FFRF Responds to the Public School’s ‘Christian’ Book Fair

A couple weeks ago, I posted a picture from reader Jessica that showed Christian books being sold at her daughter’s Wichita, Kansas public school book fair:

This was especially surprising, given that Scholastic — the company sponsoring the book fair — doesn’t even carry religious titles… so how did they get there?

The Freedom From Religion Foundation wants to know and they sent a letter (PDF) to the district yesterday.

… it is assumed that a faculty member in charge of organizing the book fair went out of his or her way to specifically obtain this Christian material and offer it for sale to the children. it is our further understanding that no material from any other non-Christian religion was offered for sale to the children, nor was any freethought or atheist material made available…

This type of favoritism seems a far cry from showing sensitivity to the diversity of beliefs represented by Riverside Elementary students. It is inappropriate to plant sectarian literature in a book sale targeting a captive audience of young public school students.

Now we wait to see how the District responds…

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.

  • Bruce_wright

    Interesting.  I noticed some religious themed books at my child’s public school book fair last year (which was also run by Scholastic). 

    I chalked it up to an open forum and freedom of information.  I wouldn’t want those items disallowed.

    I didn’t pay strict attention, but I think I recall that multiple faiths were represented.

    • Bruce_wright

       I’ll take a closer look this year.

      • Pearo

        As will I.

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      When you’re looking, keep in mind that books about a certain religion are different from books asserting their claims to be true. It’s perfectly acceptable for a public elementary school to have books from mainstream publishers explaining religion from a neutral and objective point of view. But it’s not okay for them to offer books from evangelical publishers that present a religion’s specific supernatural opinions as fact.

      • Johnny

        The titles found in the school mentioned in the FFRF’s letter to Riverside.  “My Pretty Pink Bible Purse” and “Heaven: God’s Promise for Me” and “The Lord’s Prayer for Little Ones” hardly seem objective or even like an examination of any sort.
        Maybe the “Idiot’s Guide to Religion” is should be acceptable…because the name says it all. ..

        • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

          Yes, exactly. All of those titles are from evangelical publishers. They are designed specifically to teach children that Christianity is true. Regular books from mainstream publishers are a different thing entirely. Scholastic, of course, offers books from mainstream publishers in which religion is mentioned, but they don’t offer books that say one religion is true and all the other religions are false.

          • Johnny

            If religion in public schools is taught like Mythology or comparatively….than Balls to Picasso…have at it!  But the problem isn’t the Mainstream Presses…it is the people who decide what to deem “Mainstream”   because most  of them believe they are the “true” Christians and a cult is simply the church down the road from theirs…so they can push their privileged beliefs in as fervently as they want….because they have the truth and their doing the lords work.  Seems the safest way is to keep the religion in the Church and as much of it as humanly possible out of the elementary School I think…

            • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

              Religion is taught in public schools in history class all the time. There’s nothing wrong with that. Indeed, it would be a poor education if children didn’t learn about ancient mythology, the Renaissance, the Reformation, etc.

              The problem only arises when certain people feel the need to force their religious dogmas on other people’s children. It’s quite easy to teach about religion without telling students that the religion is true.

              When it comes to books, whether it’s books that the children read in class, or books they find at the school fair, there’s only a problem if the book has a specific religious agenda. Children would not be able to read anything at all if teachers had to keep every mention of deities away from them, but there’s a difference between books that mention religion and books that promote religion as true.

              I was surprised that a lot of people on the previous thread didn’t seem to grasp the distinction. There’s a vast difference between proselytizing material and regular books. Instructional books from religious publishers have absolutely no place in a public school setting because their agenda is clear – they want to teach children that the claims of their religion are true.

              • Johnny

                I don’t care about the Press Company….It does not matter what the book is….it is the Teacher that is going to teach his pet imaginary belief his way whenever possible and whatever he can get away with to progress his belief.  
                When the Religiously privileged get a crack in the edifice….They are going to take the entire wall down

                Secular inclusive material is the dream….but it won’t happen when Teachers want their Dogma taught and the rest of those in conflict with their tenants can literally go to hell.

                Fix that problem and maybe we can have teachers that will do lessons of religious history, diversity culture, legends and myths….  until then keep it out because it cannot be controlled when the Foxes run the Hen House

                Do that business in Church….  Keep theology discussions for Graduate School…lets allow our elementary kidsthe chance to be taught critical thinking based on evidence and reason so when they are old enough…they can see how the ridiculous the concept of religion is all by themselves

                • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

                  I think we’re getting our wires crossed. We both agree that these religious books have no place in a public elementary school.

                  However, we seem to disagree about the question of teaching about religion. Where I live, all fourth graders learn about the California Mission era. It’s a state requirement. Generations of children have studied this time period , and in the process learned about what the missionaries believed. This situation is not abused by the teachers to either promote or discourage Christianity, which is as it should be. In order to be properly educated, children need learn about certain aspects of the world around them, including history. You can’t study the Colonial era without learning about the Puritans. It doesn’t mean that teachers tell children that what the Puritans believed was true.

                • Johnny

                  You see,I don’t think it needs to be called or acknowledged as teaching “religion”… I do think it is an important part of teaching history and culture to mention how beliefs affected society, but I don’t think it needs a special categorization or any other attention other then another part of the historical record of humanity…it should be looked at the way we look at how Greek and Norse and Native American mythology affected their culture and history. Though I strongly believe it needs to be treaded on with tremendous caution…because maybe where you live in California the teachers are respectful and are just looking to elucidate students…but where I live, it is not taught as  simple history…when the door is even open a crack, it inevitably leads to pushy teachers  proselytizing their beliefs and marginalizing others at every opportunity…not just in history classes, but in science classes, math classes, health classes…  That is what religions do! 
                  Thank Gods for the FFRF

                • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

                  I think we’re getting our wires crossed. We both agree that these religious books have no place in a public elementary school.

                  However, we seem to disagree about the question of teaching about religion. Where I live, all fourth graders learn about the California Mission era. It’s a state requirement. Generations of children have studied this time period , and in the process learned about what the missionaries believed. This situation is not abused by the teachers to either promote or discourage Christianity, which is as it should be. In order to be properly educated, children need learn about certain aspects of the world around them, including history. You can’t study the Colonial era without learning about the Puritans. It doesn’t mean that teachers tell children that what the Puritans believed was true.

  • http://LosingMyReligion.ca Chad Kettner

    I think this is such a petty, tacky thing for atheists to get upset about. And I’m an atheist. People can buy and sell whatever they want to. You don’t need to buy it. And if you want atheist materials there, then offer them and sell them! If they don’t allow other materials, that’s a whole different scenario and perhaps worth worrying about.

    • TheBlackCat

      People can, public schools can’t.

      • http://LosingMyReligion.ca Chad Kettner

        Hmmm… I guess I come from a place where the book fairs are put on by parents within the school. And in that case the parents can bring whatever they want to sell to raise money. But if it was completely run by the school district that’s another thing…

        • Aleena051985

          It was ran by the school district and held before during and after school.

          • http://LosingMyReligion.ca Chad Kettner

            who cares when it was run? it’s not a forced activity. people who would be offended didn’t need to listen to, read, or buy the books.

            i just really don’t want people to think “whiners” when they hear “atheists”. but stuff like this makes it inevitable. we’re a minority. i say suck it up and deal with it in this sort of scenario. if it’s forced – again, that’s different.

            • Aleena051985

              Actually when children are walked  through it during class that would be forced participation.  Besides, that’s not even the point. By offering only christian material, the school is favoring and supporting a specific religion over all others.  The FFRF seems to agree that is in fact a constitutional violation. 

            • Thin-ice

              Too late, Chad, Christians already think “whiners” when the word “atheist” is mentioned, even if the atheists keep their mouths firmly shut. There would be riots if a book like, say, “Heather Has Two Mommies” was in the book sale. With them it’s a one-way street, complaining only allowed from their side.

              • http://LosingMyReligion.ca Chad Kettner

                So what’s the best response? To whine back? Or to tell them to STFU?

                • Johnny

                  Instead of whining back or telling them to STUF…maybe we can tell the something like …”This type of favoritism seems a far cry from showing sensitivity to
                  the diversity of beliefs represented by Riverside Elementary students”?

                • Anonymous

                  Neither.  FFRF sent a letter.  It’s not a lawsuit.  It’s not a public flogging.  And telling them to STFU will not work… hasn’t yet, won’t ever.  We start with the polite tactic of telling them they are in the wrong and letting them figure out from there.

            • Johnny

              I guess they can turn the Gymnasium into a revival tent, serve communion wafers and wine in the cafeteria, and paint the ceilings of the school buses to look like the Sistine Chapel…those aren’t forced activities either; and if the kids feel offended, they can get a doctors note to skip PE, eat a bag lunch, and stare at the floor on the ride home.   Then they can suck it up and stay quiet so nobody thinks they are whiners

    • PixiePiss

      Did you read this, Chad? Obviously not! 
      “it is our further understanding that no material from any other non-Christian religion was offered for sale to the children, nor was any freethought or atheist material made available…”

      • http://LosingMyReligion.ca Chad Kettner

        I read it, I promise. That doesn’t mean there weren’t any non-Christian books. I’m sure there were many secular books that didn’t have any agenda.

        • Johnny

          Every book that is not a religious book is like a Secular Book…just like every day that is not a religious holiday on the calendar is like a Secular Holiday, every statue that is not a religious statue is like a Secular Statue and every billboard that doesn’t have a religious message has like a Secular Message…so fair is fair right, because there are way more Secular Books, Holidays, Statues and Billboards?  What are we privileged Atheists complaining about…obviously that world caters around our lack of belief

    • Anonymous

      Public school sponsored book fair + religious materials (esp. of only 1 denomination) offered = Constitutional violation.

      You can consider it whining if you choose, but they need to understand they are breaking the law and it needs to stop.  Period.

      My son’s school is a public Charter school and each year, the PAC sponsors a Scholastic book fair.  I don’t recall seeing religious books but if I had, I probably would have ignored them.  They don’t apply so I don’t care.  And participation is voluntary… no one HAS to buy the books.  But in our case, the school itself or the district are not the sponsors.  That’s a minor difference but an important one to acknowledge.

  • Volunteer

    And now we play the waiting game

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

    Good! I’m glad something is being done about this. It really boggles my mind that there are atheists who are okay with this kind of thing. We’re talking about a public school. The people who set out these evangelical books knew exactly what they were doing. Just imagine their reaction if atheist material had been added to the school book fair. You think they would be okay if books like Just Pretend or What About Gods? were on the table? Books that describe gods as a myth and religious belief as “lying to your mind?” How do you think they would react if an Islamic picture book like Allah Made the World was on the table? Of course, they would not stand for it. Neither should we. Proselytizing religious material has absolutely no place at a public elementary school.

  • Annie

    And the plot thickens!  I remember buying a book for my daughter at the school book fair that was about a Hindu girl.  It was a novel, and religion was represented in an anthropological way.  Quite interesting, really.  This, however, is downright creepy.  That someone would go out of their way to supply these books makes this far more than a simple oversight.

  • Johnny

    I guess they can turn the Gymnasium into a revival tent, serve communion
    wafers and wine in the cafeteria, and paint the ceilings of the school
    buses to look like the Sistine Chapel…those aren’t forced activities
    either Chad; and if the kids feel offended, they can get a doctors note to
    skip PE, eat a bag lunch, and stare at the floor on the ride home.  
    Then they can suck it up and stay quiet so nobody thinks they are
    whiners

  • Beth

    I work in a public school system and must visit 10 book fairs a year between buildings.  Every one of them has some of these religious books.  Scholastic does carry religious titles and they are predominantly Christian.  I am not arguing whether that is right or wrong – just saying that it doubtful that anyone “went out of their way” to stock these books for the book fair.  That said, the persons running the fair can choose not to put certain books out if they prefer.

    Also, for what it is worth, the Catholic school generally gets more of these shipped to them for their book fair – but they all have them.  You want to complain – complain to Scholastic.  But honestly, no mater how you feel about religion, I strongly dislike the idea of banning books you dislike.

    • Johnny

      Don’t know if it is banning books we dislike…but is more about keeping a fair playing field and finding the best inclusive way to avoid religious privilege….I think the book “Mommy, Mama, and Me”  or “My Uncle’s Wedding” would have had a hard time getting past the front gate…but that is just a guess

      • Beth

        You’re probably right.  Frankly, my biggest problem with the book fairs is that they put out all kinds of junk (pencils, erasers, crappy plastic toys) that the kids can choose instead of books.  But that is neither here nor there in this discussion.  I understand your feeling about a level playing field – but Scholastic will continue to send what sells.  If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.  That is the clearest message they will hear.

    • Johnny

      And by “we”, I meant me and my family…I didn’t mean to sound if I speak for the FFRF, Atheists, Humanists, or anyone else for that matter. 

  • Quietusisme

    What annoys me most about situations like this is that Christians do any and everything to get *their* truth out there.  They do it all under the protection of the first amendment.  What they fail to understand is that not only does it help you to practice your religion freely, but it protects the people who don’t worship like you do.  Frankly, they have plenty of avenues to get their crap out in the open.  Vacation Bible Schools, Christian-themed concerts/activities, CHURCH, Christian school etc.  Why do they constantly try to provoke everyone?  It’s like throwing stones and hiding your hands.  In this case they do this stuff on purpose and then hide behind the government.  This is why I’m glad they have started putting up billboards about Atheism in towns.

  • Kelly

    Some of those books were at the book fair at my children’s school a few weeks ago. And they were also for sale on the online portion of the book fair, run by Scholastic itself. So are we 100% sure Scholastic doesn’t sell religious titles? Because they certainly did in this case.

    That said, I don’t care. I saw them at the book fair and ignored them. Why are we upset about this?

  • Wichita

    Huh. I live in Wichita, and this doesn’t surprise me at all. Didn’t bother to read the other comments in depth, but any idea what school this is? Like to give them a piece of my mind. :P

  • Roseann

    I have done the Scholastic book fair for 7 years and they DO have Christian books and books for Hebrews and books for other religions as well.

    • Anna

      Books for Hebrews? I think you mean Jews. And I’d be interested to know what books you are talking about. Scholastic does not publish sectarian material nor do they carry books from evangelical publishers.

  • Cincapi

    I actually work for Scholastic Book Fairs, and know for certain that religious titles do not go out to any book fair at a public school unless whomever is running the book fair at the school (usually the librarian) specifically requests it from the sales consultant. Your problem is with the Book Fair Chair person not Scholastic.


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