

      What school district do you live in?

    • Mommyinokc

      Agreed. I grew up in Oklahoma city public schools and it was very common to get fliers for vacation bible school, the Power Team ripped phone books and then invited us to come see them at church.

  • Rich Samuels

    I suspect the teacher was just putting those wrist bands on because they are indicators of admission and was probably told to by “Team Impact”. The real blame and subsequent protest should fall on those allowing this sort of bullshit unvetted into your schools in the first place.

  • Annie

    “Does anyone think Christian families would sit around quietly if an
    atheist or Muslim group tried to run similar assemblies in public
    schools?” And this is the most ironic thing of all, because if it was an atheist group offering motivational support, it would not be through the use of any god, and therefore, not an issue with church/state separation.   I can’t believe they even invested in those hard-to-remove “concert” bands… they wanted to make sure those messages made it all the way home.

    • Anonymous

      It would not be an issue of church-state separation as long as the group did not promote nonbelief. You can of course give motivation without god and also teach critical thinking without making any reference to religion. Of course, outside the public school environment you could use examples within religion to teach critical thinking, but inside a school I’m pretty sure that would be illegal.

  • Anonymous

    My “favorite” part about the website is how the little red STORE button follows you and there are banners on the side urging you to buy their merchandise.   Gathering more wallets, I mean souls, for Jesus.

  • Anonymous

    I’m thinking it’s time to have a donation drive

  • Anonymous

    I know it’s probably a coincidence, but I have to say that it really jumped at me when I saw the name “Donella Fowler” listed as Central Office Receptionist.

    Anyway, I sent my email along. I tried not to think about the picture above, lest I become too angry at the sight of what is obviously the arm of a very young child, tagged for a church like….well like a lamb. Here’s hoping that the prospect of costly legal battles destined to be lost will stop them in their tracks, if common decency doesn’t.

  • griffox

    This is kind of random but this reminded me of when I was in elementary school and we had an assembly by a group of kids who had been orphans but were adopted by a man who took them around the country and had them perform inspirational skits – the gist being that they had been troubled delinquents, but  with the help of Jesus turned their lives around. They performed during school hours (in NJ, no less, with a large Jewish population)  and then later in the evening. One of the boys was cute, so I went back for the evening performance (hehe) which was an outright Christian sermon complete with altar call.  A couple of years later it was on the news that the man who was responsible for the group was charged with molesting them.  I wish I could remember what they were called. I’m pretty sure “hearts” was somewhere in the name.

    • Anonymous

      Your description rang a bunch of bells for me. It took a little googling but I finally found the article. This is the first paragraph:

      One day last November, a group of teenage girls dressed in long khaki skirts and modest blouses stepped onto the stage at an Independent Fundamental Baptist church in Maryland where Jeannie Marie (a military spouse who asked that her last name not be used) attended services with her family. The young women, visitors from a Missouri girls’ home called New Beginnings Ministries, sang old-time hymns, recited Scripture, and gave tearful testimonies about their journeys out of lives of sin. Headmaster Bill McNamara spoke, too, depicting the home as a place where girls could get on track academically, restore broken relationships, and learn to walk with God.

      Sound familiar? The article goes on to describe the rampant and horrific abuse that goes on at these “homes” (including forcing non-delinquent teens to lie outright about their past so as to seem more “inspirational” and how the homes avoid scrutiny and prosecution thanks to the priveledge of religion. It’s a very interesting, though depressing, read.

      • griffox

        Wow. That’s a different group, but it is equally as disturbing. It makes me realize that stories like these are not unique. I was only 11 or so when I found out that the group of kids I had idolized and thought were so cool had really been victims in need of help. I didn’t know how to process that information as a kid. That was the first time I had ever been scammed. I think they purposefully chose kids who were attractive and “cool” and of course they needed money to get to the next town so all the parents got out their checkbooks.

        I don’t know if this was a case of the dangers of religion or just a con artist who used religion and needy children as a front for his scam, but what it highlights for me is how god loving people are willing to implicitly trust any religious organization with their children and their pocketbooks. Scary.     

        • Ryanpatrick411

          I love this site. Growing up in north Florida in the 80s I never remember ppl trying to convert me. Why are we going backwards? These ppl are crazy! I remember a teacher who would pray during lunch and we would goof on her but she never ever tried to shove her beliefs down our throats.

          • Jesus saves!

            Jesus saves!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Lambert

    I just sent this message via the school districts site…

    Your own policy manual states that “The Bossier Parish School Board’s approach to teaching about religion shall be academic, not devotional” and yet you permit you staff to place bracelets for an event  (in a church!) being promoted by an evangelizing organization TeamImpact (http://www.team-impact.com) who’s only interest is in proselytizing. As they say on their web site “Bringing the new converts into the local body is paramount to TeamImpact”. How can this possible square with that policy manual? Do you not have any idea that this activity in a public school is completely illegal, being a breach of the 1st amendment to the constitution?I think you must agree that the school district’s funds would be much better used providing education to pupils instead of paying legal fees for court cases that will inevitably be lost.

  • Kelli Smith

    “Does anyone think Christian families would sit around quietly if an
    atheist or Muslim group tried to run similar assemblies in public
    schools?”

    That statement is key.  Towards the end of my son’s school year last year, he brought home a flier from a local church advertising a day camp.  It stated that if your kid “recruited” others, they would get prizes.  We were not pleased.

    But when I told me non-atheist family about it they weren’t overly concerned, so I posed that question (“What if it were an atheist camp?”).  A straight answer was not offered.

    We see things like the camp flier and what Team Impact is trying to pull, and it seems like such a no-brainer that it’s totally inappropriate.  My biggest frustration with religion in this country is how hard it is for theists to take a look outside of their own beliefs and try to understand how negatively situations like this impact EVERYONE.

    • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani Sharmin

      Hemant:  “Does anyone think Christian families would sit around quietly if an atheist or Muslim group tried to run similar assemblies in public schools? Absolutely not. We’re not having it, either.”
      Kellie:  “My biggest frustration with religion in this country is how hard it is for theists to take a look outside of their own beliefs and try to understand how negatively situations like this impact EVERYONE.”

      I totally agree with these points.  I wish that people would try to imagine themselves in the other person’s position before advocating a certain action which affects the other person.

      It seems that people are only willing to pretend to put themselves in the other person’s position in order to advocate/excuse proselytizing (e.g. “If someone believed that I was going to Hell and had information that could save me, then I’d want them to tell me about it”).  However, that isn’t really a good way of putting themselves in the other person’s position, because they actually do believe in Christianity, so it’s not going to seem wrong to them.  They don’t stop for a second and think about what they would feel like if the hypothetical scenario included a belief that they don’t actually believe in.

      • Al Y

        Its called privilege and we may take a moment to reflect on our own unrealized privilege, right after we politely tell the superintendent to remove his head from his ass.

  • Kelli Smith

    “Does anyone think Christian families would sit around quietly if an
    atheist or Muslim group tried to run similar assemblies in public
    schools?”

    That statement is key.  Towards the end of my son’s school year last year, he brought home a flier from a local church advertising a day camp.  It stated that if your kid “recruited” others, they would get prizes.  We were not pleased.

    But when I told me non-atheist family about it they weren’t overly concerned, so I posed that question (“What if it were an atheist camp?”).  A straight answer was not offered.

    We see things like the camp flier and what Team Impact is trying to pull, and it seems like such a no-brainer that it’s totally inappropriate.  My biggest frustration with religion in this country is how hard it is for theists to take a look outside of their own beliefs and try to understand how negatively situations like this impact EVERYONE.

  • the stranger

    Over two decades ago when I was in 7th or 8th grade, we had a visit from “The Power Team” which was a group of muscle men performing stunts at school assemblies.  They talked about teen suicide.  

    They invited us to another performance with the promise of free pizza after the show, which was at a mega chuch and had an entirely different message.  

    I think “Team Imact” spun off of “The Power Team.”  They’ve been doing this since I was a kid.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for all of your support, I can’t thank y’all enough.  A couple of new links for y’all: I started a new thread for updates to this issue at http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/jxy7b/update_to_team_impact_visiting_my_kids_public/

    And our local paper has a forum that gives a good idea about how locals feel about faith here http://www.shreveporttimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?category=PluckForum&plckForumPage=Forum&plckForumId=Cat%3a37fb0cf3-f917-47cb-b03e-e84a7f12fe46Forum%3ad0d92eee-18cb-44f1-9a54-6ae3cf933f80 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeremiah-Wood/4927555 Jeremiah Wood

    A group very similar to this came to my elementary school back in the early 90s. i don’t remember much about it but I remember it being very similar to the promotional material on their website.

  • Anonymous

    They are banding them like animals now?

    • ProChoiceGrandma

      For future breeding.

  • Everettattebury

    Team Impact has another website at http://schoolassembly.info/and http://schoolassembly.info/ which has no religious references at all in it.  It is probably one of these URLs which they give to the school administrators. 

    • Token_brown_guy

      Thanks, I didn’t know about his one. Even Rick Perry endorses it lol. http://schoolassembly.info/recommendations

  • mysciencecanbeatupyourgod

    “I don’t know if this was a case of the *dangers of religion* or just a *con
    artist who used religion and needy children as a front for his scam*,”

    Replace the word “children” with “people” and make con artist plural to refer to all religious institutions, and I would say item #2 is in fact the cause of item #1.

  • Anonymous

    The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster should also be advised.  I am sure they would want equal opportunity to put their arm bands on the other arm of all the affected students.  It might help balance things up a little.

    Perhaps all the other religious organizations in the area should be invited to produce arm bands and request the school to dress the students in them.  Just think – each day the children could have a different religious marketing band to adorn them. 

  • Stephanie

    This enraged me as a mother and this is what I had to say:
    Dear Mr. Machen,I am contacting you about your blatant violation of the First Amendment.  To promote a Christian-based organization in a public school is unconscionable.  As a mother of younger children, I am completely aware of how impressionable this age group can be.  This can be extremely damaging to children who follow a different faith or no faith at all, not only for the children, but especially the parents who have to deal with the issue at home.Had this been a Muslim group or even a Wiccan coven sponsored assembly, the very idea would be scoffed at and immediately discarded.  The idea that all children are or should be Christian is naive and irresponsible. I am very pleased to hear the FFRF has been contacted and I sincerely hope this will halt any future violations of our Constitution.

  • http://diaryofamessylady.wordpress.com/ Lauren

    I couldn’t find where I can send an email and I’d rather not call. (I work on the phones and try to spend as much time OFF of them when I’m not at work as possible.) Can someone point me to the right page?

    • Anonymous

      If you click on the little envelope icon next to the name you get taken to a page where you can send the email. The actual email itself is hidden, probably as a way to prevent spam.

      http://www.bossierschools.org/misc/cms_contact?d=x&id=1246559512192&return_url=1314636871244

      • http://diaryofamessylady.wordpress.com/ Lauren

        Thanks! I sent this email just now, after dropping my own kid off for her first day of 3rd grade:

        I heartily DISapprove of the religion that Team Impact has brought into your school district. This is a blatant violation of church and state as Team Impact’s goal is to bring more converts to the local churches.If this incident happened out of ignorance, then please bone of up on the laws regarding the separation of church and state. If this incident happened despite knowing the laws, then shame on you!I hope you understand how important it is for every student in the district to be able to feel safe and welcome while in school. Promoting one religion over others or religion over non-religion creates a hostile and unwelcoming environment for those children who are already most likely to not feel as if they fit in.We don’t need to give students any extra reasons to be divisive and, as head of this school, you should especially be working to bring students together and not drive them apart.I trust this will be looked into and remedied as soon as possible. A letter sent to all parents apologizing for the situation is definitely in line.

  • Jrumorgan

    Religion is like a penis.

    It’s fine to have one.

    It’s fine to be proud of it.

    But please don’t whip it out in public and start waving it
    around,

    And PLEASE don’t try to shove it down my children’s throat.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for this posting.  Thrilled with the work that you do! Gotta question, there is a precedent supreme court case about distribution of material in public domains – such as union org info, religious, various groups etc … can’t remember which case it was (been a few years since I learned about it in college) … what I’m getting at is if the district knowing allowed (forget encouraged it) a group to distribute information then they must allow all type groups to distribute equally. 
    Anyone know of a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or Zorastrian  outreach group? Have them contact the district to distribute the same type of information … that will send a very distinct message – allow religion in? then ALL religions are allowed in … that’s a nightmare they don’t want.  ;-)

  • N8opoly

    Here you go, incase it disappears. http://i.imgur.com/eqzem.png

  • Kris

    I think you forgot to mention an important point: the OP on Reddit mentioned that these are the kind of bracelets that need to be CUT off by someone with scissors and can’t just be pulled off by the person wearing them – like a hospital bracelet.

    It might sound like a small detail, but it REALLY bothers me. The students aren’t even able to remove these on their own if they don’t have scissors at school. It forces them to wear these bracelets all the way home. Perhaps the students can refuse to accept them, but there’s something sinister about sticking a piece of religious advertisement on a child that they can’t even remove themselves.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

      Even with scissors, they’re tough little bastards to remove. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

      • rhodent

        If they’re put on the right wrist, it’s going to be difficult for anyone to remove one from their own wrist even with scissors, since they’ll have to use heir left hand and scissors don’t work well left-handed unless specially designed to be used left-handed.  Which means you basically have to ask someone else to do it for you, and thus you can’t just quietly remove it when no one’s looking.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OFQZ3OBP3HKM4E2IQ6NRKINHKM Painperdu

    This is at a time when we’re trying to convince Muslim countries to not inculcate their young ones against secularism and democracy. These people are persistent.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_67O473FUNREIKM5VOOIGGWOQOQ Alan M

    I took the time to send an e-mail with your suggestions. Thanks. Alan

  • Drew M.

    This is a dumb question, but couldn’t physically putting an offensive bracelet on your kid be considered battery?

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

      Possibly assault, as it’s unwanted physical contact.

      • Drew M.

        Ah. I always thought assault was simply the threat of bodily harm without the actual contact.

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

          I could be wrong, though. I always get the two mixed up. So, uh, can we call this potential assault and/or battery?

  • RevJac

    Speaking as a Pastor, the actions of this particular teacher horrify me.  Groups such as Team Impact do not represent Christianity as I understand or practice it.  

    Recently dedicated a youth meeting to public prayer (including community sporting events) and discussed what they felt was appropriate and what might make them feel uncomfortable.  
    One of the last questions was how they would feel about someone of another faith (Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim for example) giving a prayer at such a gathering.  I was pleasantly surprised that they all indicated they would feel loved and honored to be prayed for by someone of another faith, in a public gathering or personally.  That was a good evening.

    Peace to all.

  • Katherine

    I live in Webster Parish, Louisiana, so these are my immediate neighbors.  I was appalled to learn of this and you can bet I’ve taken the time to write the Superintendent. In my own parish such abuses occur that leave me, as an Atheist parent with a child in public school, furious. My daughter, 12, reported last year that one teacher asked in class if there was anyone who wasn’t “saved”. She then proceeded to inform those who admitted to not being “saved” that they would go to hell if they didn’t accept Christ… 

    • Anonymous

      Wow, and I thought the band on my child’s wrist was bad. Please let us know if anything like this happens again. And if you’d like to send us the teachers name privately, Hemant has introduced me to a fine legal team whom I’ve come to appreciate tremendously. So much so I’m looking into having a fund raising drive for them (the FFRF).

  • Jesus saves!

    That was a good thing that teacher did! Wow the public school sytem has really turned evil. Teaching evolution is just a start! Hmmm, wonder why? OUR PRESIDENT IS A EVIL PERSON WHO IS NOT REALLY CHRISTIAN! That and we have horrible people like you who are not followers of Jesus Christ our savior! “Friendly athiest”, no different than friendly satan.

  • Jesus saves!

    Jesus saves!

  • Angela

    If you don’t like it. Remove it and throw it away. I don’t think it is that big a deal. Once they started removing God from things, people started acting worse and worse. I support bringing God back into everything.


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