Proselytizing Recreation Camp Reaches Compromise with Washington County School Board

Yesterday, I posted about Antietam Recreation, a field trip destination for public school students that secretly proselytized to the children during a lunchtime “show.”

After an article came out in the Herald-Mail about how the Washington County schools (in Maryland) were no longer going to go there for that reason and how the owners refused to change their program, the two sides have already reached a compromise:

Washington County Public Schools and Antietam Recreation officials have reached a compromise that will allow students to continue to take field trips to the recreational facility, officials said Wednesday afternoon.

… and that’s all we know.

Antietam Recreation didn’t offer much more on their Facebook page, either:

Just a shout out to everyone who posted, called, or commented! The Rotz family is grateful for your support. We’re also glad to announce that due to discussion and a slight rearrangement of schedule, permission for Washington County Schools to attend has been reinstated!

So will Jesus and God no longer be brought up when public school children are in attendance? What are the terms of the compromise?

I left a message with the owners and will update this post if/when I hear back from them.

***Update***: Now we know the terms of the compromise and they’re not looking good at all:

The Washington County School Board just said that the field trip to Antietam Recreation is back on. They have reached the compromise that if students feel uncomfortable with the spiritual message, then they can go outside to the petting zoo or go horseback riding instead.

Let me rephrase the compromise: The school district is still going to pay this family business to continue proselytizing with the caveat that not all students have to listen to it.

If this happened for, say, an assembly featuring a Christian abstinence speaker, we wouldn’t think twice about suing the school even if kids were allowed to stay in the classroom.

Just imagine being the one or two students who aren’t Christian, who don’t want to be preached to… but who feel pressured to stay and listen because they don’t want to be the odd ones out. It doesn’t matter what the alternative is — being told what to think about God shouldn’t be an option, period.

Why the school district chose to go down this precarious path when they had already made the right decision to begin with baffles me. (Are there no other places in Maryland where students can have fun?!)

This isn’t a compromise. This is giving the Christian-owned company everything it wanted — and opening the door to a potential lawsuit from parents whose children will be attending this Christian camp.

(Thanks to James 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.

  • Gus Snarp

    There are enough very loud and blinkered Christians who simply don’t understand the concept of separation of Church and State that any group that is under political pressure and poorly advised by their attorneys is likely to make this kind of wrong decision.

    And people ask why we sue. This is why we sue. Because only the courts have the power and independence to enforce the Constitution and protect the rights of the minority from the howling mob.

  • Pulse

    Don’t forget that this proselytizing event takes place during the twenty minute lunch period. Will those students who choose not to attend be denied lunch?

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      That does seem a major factor. Otherwise, I’d be inclined to acceptable an alternative like horseback riding. (Listen to a preacher or ride ponies? Even when I was a Catholic I’d have preferred the whole horse to the horse’s ass.) But lunch on horseback? Doable, but I suspect it requires an experienced rider.

  • Mountain Dog

    Someone needs to familiarize the Washington County School Board with the Lee v. Weisman U.S. Supreme Court ruling and the potential for coercion is such situations.

  • http://twitter.com/butterflyfish_ Heidi McClure

    I don’t have to imagine that. I’ve been the kid who didn’t want to sit through the “optional” Christianity. And kids, do not voice your opinion about the relative merit of religion, or you will be pulled aside and spoken to by a teacher. (And no, this wasn’t in the Bible belt. It was in Massachusetts.)

    • Gus Snarp

      I’m deeply concerned about my son being in this situation. Already at six he feels the need to tell his friends that god is not, in fact, real, as they believe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.potter.73 Matt Potter

    So, the ‘compromise’ is the camp will now allow students who don’t want to listen to leave instead of being forced to stay for their spiritual message. Is no one at the district competent, the only acceptable compromise they should have taken is we will come if, and only if, there is no religious message shared. Even if the camp did agree to that I would still be hesitant to take public school children to a place where proselytizing seems to be an issue.

  • Ryan Jean

    I remember seeing something earlier that the owner stated that children could always do other activities during the preaching time if they wanted, but had to be proactive about it, and that was allegedly the owner’s official position as of the problem the prior year that led to this situation now. In other words, the Christian Rec facility got 100% capitulation from the schools; they change nothing at all, and get the comfort of knowing that virtually no students would risk the social stigma of leaving.

  • Zara
    • Gus Snarp

      Definition #1. Also, the transitive verb definition.

  • JKPS

    I can’t imagine any kid is going to want to stick around to get preached at when they can go horseback riding or go to a petting zoo. A PETTING ZOO. That’s awesome. I think a great compromise would be to have everyone skip the preaching entirely and go to the petting zoo!

    Seriously, though, this is appalling. It’s amazing how completely they missed the point.

    • Gus Snarp

      It will be an interesting exercise in peer pressure and authority versus the joy of playing with animals. I do hope the kids who choose to skip the sermon still get to eat.

    • StephS

      I hope that they tell the children explicitly “if you’d rather go to the petting zoo, you can” because I would bet very few children, if any, will choose to listen to the sermon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.potter.73 Matt Potter

    This is an image from their website which links to the site ‘needhim.org’. In case anyone is confused the ‘him’ happens to be Jesus. I would love to have someone record their message or better yet the district should require a transcript before allowing it.

    • Melody Hollis

      “How can I stop sinning?” Easy. Eliminate the word “sin” from your vocabulary. I can’t express just how nice it is to be free from the fear of “sinning,” but I’ll try. I used to agonize over every single action, decision, and thought for fear of offending God. I prayed before I did anything because I wanted to be sure that I was acting on “God’s will” and not my own. I was so stressed out all the time trying to live up to the Bible’s standards.

      Now, I just try to be nice to people and do what is ethical. I don’t have to be hypervigilant and when I do screw up, I either apologize – if what I did affected someone else – or move on and try to do better next time. I don’t have to dwell on my mistakes and beg for forgiveness, and internalize how unworthy and horrible the Bible says I am and how much I “hurt Jesus”. The burden of sin is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe it exists, you feel it’s weight. Once you discard the idea of “sin,” the burden goes away.

      For the record, I don’t feel “empty” either. I was more miserable as a Christian and couldn’t understand why God was not filling me with the “joy of the lord” though I tried so hard to be a good Follower.

    • 7Footpiper

      “Why does life hurt so much?”. For f*#ks sake, these are kids. Is it any wonder they’re blethering on about the suicide rate being so high with a “positive Christian message” like that?

      If it hurts so much you’re doing it wrong!

      • Gus Snarp

        I thought the answer to “Why does life hurt so much?” was clearly “Christian bullies”.

  • Gus Snarp

    From the link in the *Update* section:

    “A lot of the low-income population in this country can’t afford to take their kids anywhere, much less swimming, horseback riding, see a play, have a good time all because a small minority doesn’t agree with the word God being mentioned [the owner of one business wants to use the field trip as an opportunity to force her personal beliefs on students],” says Turgeon.

    Fixed it for her.

    I also like how Rotz wants to use the word spiritual instead of religious, basically because she thinks she can get around the law that way, when, if the video available online (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWQ5ZhkKdLU&feature=youtu.be&t=11m30s ) is at all reflective of the show, it is clearly an effort at sectarian, Christian religious proselytizing. And the news site just goes along with her on the rebranding:

    Antietam Recreation says before the performance they read a message explaining if you do not want to hear anything spiritual, there is an alternative activity.

    “I don’t really like that word religious. We have a spiritual message that’s going to inspire and motivate these kids,” says Rotz.

    The Washington County School Board just said that the field trip to Antietam Recreation is back on. They have reached the compromise that if students feel uncomfortable with the spiritual message, then they can go outside to the petting zoo or go horseback riding instead.

    • http://www.facebook.com/matt.potter.73 Matt Potter

      So, one cowboy sings “You raise me up” and then during a break in the lyrics another cowboy comes out on a horse to tell everyone the greatest teacher ever, Jesus, died for everyone there and then quotes John 3:16. This district has lost their mind, congratulations on the pending lawsuit.

  • Hat Stealer

    The Courts have been clear on this. Giving students (or workers or congressmen) an “out” does not make something more legally acceptable. The school is still breaking the law.

  • JET

    Paraphrasing: “Fine. We won’t hold the children captive. Instead we will use peer pressure and the threat of being seen as different or odd by their friends and teachers to coerce them to volunteer to be held captive.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1220871538 Alan Eckert

    Will they shame the students that choose to go to the petting zoo (I know I would go out there)? Or strongly suggest that they shouldn’t go because they might miss out on the AWESOME presentation?

  • http://www.processdiary.com Paul Caggegi

    Horseback riding has now become my heathen passtime of choice.

  • http://twitter.com/Don_Gwinn Don_Gwinn

    I bet it’s not all that baffling. I bet the district was swamped with angry calls and email from theists who demanded that the trip be reinstated.

  • Anna

    Well, I just lost all respect for the school district. Why is it so hard for them to do the right thing?

  • NewDawn2006

    This asshat used to be the superintendent in my district. Seeing all this I’m glad he’s gone. And now I know why opening school board meetings with prayer is acceptable here…

  • Carmelita Spats

    I’ve said it a million times in my school district: Jesus is the WORST role model for suicidal students or those dealing with the stress of peer pressure and drugs. A 33-year-old suicidal guy with holes in his hands should NEVER be the poster boy for Red Ribbon Week.

    1. Jesus distributed a controlled substance (his blood) and pressured others to drink.
    2. Jesus threatened others with horrible harm. He would just not shut up about what his “Father” would do to those who ignored him. See pictures of burn victims.
    3. Making constant verbal threats and having violent ideations is a cry for help.
    4. Jesus established an “in” group and an “out” group. His clique of 12 gum-snapping mean girls (aka disciples) used manipulation, guilt, ostracism, threats, and incessant stalking to obtain absolute conformity.
    5. Jesus encouraged others to .die for him
    6. Jesus was on a suicide mission.
    7. Jesus disrespected mental health and respect for patients. He KNEW that there is no such thing as “demon possession” yet he never introduced the word “epilepsy” to his followers.
    8. Jesus said he came to break up families. This is what cults do…They isolate people from loved ones, outsiders, who can criticize the cult.
    9. Jesus’ classic, creepy, narcissistic, abuser line, ““Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Ever had a stalker?

    As a concerned parent, I would never let my teenager anywhere near an abusive, manipulative, unemployed, mentally ill, 33-year-old male with a history of utilizing peer pressure as a weapon to obtain power over others.

  • SeekerLancer

    The old, “you don’t have to listen if you don’t want to.”

    Then why are you having the presentation during lunch? How many kids are going to want to go to a petting zoo during their time to eat?

  • Mark W.

    So, how many kids are going to sit through a sermon when they can be at the petting zoo or horseback riding?

  • Anna

    I hope that there’s going to be follow-up on this story. Somebody needs to document what happens on the actual field trip. One of the teachers, chaperones, or maybe even one of the students could take notes or (better yet) a video to document both what’s said about the presentation and the content of the presentation itself.

  • AceDiablo

    That’s my home turf; my mom was a teacher in Washington County and that’s where I grew up and went to school. It’s a VERY religious area and the local officials have long winked at questionable religious activities, not only at schools but at civic events. When I graduated high school (back in 1983) we had a “baccalaureate” event in the school auditorium…it was basically a religious service calling for blessings on the graduating class. My mother trilled something about how it was really a challenge to the students to maintain their spiritual values and not a church service…I shot back that it was presided over by a clergyman, who led people in prayer, and there were hymns sung, and the Christian God was called on….yeah, it was a church service, plain and simple. Some years after that they moved the baccalaureate event to a local church. But still, religion permeates things. A few years ago my home town had an Independence Day event, sponsored by the town, that included singers doing religious songs and a religious group running kids’ activities and preaching when they could. I was infuriated but what could I do? It was tacky and very questionable and if I raised a fuss it wouldn’t do much good and would probably cause trouble for my family. This sort of thing is typical for that area and more needs to be done.


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