New Documentary Investigates The Good News Club

Filmmaker Scott Burdick — who released his previous documentary online for free — has just done the same thing with his latest project: Sophia Investigates The Good News Club. It’s an insider’s look at the Christian group that tries to “set up evangelical ministries in public elementary schools”:

I have to mention, of course, that Katherine Stewart wrote a fantastic (and terrifying) book about this organization.

I haven’t been able to watch Burdick’s movie yet, but I hope to watch it soon. If you see any interesting parts, please leave the timestamp and summary in the comments!

***Update***: In response to Frank’s comment below, Katherine Stewart wrote the following:

Frank,

Your comment on the law is flatly wrong, and ignores both a practical reality and an obvious theoretical problem in the Good News Club v. Milford Central School Supreme Court decision.

The theoretical gap opened up by the Good News Club decision is this: that according to the Supreme Court decision, to exclude a religious group such as the Good News Club, because it is religious in nature, is ipso facto to discriminate against its religious viewpoint, whereas to exclude a karate club or any other category of activity does not necessarily involve discrimination. I recommend that you read Clarence Thomas’s majority opinion on that case before you make further comment.

But more important is the practical reality. The Good News Club has its name on a Supreme Court decision. It has the ready backing of groups like the ADF and Liberty Counsel, and school administrators know very well that excluding it presents a much graver legal risk than excluding your typical yoga club or dancing club.

Now I want to address your specious suggestion that I (and the atheists you are including along with me) are hypocritical in wanting to exclude only Christian or evangelical programs. The freethought or secular clubs with which I am familiar are all at the high school level and are student-initiated. I have never raised, nor do I find, any serious objection to allowing students to form their own after-school clubs, faith-based or otherwise, provided they do not interfere with the school’s educational purpose and they comply with codes of student conduct.

However, Good News Clubs meet in public elementary schools. They aim at very young kids, children as young as four and five years old, and they are all entirely adult-led. Their aim is quite clearly to confuse small children about the connection between their school and a particular religion.

If atheists, Muslims, Jews, or any other group were to insist on opening a network of thousands of adult-led clubs for public school kindergarteners and were to reward them with candy and prizes for recruiting their fellows, systematically attempted to deceive parents about the nature of the teachings they were offering, and misrepresented their activity as “study” rather than proselytizing, well then I would write a book about it and oppose it vigorously. And may I point out that in my book, I do write about programs sponsored by the Kabbalah Center and the Scientologists that I consider inappropriate.

May I also point out that quite a number of people who, by your lights, must be persecuting Christians by opposing the Good News Cubs are in fact themselves Christians. They just happen to believe in the constitutional principle of the Separation of Church and State.

Katherine Stewart
www.thegoodnewsclub.com


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.

  • http://twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole Introvert

    Oooh! I will have to make time to watch this weekend. Katherine Stewart’s book was exactly what you said…. terrifying.

  • Trickster Goddess

    @4:06:

    “We do know that 86% of those who receive Christ as saviour do so between the ages of 4 and 14. And statistically, the older a person gets the less likely they are to make a decision for Christ.”

    He is very oblivious to the fact that he just admitted that anyone with an ounce of intellectual maturity won’t believe his preposterous fairy tales.

    Even he should know that 4 year olds will believe anything you tell them. At that age, my big brother had me convinced that there was a witch under my bed whenever the room was dark who would reach out and grab my legs if I stood too close. I believed so strongly that every night for over a year when I turned off the wall switch I would take a flying leap to the bed, trying to make it there before the light bulb faded completely.

    (In retrospect, that was probably a good inoculation since just a few years later when they started telling me the stuff about God’s commands and punishments, I categorized it as just more made up scare stories. In the words of a former President, “Fool me once, shame on… won’t get fooled again.”)

    • The Other Weirdo

      As a child I had very poor appetite, as a result of an earlier illness. My mother had me convinced that if I didn’t eat, the chimney sweep would get me. I didn’t really believe her. Then, one day, as my mother kept trying to alternatively coax me to eat and threaten me with the chimney sweep, a chimney sweep actually crawled up unto a neighbouring roof. My mother tells me I finished the plate in 5 seconds flat. She also never used the chimney sweep as a threat again.

    • http://twitter.com/martinrcota martycota

      So basically what they are saying is that their target audience is the same target that will believe in Santa Claus… It must be true than!!! AMAZING!

  • Vimaz

    Lactic
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    acid and does a better job of treating age spots than fine lines orwrinkles.
    Lactic acid is also very good at keeping the skin more moisturized as it is a
    humectant which pulls moisture from the air and holds it in the skin. Lactic is
    very good as a lighter peel used for sensitive skin.

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    Check out my recent Interview with Katherine Stewart author of ‘The Good News Club’ – http://t.co/Ho8q8an7

  • Drumlab

    Here is the flyer that McDonalds handed out.

    • Drumlab

      Argh, the picture didn’t post. Try again later.

  • Frank

    This documentary, like the book it is based on, is flatly wrong on the law. Good News Clubs don’t have a better legal status than other clubs. A school that excluded a karate club because it didn’t want to promote fighting would be just as open to a law suit as a school that excluded a Good News Club.

    The basic principle here is that schools don’t get to disfavor evangelicals because the schools don’t like evangelical christianity. Evangelical christians are citizens of this country just like everybody else, and they have the same right to the use of government resources (in this case, space to meet in public schools) to promote their ideas that everyone else with every other idea has. If the public schools open their doors to non-school-sponsored activities for children (which they are under no legal obligation to do at all), they have to do it on an equal basis, they can’t exclude one group. And when it is atheists that schools want to exclude, we are perfectly happy with that legal doctrine. The Secular Student Alliance regularly has student groups starting in high schools, and regularly has school administrators deny those groups recognition and meeting space and such. And when they do, the SSA always cites to them the exact same equal access doctrine that this documentary citicizes. So it seems very hypocritical to me for atheists to turn their backs on equal access doctrine right at the moment when people we disagree with try to take advantage of it. (full disclosure: I’m on the SSA board)

    • RobMcCune

      There’s a big difference between high schoolers and elementary kids in terms of what they can comprehend, and how they view authority figures. Given how impressionable young children are I think it’s perfectly fair to restrict access to elementary students. Unlike high school and middle school clubs, these clubs are created by adults, not students. If christians want access to high school and middle school, that’s fine, since there are equal access laws. To extend that to kindergarteners is absurd.

      • Frank

        My memory of high school is that many of the clubs there were created by adults as well, but that is beside the point. I take it you are essentially repeating Stewart’s argument that elementary school students aren’t able to distinguish between activities in the school and activities sponsored by the school? I don’t spend enough time around elementary school students to be sure about the psychological claim there, but I admit it is a concerning argument. The problem with it is that it isn’t specific to Good News Clubs. If the students’ erroneous perception of school endorsement is the concern, that that is just as much of a problem with the soccer team and the boy scouts troop and the karate club as it is with the Good News Club. And if that really is a problem, then the schools can just close their doors to all non-school-sponsored activities targeted at their students. That is something they are still allowed to do under the law.

        • RobMcCune

          Religious clubs are religious, karate club isn’t. Also high school clubs are created by students, but are required to have a faculty adviser.

          Back to the topic at hand, The Good News Club also manipulates children into pressuring and shunning their peers to become evangelical, a club that turns students against each other has no place in an elementary school. Particularly if their target age group is still learning not to call the teacher “mommy”. Cynically manipulating children and parents is not something the karate club does either by the way.

          • Frank

            I’m obviously not a fan of these clubs, but how does anything you’ve said bear on their first amendment free speech rights? Religious organizations don’t get lesser free speech rights than other organizations.

            • RobMcCune

              Religious students don’t get lesser free speech than non religious students. What access adults get to kids is something an elementary school should control, a school is a place to learn, not open mic night. Older children can decide what their club will be about as well as who gets to speak, in this case it’s entirely at the discretion of outside adults. Who have all the first amendment rights outside of school.

              • Frank

                When the school chooses to open itself to speech by outside adults (which it has no general obligation to do), that it does have a constitutional obligation to treat all those outside adults equally, regardless of their religious or non-religious viewpoint. That is what the issue is about. If the school gives the boy scouts access to the kids but not the good news club, then it is discriminating on the basis of religion, and that is the problem. If the school doesn’t give the boy scouts or the good news club or any other outside adult access to the kids, that is fine, because there is no discrimination.

                • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rich-Rodgers/1621390164 Rich Rodgers

                  My problem may be that there seems such unfettered access to schoolchildren by many groups, not just the religious. If all and everyone can do this under threat of law, doesn’t this open a big ol’ can o’ messy worms? I also have a bit of a problem equating extra- curricular activities such as sports, chess, or arts with graphic theology or other philosophical punditry. It seems there should be some sort of “skill” involved, maybe? Or a much clearer picture of what is school sponsored and what is not. Otherwise, it’s conspiracy bedlam, teach what ever you want under the guise of school craziness. It seems primed for a FSM type test of the law. Because I think literally anything, such as the mentioned KKK would/ should have access to schools based on this precedent. I don’t get it for more reasons than just “it’s ugly religion”, even though it is.

                • Proud Grandpa

                  There can be no constitutional distinction between one kind of speech (chess club for example) and religous speech. Both are protected by the constitution.
                  Freedom of speech means quite literally allowing the KKK, Jew Defense League, homos, and perverts the same access as normal, healthy people. People of faith including evangelists are the good guys and worthy of equality under law.
                  Freedom of speech is must apply to all viewpoints… especially unpopular views. That is what our Christian founding fathers meant by the first amendment.

          • Proud Grandpa

            Your allegations are false. Bible clubs do not turn students against one another, nor do they teach them to pressure and shun other students. Those are your misconceptions.
            If the courts try to define what kind of religious persuasion and religious behavior is okay for childrens’ speech, then the courts will be hopelessly entangled in interpreting and censoring otherwise legal free speech. That is precisely what the courts always avoid by declining to limit religious expression. Don’t you do it, please.

    • Thegoodman

      I agree. I believe the issue is that The Good News club initially was a little deceptive. They didn’t fully disclose what their motives were for the after school sessions with children and the parents were given permission slips with somewhat sneaky information.

      I just went to The Good News Club website and they seem more straight forward than when I checked it out the first time (a few years ago).

      I am glad they are more clear in their intentions and if this is the case, I have no problem with their after hours programs.

      • baal

        So you won’t mind if I teach your kids that you’re going to hell for holding the wrong views and that unless they listen very carefully to what I have to say (I’m an atheist mind you and hold advanced science degrees) your kids will also suffer once they die? Is that straight forward? Are my intentions clear?

        • Thegoodman

          No, I would mind that a lot. Which is why I would not sign the permission slip if my theoretical child were to bring it home.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      This comes from Katherine Stewart and I’m also posting it in the article itself:

      Frank,

      Your comment on the law is flatly wrong, and ignores both a practical reality and an obvious theoretical problem in the Good News Club v. Milford Central School Supreme Court decision.

      The theoretical gap opened up by the Good News Club decision is this: that according to the Supreme Court decision, to exclude a religious group such as the Good News Club, because it is religious in nature, is ipso facto to discriminate against its religious viewpoint, whereas to exclude a karate club or any other category of activity does not necessarily involve discrimination. I recommend that you read Clarence Thomas’s majority opinion on that case before you make further comment.

      But more important is the practical reality. The Good News Club has its name on a Supreme Court decision. It has the ready backing of groups like the ADF and Liberty Counsel, and school administrators know very well that excluding it presents a much graver legal risk than excluding your typical yoga club or dancing club.

      Now I want to address your specious suggestion that I (and the atheists you are including along with me) are hypocritical in wanting to exclude only Christian or evangelical programs. The freethought or secular clubs with which I am familiar are all at the high school level and are student-initiated. I have never raised, nor do I find, any serious objection to allowing students to form their own after-school clubs, faith-based or otherwise, provided they do not interfere with the school’s educational purpose and they comply with codes of student conduct.

      However, Good News Clubs meet in public elementary schools. They aim at very young kids, children as young as four and five years old, and they are all entirely adult-led. Their aim is quite clearly to confuse small children about the connection between their school and a particular religion.

      If atheists, Muslims, Jews, or any other group were to insist on opening a network of thousands of adult-led clubs for public school kindergarteners and were to reward them with candy and prizes for recruiting their fellows, systematically attempted to deceive parents about the nature of the teachings they were offering, and misrepresented their activity as “study” rather than proselytizing, well then I would write a book about it and oppose it vigorously. And may I point out that in my book, I do write about programs sponsored by the Kabbalah Center and the Scientologists that I consider inappropriate.

      May I also point out that quite a number of people who, by your lights, must be persecuting Christians by opposing the Good News Cubs are in fact themselves Christians. They just happen to believe in the constitutional principle of the Separation of Church and State.

      Katherine Stewart
      http://www.thegoodnewsclub.com

      • Frank

        I just re-read the majority opinion in Good News Club v Milford. As a law student with a particular interest in the first amendment’s free speech and religion clauses, I have read many other cases dealing with viewpoint discrimination. I haven’t seen anything in any of these opinions that suggests that non-religious clubs are less entitled to protection than other clubs. Does the supreme court say that excluding a group because it is religious is discriminating on the basis of its religion? Of course. That is tautological. That isn’t protecting religious groups any more than any other. Do you have a particular quote from the majority opinion that suggests religious groups actually get preferential treatment? For reference, one of the earlier cases in this line, Healy v James, involved a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, a completely non-religious organization, which successfully claimed the protection of the first amendment. I don’t know of any cases where courts have said that other kinds of student groups aren’t protected or are less protected, but if you do, please share.

        As I’ve discussed in other comments, if you are concerned that kids can’t distinguish the Good News Club from a school sponsored event, but you aren’t concerned that kids can’t distinguish the soccer club from a school sponsored event, that sure looks like discrimination against christians to me.

        For reference, I am a strong supporter of government neutrality towards religion. But separation of church and state doesn’t mean discriminating against a particular religious group. It means treating all religious groups equally with each other and with other types of groups, including as regards government support and funding.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=305838 Jon Kussmaul

          “It means treating all religious groups equally with each other and with other types of groups, including as regards government support and funding.”

          Why not treat all religious groups equally by giving each 0 support and $0.00 funding? Would this not satisfy the law?

  • flyb

    Laugh out loud moment around 31:30 when they are interviewing the young home-schooled woman about evolution. She exclaims that children should be exposed to other “theories” besides “Darwin’s theory.” She is then asked if, as a home-schooled student, she was ever taught Darwin’s theory. She said, “Umm, not so much.”

    • Bunnybunbun

      I thought that was pretty funny as well.

  • mandy

    It’s really disgusting to me that little children are thought that they are filthy rags destined to hell. It makes me sick. That’s child abuse.

    • RobertoTheChi

      Agreed. I can’t fathom telling my child that she’s a sinner and deserves hell for her sins. The thought sickens me. It is indeed child abuse.

  • Scott Burdick

    Frank,

    To equate a religious organization that comes into a school with the stated purpose of converting young children who are then taught to proselytize to the rest of the fellow students (during regular school hours) who are not in the club — with an after school soccer club is simply ridiculous.

    Remember, most of these Good News Clubs are started and run by people who don’t even have their own children in public schools, since they nearly all either homeschool or send their kids to private Christian schools. They are targeting other people’s youngest children specifically because they know they are most vulnerable at this time.

    Are we to allow the public schools, buildings, and valuable resources to degenerate to a point where we have dozens of religious groups setting up camp in them with the purpose of recruiting children who will then be passing out mountains of pamphlets during class?

    Isn’t it reasonable for a parent who sends their children to public school to expect that they will be free from targeted religious recruiting and indoctrination? Isn’t this a formula bound to tear public schools apart?

    I’m sorry, but religious activity in elementary schools is not simply a matter of free speech, on par with other clubs. As Katherine points out in her book and the dissenting opinions of the Supreme Court pointed out, we give religious speech special protections and even tax breaks specifically because it is understood to be different than other speech. It is also why it is specifically separated from state institutions that are supported by everyone’s tax dollars.

    If Christians now want to argue that it is is simply speech, then they should give up the special tax privileges and other civil rights exemptions they have been granted under title 9. You simply can’t have it both ways.

    Scott Burdick

    • Frank

      Thank you for at least being explicit in your prejudice.

      1. Whether an adult has a child in the school is completely irrelevant. Schools do not belong to the parents of the kids who attend them. They belong to the public. The public pays for them. The public governs them. So when they are opened to the public after school ours (which is what we are talking about), members of the public who do not have kids attending are just as entitled to the use of the space as members of the public who do.

      2. No, it is not reasonable for a parent who sends their child to public school, or any other public space, to expect that their child will not encounter religious people expressing religious views. This is a pluralistic society. You can’t ask other people not to try to convince you or your children of their views, religious or otherwise. Your job as a parent is to prepare your children to have conversations with people of other worldviews.

      3. No court, and no fair minded person, has ever said that religious speech by private individuals or organizations should be treated differently than speech on any other topic. When you say that it should, you are showing yourself to be a bigot.The only time religious speech is treated differently is when it is religious speech by the government. Government speech supporting religion is a problem, and is rightly prohibited by the establishment clause. But a private group meeting in a school that has been opened for use by the public is not in any sense government speech.

      4. My point with the soccer team was obviously not to say that it is indistinguishable, there are many differences. My point was that if elementary school students are too young to realize that the Good News Club is not school sponsored, then they must also be too young to realize that the soccer team is not school sponsored. If (as appears to be the case) Ms. Stewart finds the former confusion objectionable but not the latter, then she isn’t treating the two equally, she is discriminating against the christian viewpoint. And that is precisely what the first amendment’s free speech clause says that public schools are not allowed to do.

      • PegK

        Frank,
        You should be aware that in most cases these clubs are held directly after school as opposed to soccer and basketball practices in which the children go home and then return to the school later in the evening when all the school personnel have gone home for the day and only a janitor is left onsite.
        These clubs attempt to have their volunteers also be allowed to volunteer in the same school during the school day so that the children will associate the adults from the club with the school. Many young children call lunchroom, recess and classroom volunteers “teacher.”
        The Good News Clubs are advertised to parents in one way when in reality what the children are learning is something completely different. Many parents who send their kids to these clubs do so to have a couple of extra hours of time after school. Then the children are plied with treats and rewards and are basically bribed to continue to participate. It is indoctrination at its most insidious and despicable. I would be equally as disgusted with it from any religious viewpoint or political viewpoint. Imagine if my atheist meet up group decided we were going to hold pizza parties at the elementary school each week with free pizza for the children and we were to show them movies which espoused a non-theistic world view and encouraged and rewarded them to spread the good news “there is no god!”

      • Carmelita Spats

        You state, “You can’t ask other people not to try to convince you or your children
        of their views, religious or otherwise. Your job as a parent is to
        prepare your children to have conversations with people of other
        worldviews.”

        I agree. My daughter was accosted throughout middle school, in Texas,
        by Christian kids who wanted to know why she did not believe in god.
        She was repeatedly asked (point blank in the halls, at lunch, during
        gym, in the cafeteria, etc.), with typical Christian BULLYING tactics,
        why she did not go to church.

        At first, my daughter was polite and responded that she was a freethinker. When the harassment escalated, she exposed the Christian kids to raw blasphemy. I defended her before the administration and stated that if Christian kids were allowed to keep asking her about her non-belief, she had every right to quip about the Christian trinity (the Bearded Guy, His Brat and the Pigeon), about Jesus being a, “grotesque fairytale”, “a Dead-Guy-On-A-Stick”, “a hideous naked guy wearing a ridiculous loincloth and a crown of thorns who was his own father and stupidly sacrificed himself to himself”. She ridiculed substitutionary atonement as a barbaric Bronze Age practice. Free speech is free speech, INCLUDING blasphemy, yes?

        • Frank

          I’m as much an atheist as you are Carmelita. I’m all for blasphemy, and for blasphemy being protected free speech.

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    Wordless … rage … *splutter*.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tyro-Kathar/1539781848 Tyro Kathar

    Someone should start a Muslim equivalent to this club, citing the Supreme Court decision. Bonus points if you film the ensuing fallout!

  • http://twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole Introvert

    14:10
    – Rev. James Dunn – “They like the idea of a Theocracy because they
    thing they might to get to me THEO in that Theocracy.” Amazing to see a
    Baptist minister be so spot on about that.

  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    Can’t wait to see the documentary. I’m actually in the middle of The Good News Club right now, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. More people need to read it! Pass it along to your liberal and moderate religious friends, Jews, Catholics, etc. They have every reason to be just as concerned as atheists.

  • bernardaB

    From min 10 to 12 there is talk about absolute obedience being the main teaching of the sect.
    At 12:35 a Xian says he would do whatever god asked.
    At 14:30 to 15:50 there is history of religious school riots in the 19th century.
    At 20:10 there is mention of McDonalds’s supporting the group.

    One question I would like to see asked is: “What is your definition of god?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/sue.kocher Sue Kocher

    More news from the Richard Dawkins Foundation. YouTube is threatening to pull the film after a bogus claim from “Mr. Bob” of the Good News Club–who gave written permission for his interview. http://tinyurl.com/ascxrex

  • Critical Thinker

    I dug into this video and the organization deeply. This video is extremely misleading and is hypocritical in that it is promoting an opposite opinion, distorting the facts, and would want its rights protected just like this organization. Simply a hack job by one free speech side vs the other. No credibility due to distorted facts and outright lies upon close examination.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rich-Rodgers/1621390164 Rich Rodgers

      Could you be more vague?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rich-Rodgers/1621390164 Rich Rodgers

      Could you be more vague?

  • Kimpatsu

    “… to exclude a religious group such as the Good News Club, because it is religious in nature, is ipso facto to discriminate against its religious viewpoint, whereas to exclude a karate club or any other category of activity…”
    Interesting, because in Japan, the Supreme Court has ruled that Karatedo, Shirinji Kempo, and Kendo, among others, are RELIGIONS, which is why since 1996 it has been illegal to make them compulsory school subjects. This arose because a Japanese family that converted to Mormonism objected to their son being forced to bow to a Shinto shrine at the start and end of every compulsory school Kendo lesson.

  • Kimpatsu

    *That should read “Shorinji Kempo”, sorry.


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