School Board Cancels Field Trip to Proselytizing Recreation Camp… Let the Complaining Commence

The middle schools in Washington County (in Maryland) took a field trip to Antietam Recreation last year. Sounds like a fun place — horseback riding, swimming pool, a petting zoo, etc. — but I guess no one in charge took a look at the self-provided description on their website:

The family-owned and operated facility is designed to provide active, exciting, and unique activities in a friendly, Christian atmosphere.

They’re sneaky about this, though. In the field trip packet (PDF) they presumably give to schools, the agenda for students looks like this:

No Jesus in sight. What they don’t tell you is that during lunch, the performers in the “show” talk about God. At least that’s what happened last year (and who knows what others sorts of proselytization took place).

To their credit, the district will not be making the same mistake twice. They won’t be going back — thanks to some vocal atheist parents — and one of the owners of Antietam Recreation is not happy about it. She showed up to the school board’s last meeting to plead her business’ case:

“With suicide, drugs and violence so rampant with young people today, we have specially designed this short time of our day to inspire and motivate students,” [owner Mary] Rotz told the board.

[Superintendent Clayton] Wilcox said the school system “can’t really provide a captive forum” for kids whose parents might be opposed to beliefs held by traditional Christians.

“I have struggled with this issue, quite honestly, because I think most of us here don’t really see anything wrong with the camp. … But we do understand that we have a responsibility for kids whose parents might,” Wilcox said.

School system officials told Antietam Recreation representatives that unless they change the theme of the 20-minute lunchtime portion of the program, the school system won’t let kids attend.

“We’re not willing to have a program that… would eliminate what young people need most to inspire and encourage them to be the best they can be,” Rotz told the board.

Okay, so it’s hardly an emphatic defense of the Constitution, but Wilcox is trying to be overly nice about his decision to a woman who thinks that, without Jesus, all these 11-year-olds are going to resort to killing themselves or shooting up (in a couple of different ways).

How nobody carefully looked into this place before going there last year is beyond me. But at least they’re not setting themselves up for a lawsuit. The decision is simple: We’re not sending our public school kids to a Christian training camp.

By the way, don’t read the comments at the Herald-Mail website. People there seem to think that this is discrimination against Christians and that asking the group to not talk about Jesus is somehow the same as preaching atheism.

(Thanks to Joan 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.

  • SeekerLancer

    Honestly I’m a big weirded out by the gender segregated swimming times. Is there only one changing room or something?

    • Lee Miller

      “Mixed bathing” is a critical issue for many fundamentalist Christian groups. Along withe movies, dancing, and wearing makeup. It’s definitely a red flag for exactly the kind of place this is.

    • Tainda

      I felt the same way about that. I’m surprised the girls aren’t first so they can drain the pool after so the boys won’t get girl cooties.

    • Nate Frein

      I’m not sure…I’d have to see the pool and know how many kids are involved. If we’re talking a lot of kids with adults spread thin, mixed swimming could allow for something to happen and be over with before any adult caught on, with both the school and the camp holding the bag for it.

      • cary_w

        I wouldn’t read too much into the segregated swimming, it could just be that the pool is too small to accommodate all the kids at once. Even if it is an effort to keep boys and girls apart, I don’t see a problem with it, as long as everyone has a chance to swim. The problem is the lunchtime “show”/church service.

        • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

          Or maybe they only have one locker room available, and so can’t have everybody changing into swimsuits at one time. Could be an innocent reason. (I think it’s probably actually the Fundie nonsense, but there could be a legit reason for the swimming.)
          The show is seriously the problem.

          • SeekerLancer

            Yeah I’m not reading into it too deeply I was just curious.

          • Stev84

            If it’s only a locker room issue they could still overlap the swimming and just keep the changing of clothes gender segregated.

    • A3Kr0n

      You wouldn’t be weirded out if you grew up where I did, and had to swim nude in school…

      • Gus Snarp

        ??????????

      • SeekerLancer

        I’m going to assume that wasn’t Maryland though.

        • A3Kr0n

          WisconSIN

      • Randomfactor

        I do that now…

      • das liberalen

        What?!! Why nude??

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

      Eh, it was standard at the summer camp I went to. Girls went one day, boys another.

  • 7Footpiper

    At least Mr. Wilcox somewhat gets it, and as an Atheist I’m OK with what he said because he’s acknowledging that personally the board members might be OK with Jesus camp but the Christian majority don’t get to ignore the Constitution if it’s to push their beliefs.

    • 7Footpiper

      I suppose I should have said “the Christian majority don’t get to ignore the Constitution for any reason, religious or not”.

  • ortcutt

    I’m really sick of hearing how Jesus is the answer for suicide, drugs, and violence.

    • nkendall

      But its worked so well for the last 2000 years…

    • Randomfactor

      “I don’t recommend violence, insanity, etc….but it’s worked for me!’ –Hunter S. Thompson.

    • cary_w

      Exactly, it’s no problem at all to give a anti-drug/violence/alcohol/suicide talk that doesn’t include religion! My kids have been forced to sit through plenty of them throughout their public school careers. Of course, religious or not, I think they are all pretty worthless. And ironically, one thing that DOES help keep kids out of trouble is exactly what is probably going on all the rest of the day at this place; taking them horseback riding, teaching them to care for animals, swimming, doing team-building group games, and all that!

    • Carmelita Spats

      Jesus is the worst example ever…He peddled a controlled substance and made others drink it (his blood)…He never enlightened his followers on issues of mental illness and neuroscience but rather blamed every psychosis on “demon possession”…He told his followers that it was okay to eat with dirty hands…He encouraged others to die for him…He was on a SUICIDE mission.

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

        And weaseled out of the whole death thing, too, with the “resurrection” act.

      • NickDB

        Reckon it could be argued that Jesus committed suicide.

        He, being the son of god had the power to stop his death but didn’t.
        What’s the difference between what he did and someone stepping in front
        of a bus or someone not going for treatment for cancer?

        At least, it’s suicide by proxy.

  • JA

    You can’t tell us to not read the comments on the article and then provide a link to them in the same sentence. You’re enabling us through reverse psychology! :P

    • allein

      I got through one page before the pressure in my brain became too dangerous and I had to close the tab.

  • http://twitter.com/ThyGoddess Michelle

    I’m surprised you didn’t point out the separate bathing times. And what do you know, boys first…

    • eric

      In May in Maryland I’d much rather go lake swimming at noon than 9:30 am.
      ***
      I’d be royally ticked off if I were a school planner, had read that agenda and then found out it was a sectarian place. Seems to me the camp is more at fault here than the school system – this seems a fairly intentional decision to hide their proselytization from customers until its too late.

    • cary_w

      Umm.. Someone has to go first! It’s called “taking turns” not “first is always best”.
      I think you are all reading way to much into the pool thing, pools at places like this are usually backyard-size, not big enough for whole school of kids.

      • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

        You can divide people up some other way though.

        • cary_w

          Of course you can, but don’t forget these are middle school students. If you divide them up any other way you will get an endless stream of whiny kids trying to get moved to the other time (“but all my friends are in the morning!”, “but I can’t swim after lunch!”, or “I forgot what group I’m in!”) if I were the teacher in charge of splitting the kids into two groups I’d go with splitting by gender too. It avoids a lot of arguments and does a little bit to avoid the problem of the girls who don’t really want to swim, they just want to show of their bikinis to the boys, and the tough boys trying to shove the wimpy boys into the girls locker room, etc., etc.. If you’ve ever had to work with middle-schoolers you learn to anticipate and avoid all kinds of problems like these!

  • Stev84

    The stupid pool segregation should have been a clue

  • Mark W.

    Did anyone else think the name Rotz was wholly appropriate for someone that is proselytizing to children?

    • Beutelratti

      Judging from the German meaning of “Rotz”, then yes, she’s snot.

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

        Whoa, it’s, like, two different levels of funny!

  • Persephone

    “By the way, don’t read the comments at any newspaper’s website.”

    Fixed that for you. =D

  • Billy Bob

    I learned a long time ago to avoid comments sections of things like this. I’ve lost too many brain cells already from that.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    So why exactly can’t boys and girls swim together? Jesus is not the solution to drugs, violence, and suicide.

  • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

    If whole school districts cancel field trips, maybe this will be enough of a financial blow that the recreation center will have to change their program for the school groups. After all, if the show was simply about staying off drugs and being nice to people, and all that other stuff that the xians are supposed to be in favor of, and just didn’t mention god, we would not have had any problem with it.

    • Gus Snarp

      There’s a good chance it will. School groups can be a huge cash cow for a place like this. It could have a serious impact on their bottom line, depending on how many schools end up staying away.

  • Cat’s Staff

    I thought I would look for evidence of this show. There is a YouTube video called “School Group Show” with a description “2010 School Group Show at Antietam Recreation”. It doesn’t specify the school, so we don’t know if it’s a public school. If this is the same show that this school saw, here are some highlights. At 11m 30s “God has an amazing plan for your life…etc…” followed by someone signing You Raise Me Up which is interrupted by a guy on horseback at 13m 23s with “My greatest hero is the greatest teacher to walk the Earth, he came to die for my sins and the sins of the whole world, his name was Jesus Christ…whosoever shall believe in him shall not perish but have everlasting life…”. Then “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”. The fireplace in background has a plaque in it that says “The LORD is my ROCK, my fortress and my deliverer, IN HIM WILL I TRUST.”

    • Gus Snarp

      Well that’s pretty much a slam dunk on proselytizing and being highly inappropriate for a public school event.

  • curtcameron

    Here in Richardson, Texas, the public schools send sixth graders every year to Sky Ranch, which is a Christian camp. I went with my son’s class this past December, and although the camp’s regular staff runs the programs, there wasn’t a mention of Jesus at all. I assume that the school district has given the camp the guidelines they have to accept, and it all works out great.

    The camp they do every year is a two-night stay event whose focus is on natural science, with lots of no-Jesus recreation mixed in.

    My point is that you can’t just look at a description of the facility’s Christian summer camp to rule them out for public schools.

    • Nate Frein

      No one is doing that. The school district is responding to actual reports of proselytizing during the “lunch show.”

  • Anna

    This is why I don’t trust evangelicals. These stories are so common and there are so many evangelical groups hiding the true nature of their activities in order to gain access to public school children. I’d seriously worry about leaving my kids alone with an evangelical, which is sad because I’m sure there are many of them who don’t abuse their position as teachers, administrators, babysitters, etc. But with all of this stealth proselytization, how can I tell which evangelicals are trustworthy and which ones aren’t?

  • Michelle B

    This is where I grew up. I went on that field trip in 2001. I think the show was a cowboy show with a bad guy who learned to do the right thing “because God.” I don’t really remember. But it’s interesting to see my hometown on this website.

  • PA_Year_of_the_Bible

    This is the same community that had no problem with their baseball team, the Hagerstown Suns, offering a significant church-bulletin discount back in the 1990s and sewing haloes onto their uniforms after I sued them for religious discrimination.

  • Headsnortails

    Yeah, you know, we’re gonna hold out for Camp Quest this year. Call us crazy. Or evil.

    Mumbles

    http://neitherheadsnortails.blogspot.com/

  • PA_Year_of_the_Bible

    UPDATE! They have reached a so-called “compromise”….an inadequate one:

    http://www.herald-mail.com/breakingnews/hm-wcps-and-antietam-rec-reach-compromise-on-field-trips-20130508,0,6992065.story

    Local atheists should demand to offer an “atheist message” alongside of the “spiritual message”.

    Plus notice, in the video, the miniature church (with cross) in the western town, and the God-babble on the signpost. Man, I wish I still lived near there!

    • http://www.facebook.com/MattDavisBuxton Matt Davis

      They can still be sued for promoting one religion and one secular world view at the expense of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism etc. Let’s suggest that to the local Atheist legal team.

  • AceDiablo

    The Herald-Mail is a fairly conservative paper and Washington County in general is very conservative and religious. It’s a largely rural area, lots of poverty and unemployment, and a number of megachurches and small crazy evangelical populations. None of this is any kind of a surprise to me, a native of that area, who still visits as much of my family is up there.


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