Public Elementary School Children in Wichita Will Spend Thanksgiving Week at a Church

You remember reader Jessica. Her daughter’s Wichita, Kansas elementary school was host to the book fair featuring pro-Christianity books

The FFRF sent a letter to the school letting them know they were not legally allowed to push one particular religion onto children that way.

It doesn’t look like the school learned its lesson. They have no fear of a lawsuit. In fact, they’re only getting worse.

Next week is a short week since kids will be on Thanksgiving break Wednesday through Friday. But in the days leading up to that, the kids will be going to church.

Really.

On Monday, the students will go to a local Christian church to prepare food for their Thanksgiving feast.

On Tuesday, they’ll spend the day in church where their feast will take place.

I’m gonna guess that no one’s going out of their way to make sure the church stays Jesus-free during the festivities. Even if there’s no direct proselytizing, who’s going to make sure the signs, brochures, images of Jesus, and Bibles are all out of sight?

By the way, all of this is happening without parental consent. There were no permission slips. And the whole event is sponsored by the church and church volunteers.

What if there’s a Muslim mother who doesn’t want her child going to a Christian church? It doesn’t matter. What about the atheist parents who thought they put their kids in a public school to get away from shit like this? No one cares.

Parents are welcome to volunteer, but no one is asking them if it’s ok that their kids are spending time in a Christian church.

You know there would be an uproar if the kids were sent to a Hindu temple for this amount of time. FOX News Channel would be up in arms if they knew teachers were taking kids to a Mosque to hold a Thanksgiving feast.

For the same reasons, we should be concerned about this. Why is it incumbent on one parent to have to sound the alarms about this? Are any teachers or administrators trying to put a stop to this? If not, why not? We should all be horrified that these teachers in Wichita are more interested in bringing children to Jesus than doing their jobs.

Once again, FFRF has already been notified. But no telling if anything’s going to change by Monday.

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.

  • Erin Irving

    This is atrocious.  As an atheist elementary teacher in a conservative Christian location, I have to say that if this is something my administrator put together or pushed, I would have to really think long and hard before fighting back about it.  Frankly, I do fear my job would be at risk.  I have written anonymous letters to the administration about prayer that happens each year at an awards banquet, as well as the heavily Christian-themed Christmas assemblies and concerts, and nothing has changed.  I just can’t risk my job, but it makes me angry every year during this season.  I’m glad this parent has notified FFRF, and hopefully they can be the voice of reason in this instance.

  • Leigh Abraham

    My daughter has already been asked by her elementary school to donate canned goods (at the school) for a local church’s food pantry. No mention was made of the local region-wide non-profit food bank. Needless to say, I sent a letter to her school mentioning this. I was simply thanked for donating to the “other” food bank.

    • Heather

      I donate food to local food pantries that are in churches. We have a regional food bank as well. It serves most food pantries in the greater region, including church food pantries. I understand that “food drives” are more efficient when the food is donated directly to a local food pantry, at least in my area. Food pantries can buy food from the regional food bank for pennies on the dollar by placing orders and picking up the food. Taking out the step of the food bank during local food drives means that the food doesn’t have to be processed by another facility first. I think that it’s just a more efficient way to get the food to those who need it. 

      • Anonymous

        Do you actually understand what many people are required to go through in order to receive a donation of food from a church?  If it’s anything thing like the churches my parents attended (and at one point, founded) then someone in need must come as a supplicant to the church elders.  They are then grilled about their beliefs, subjected to prayer and at some point must weep, wail and repent their wicked ways before even a loaf of bread will be given to them.  Religious “charity” is not intended to help anyone; it is often only seen as an opportunity to proselytize.

        • Heather

          My Grandma runs a local food pantry out of her church. Their only requirement is a current photo ID, and they’re lenient on that under certain circumstances. The reason they ask for ID is because they can only afford to service each family once per month. No literature is given out, although there are some brochures available. They are mostly just for other local social services though. Sometimes there really is no ulterior motive. 

  • Mark

    How do they think they can continually get away with this shit? I hope the FFRF have threatened legal action.

  • retired public school teacher

    I am a retired teacher from a conservative white christian public school district.  I have fought these things for years. I have watched my fellow employees pray around the flag pole, etc. etc.
    I have always taken the route of contacting the ACLU.  They always followed up and many of the christian traditions have ceased.  Believe it or not, they even used to pass out free bibles at lunch times!!!  
    I understand Erin Irwin’s fear of speaking out. New teachers have even come to tell me that other faculty told them not to talk to me because I was such a radical.  A radical, I am not.  These towns do not even comprehend that there is some other way to think and live besides following their conservative christian beliefs.  

    • Trace

      Funny how people who do not agree with the majority on certain issues are labeled “radical”.

      Thanks for being there for new instructors!

    • http://www.shadesthatmatter.blogspot.com asmallcontempt

      I am always concerned about this. I’m a “new teacher”, hoping to land a job this next fall, but I’m super paranoid about the effects that being “that” teacher will have. There’s no WAY I would let something like this slide without contacting the FFRF, but I think that standing up for separation of church and state can potentially put teachers in a really uncomfortable position (especially if the school/district is particularly conservative).

      When I was student teaching, there was a lot of Christian privilege going on, even if it wasn’t overt. When I went about addressing some of the issues with my students (in a non-sectarian way via the book we were studying), I got called all sorts of names and rumors that I’d rather never hear were flying around the halls. From my students!

      You’re totally right that these towns “do not even comprehend that there is some other way to think and live besides following their conservative christian beliefs.”

      That’s spot on. At that high school, these students had been indoctrinated to think that ANYONE who challenged their Christian superiority was a bad, horrible person who undoubtedly had affiliations with the Democratic party and the Devil.

      I was glad to be gone.

  • Dancer104

    Really, though, it doesn’t sound like there will be evangelizing. Putting the Bibles, crosses, etc out of sight? Will seeing religious imagery hurt the children? I understand why you’re concerned, but if it’s just being used as a work space for cooking…maybe I’m naive, but I don’t think any rational parent would mind their child going to a mosque, and no rational parent should mind their child going to a church. If there is evangelizing, though, that changes my thought entirely.

    • Anonymous

      For one, that’s assuming rational parents are involved.

      I think there is a problem is the appearances of endorsement.  Given the same school had offered religious books in school, I highly doubt this is accidental, or just happening to use available facilities.  Given the size of Wichita, I highly doubt there aren’t any nearby non-religious sites suitable for the task.

      • Travshad

        How many non-religious facilities have health department inspected kitchens that can be used for an entire day by children?  Maybe a local high school or middle school would have “home-ec” kitchens, but those schools would also be in session with their own activities. In my town we have a for profit banquet hall (that would likely balk at the idea of children cooking in their kitchen for insurance reasons) and several dozen churches.  We have a lot of non-religious activities that take place in these churches (some governmental like polling locations and some community based like our town’s soup kitchen).  The area high schools’ graduation ceremonies take place in the auditorium at the local bible college because it is the only auditorium in the county that can accommodate the number of students.
         
        As long as there is no active proselytizing by the church, the volunteers, or the school staff and there is not an equal or better non-religious facility available, I don’t see how this would be either illegal or even just “wrong”.
         

        • Gus Snarp

          Maybe the school cafeteria is an inspected kitchen? Frankly, while a special Thanksgiving lunch might be nice, if it can’t be done without moving it to a church, then a public school shouldn’t be doing it. Plenty of public schools don’t have an event like this, and if the price of the event is using a church, then this one shouldn’t either. 

    • Anonymous

      In theory I agree. If they just go to the kitchen – even if they walk through the church to reach the kitchen, this is fine.

      The danger is if there will be prayer, bible study or any kind of god talk. That should be a no-no. But just using their facilities isn’t an issue in of itself. I just have little – dare I say it – faith that it will stay secular

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=585056448 John V. Hedtke

       I’ve been an English Traditional Witch since 1977. You don’t mind if the kids come over to an event my church sponsors after this, Dancer104? We’re forbidden from proselytizing and we don’t take anyone who’s not 21, but it will raise an awful lot of questions in some little minds.

      • Anonymous

        That’s because they haven’t been exposed to you. You can’t avoid exposing children to Christianity. They’ll learn about it one or another.

        • Neal Patel

          And the point is that they shouldn’t.

          • Anonymous

            You can’t avoid that. Christianity is too ingrained in our culture. There are tons of harmless figures of speech that come from the Bible. Literary allusions abound. For that alone, they need to understand some of it.

            Teaching children about religion isn’t a bad thing. If you include tons of religions, it actually teaches them about pluralism. You just have to make clear that it’s just beliefs and not teach it as the Absolute Truth that needs to be followed on threat of punishment

            • Rich Wilson

              Not to mention Moon Day, Tyr’s day, Odin’s day, Thor’s day, Fria’s day, Saturn’s day, Sun Day.

      • Charles Black

        Theres nothing wrong with teaching children religion by teaching them how religion fails to explain the reality they see around them. They’ll thank for showing them the truth about religion which is complete garbage to make a long story short.

  • PegK

    I would also be concerned that anyone is able to enter the church at any time.  Is there an assumption that everyone who might be at the church is harmless?  I think that assumption has been proven time and time again to be misguided.  I would be absolutely livid that no permission slip from parents was required.  I thought it was standard practice when students were transported off school property.  Jessica could contact the Great Plains Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, greatplainsau.org, but most likely all that could be accomplished at this point is a stern letter the the school and the district. 

  • Bee

    As an atheist parent, I really would not have a problem with this, as long as the field trip were focused on preparing the donated food, and there would be no endorsements of Christianity or God.  Our children are going to see images of Christianity and other religions; it seems counter-productive to try and shelter them from this their entire lives.  And personally I find it refreshing that a Christian church is actually doing something “Christian” – feeding the hungry.  
    As a vegetarian, I’m more offended by the donated turkeys.  I don’t eat turkey for Thanksgiving, so why should I feel bad for someone who doesn’t have one themselves?  But that’s another story… and perhaps I’ll take my own advice here too – my kid sees ads about meat all the time, but I’m not sure the answer is for me to try and hide them from her, or sue someone… 

    • Anonymous

      There is absolutely no reason for this event to take place at a religious venue.  Schools have cafeterias, and food donations could easily be prepared there.  As for your point about “hiding” Christianity from kids — irrelevant.  Public schools have absolutely no business pushing religion on kids.  Christianity does not have a monopoly on charity and helping others, and schools can easily teach kids lessons about selflessness without making it explicitly religious.

      • Squibke

        I completely agree that it’s utterly inappropriate, but I would point out that, no, not all schools have cafeterias. I attended six elementary schools and two high schools, and only one had a cafeteria – and that one was only stocked with fryers and microwaves.

      • cuw

        Most school kitchens are major safety hazards for children. It is most likely that the church is the one town building that has a reasonable kitchen for both children and adults to use together, as well as the space for groups of kids to gather in one place. I grew up in a small town, and this doesn’t surprise me at all. Things like this were so popular that the church in the center of our town that used to be used for these types of events was eventually handed over to the town itself, as a place to now house events without them being religious in nature. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jessica-Jones/100000175481467 Jessica Jones

        The parents are making the turkeys and the church is apparently preparing the rest of the food.  It’s a meal for the kids.  No charity or lessons in selflessness, it’s a thanksgiving meal for the students.

  • Trace

    I am no expert, but most dining areas in churches I have visited, unlike their sanctuaries, are quite easy to “convert” to a neutral environment. Some even have separate entrances. Not always though.

    Why couldn’t they use the school cafeteria to do this work and then have the school take the food to the church (without sending kids there)?

    • http://twitter.com/tardis_blue Tardis_blue

      Probably at least partially because a  lot of schools don’t have fully functional kitchens.  Often, food is merely reheated–many schools these days don’t even do that!  The food is essentially catered, having been prepared by a company that does the whole district in one centralized location.  All the lunch ladies do is pass it out.

      Several people have made comments suggesting this is a charity event.  I don’t get that impression.  I think it’s just the thanksgiving feast for the kids.  It says “their Thanksgiving Feast”.  The parents and kids are providing the food and labor for their own meal.

  • Richard Heath

    The part that worries me the most is the lack of permission slips.  My kids need one anytime they are going to be off the school grounds.  How are the kids going to be getting to the Church?  Who is responsible for them?  What are they going to be doing while there – just cooking, or having all their lessons or what?

    Plus, I would bet a dollar that there will be a prayer right before they eat, at the very least.  What church volunteer is going to be able to resist saying grace in a church? 

    • Anonymous

      This… I’d be interested to know where the church is and how they will get there if there were no permission slips. 

      My son’s charter school is held at a church (renting their classrooms for a HUGE chunk of cash each year) and while they do cover up bulletin boards in the classrooms (used for Sunday school and youth groups on weekends and evenings), the lunch room/gym (social hall) has bulletin boards that aren’t covered and are not always secular (once covered with photocopies of recommended religious book reading) and a HUGE 8 foot cross high on the wall.  In our case, no permission slip would be needed because it is their gym/lunch room. 

      But in this case, I’m assuming they will HAVE to leave the school to go to the church.  I’m also assuming that they are going to an off-site location because it has a kitchen they can use for their TG feast rather than the school kitchen that will be used by other classes/grades?  (which is also interesting to me because our state law bans anything home prepared from being served in our classrooms… any food, other than brownbag lunches, must be in store-sealed packaging)

    • Anonymous

      Agreed.  I was under the impression that it wasn’t legal to bring children out of the school at all, or maybe that is just in my own state.

      I wonder if the no-permission slip was a deliberate choice to avoid parents knowing about it ahead of time…

    • Victoria

      At my kiddo’s school we sign a blanket permission slip before the year begins. We’re allowed to opt out of any trip we don’t want her to go on, but consent is assumed with the blanket slip. (This is not a public school; I’m not sure if that’s relevant here.)

      I think part of their rationale is that her school takes the kids off campus quite a bit. They walk to the city park or the Boys & Girls Club once a week for the afternoon, walk places in the neighborhood for a change of scenery or to tie into whatever they’re learning, and sometimes walk to a university a few blocks away for events there. If we needed a permission slip for everything they do it would be pretty hectic.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    I assume, based on past experience, that the kids will be expected to Give Thanks – not to the farmers, the people who worked in the factories that prepared the food, not to the people who donated the food, but to a god.
    When my Daughter was in school, I managed to convince a third grade teacher to bring up the topic of where our food comes from.  I put together a short powerpoint with photos of people picking crops, on production lines, truck drivers, grocery shelf stockers working in the wee hours of the morning,  etc.  For me, it’s really important that kids understand that food doesn’t appear by magic.

    4th grade- look at harvest festivals around the world.
    By 5th grade, children ought to understand that the Pilgrims weren’t nice people, and be introduced to the history of Native Americans. 6th grade-  origin of the holiday in Virginia and how/why it became an official US holiday in 1941.

  • http://aboutkitty.blogspot.com/ Cat’s Staff

    I don’t remember having any kind of special Thanksgiving dinner  at my school when I was a kid.  We have Thanksgiving on Thursday with the family.  Don’t the people they’re asking to volunteer have enough to deal with next week?  This seems like a contrived way to get the kids into a church.It’s like the opposite of when creationists rent public school auditoriums to give their spiels, so they can say “I’ve taught creationism in a public school”.If there are any parents in the area, I hope someone goes and records it in case there is a sectarian prayer.  Then again, if there is a sectarian prayer some fundamentalist parent will probably put it on YouTube to brag about what they managed to expose the kids to.

  • http://profiles.google.com/schwabby Aaron Schwab

    Has anyone noticed that the use of Comic Sans on the event flyers makes the whole thing seem a thousand times more insidious?

    • John W

      COMIC SAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNSSSSS!!!!!!!!

  • Rich Wilson

    Don’t some religions prohibit members from entering churches of other faiths?

    • Anonymous

      Mainstream Christian sects aren’t like that. Mormons, yes. But I’ve been to Jewish temples and I’ve been in Mosques. Plenty of old churches and cathedrals are tourist attractions with thousand of visitors. Unless you disturb people during worship, some are happy to show others around.

      • Rich Wilson

        I think we’re looking at this from opposite sides.  What I mean is the Russian Orthodox student in the class can’t, for religious reasons, go make lunch  in some building used to worship what’s obviously a false dogma.

        (I’m not really sure if that’s the rule for Russian Orthodox, but I kinda think it might be) 

        • Anonymous

          Again, it would need to be some fringe sect. Mainstream religions aren’t like that to my knowledge. Such a student probably wouldn’t attend a public school in the first place.
          There is also a different between merely entering a church and participating in worship, or watching others worship.

          If such a situation came up, it the student’s parents could bring it up with the school. I don’t really see the issue.

    • Anonymous

      Jehovah’s Witnesses are one group… we held an awards luncheon for our company many years ago in a church social hall because we didn’t have an area large enough for the entire company in our building.  Half-dozen JWs didn’t participate because they couldn’t go to that church’s social hall.  Silly.

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

    I don’t think just using the building would be wrong, if that’s all it is, but based on the previous book fair incident, I doubt that this is as innocent as it seems. You need to think about why the church is sponsoring this event. What kind of church is it? If it’s an evangelical church (as opposed to a mainline Protestant or Catholic church), the chances of outright evangelism are much, much higher.

    Incidentally, what is Jessica planning to do? If it were me, I would want to make my concerns about proselytizing known to the administration. This is a Thanksgiving feast, but these are public school students. I would want to be very sure that no teachers or church volunteers are going to be leading prayers. I would let my daughter attend, but I would want to tag along as a chaperone and document any violations of separation of church and state. The idea of recording a video and posting the results to YouTube sounds good to me! If there are such violations, it will be helpful to document them and make them available to the public.

  • Guest

    Not surprised. I know someone in the district and they have told me many stories including church groups being called in for an event and the group will proselytize during the event. Not too many care about separation of church and state here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/billyup Jesse Jones

    That’s Kansas.

  • Meyli

    I’m mostly bothered by the fact that they are taking THREE DAYS (friday-tuesday) out to do nothing educational! I’m sorry, but I’m not sending my children to elementary school to eat popcorn, sit in a church, and peel potatoes. 

    Why can’t they go to school 3 normal days, laced with Thanksgiving themes, and then spend actual Thanksgiving with their families?! Even in a Church!

  • pthom

    Will attendance be taken?  Will “skipping” be a punishable offense?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jessica-Jones/100000175481467 Jessica Jones

      It’s two mandatory days.  So yes, there will be attendance and missing would be an unexcused absence. 

  • Anonymous

    I emailed John Allison (Superintendent) , Alicia Thompson (Assistant Superintendent Elementary Schools) , and Tiffinie Irving (Executive Director, Elementary Schools) about this the other day, today I got a response..

    Letter to them from me:
    “John,

    I have recently learned that Riverside Elementary School intends to spend the three days preceding Thanksgiving in a local Christian church. I urge you to reconsider this location and choose a location that is not in breech of the Establishment Clause of The First Amendment of our Constitution.

    My concern is not just for the disrespect and ignorance shown to the laws that
    govern our great nation, but also for the potential legal costs that could fall
    on Sedgwick county if this illegal behavior is brought to light.

    I think this is a terrific opportunity to show the country that Wichita Public Schools are a tolerant, progressive, and accepting organization.

    Regards”

    Response from Tiffinie Irving”Dear Sir,
    Thank you for sharing your concerns. Wichita Public Schools often utilizes buildings; including businesses, churches and other agencies throughout the Wichita community for meetings, professional development and school related activities. The many buildings provide space and other facilities that some of our schools do not offer. We are fortunate that many organizations have partnered with USD259 and allow the district’s staff and students to utilize their facilities.

    Riverside will hold a school wide, community luncheon at a nearby church. The church is not involved in the luncheon or any of the activities leading up to, during, or after the luncheon. Instead, the school luncheon is organized by the Riverside parents and staff, and the school will use the needed space at the church’s banquet hall.

    We appreciate your sincere concern and support of WPS and we hope this clarifies any questions you may have had on why Wichita Public Schools utilizes community facilities.

    Very Respectfully,
    Tiffinie Irving”

    Take that response for what you will.

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

      Hmmm, the plot thickens!

      Hemant’s  post:

      And the whole event is sponsored by the church and church volunteers.

      The school’s response:

      The church is not involved in the luncheon or any of the activities leading up to, during, or after the luncheon.

      There’s an obvious discrepancy between the two statements. We have official word from the school that the church and its members are not involved in any of the activities. If that’s true, great! I think we should keep an eye on the situation to make sure that they’re telling the truth.

  • Kate

    I have a genuine question, so I hope you guys will forgive my ignorance. Precisely how important is it for religious signs and symbols to remain hidden during a field trip, even if that field trip is at a church? Proselytization is one thing (and I admit that it sounds likely), but I’m sort of unconvinced about the remainder of the issue. 

    Please allow me to explain. When I was in 7th grade, my gifted science class went on a field trip to an event that was being held at a Southern Baptist church in my town. Numerous scientists from various fields (I only remember physics, astrobiology, and evolutionary biology at this point) discussed the importance of scientific education as well as the research they were doing and what it could potentially mean for our understanding of the world around us. The event was strictly scientific and no proselytization took place (my teacher at the time wouldn’t have allowed that). In fact, evolutionary biology was even one of the topics discussed, and I remember it being done very well. The event was only held at this place because it was the only venue large enough in our town (I’m reasonably sure the local college was behind the event itself). The event also wasn’t specifically for school children — we only got to go because our class was very small and learning relevant material. We WERE exposed to religious paraphernalia, however. The event was held in the sanctuary, which still had a (very) large cross above the baptismal and contained a few bibles here and there. Admittedly, parental consent was a factor here. We all had the option of not attending. 

    ^ I’m actually most alarmed that the school district thought it could move kids back and forth without parental consent. The district I was in for most of my K-12 years never would have allowed any student to go anywhere with the school without parental consent. To do otherwise is frighteningly irresponsible and, quite frankly, dangerous. 

    • Rich Wilson

      Different topic, but

      quite frankly, dangerous

      How does parental consent change the danger of a field trip?


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