The Stealth Christian Attack on Public Schools

This is a speech given by Katherine Stewart at the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s 35th National Convention last October. The speech appeared in a recent issue of Freethought Today. You can read other articles from this publication here and subscribe to it by becoming a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

(Note: As with many speeches, the written version isn’t always the same as the version that ends up getting delivered. So what follows is not a verbatim transcript from the video.)

I’m going to talk to you today about a range of initiatives, many of them under the radar, taken by the Religious Right to infiltrate and undermine our public schools. Although these religious programs aim at all age groups, a surprising number are directed at the youngest school children.

In my research I was surprised to see, over and over again, that one of the distinguishing features of these religious programs designed for public schools, and one of the reasons they don’t attract the attention they should, is that they rely on deceit.

Simply put: Many of these so-called bible study clubs and other religious initiatives are not what they say they are. They have an agenda far more sweeping, and potentially threatening to public education, than they let on. The biggest factor driving this insertion of religion into public schools is judicial activism from the right.

I know these are bold claims. Some people will say they’re alarmist. I have learned firsthand that they aren’t.

Three years ago, when my family was living in Santa Barbara, Calif., I learned that an after-school group calling itself “The Good News Club” was coming to our daughter’s public school.

The program describes itself as “bible study” from a “nondenominational” perspective. My first thought was that this just wasn’t a big deal. The group required parental permission to join, so I figured let the kids whose parents want them to learn about the bible sign them up.

Let me make clear that I’m a strong supporter of free speech, and I am also comfortable with the idea of teaching the bible in public schools from a nonsectarian perspective, as literature, history or anthropology.

But then I started hearing stories from parents around town whose kids went to schools where Good News Clubs had recently been established. I began to realize that Good News Clubs are less concerned with studying the bible than with turning kids into faith-based bullies.

Let me tell you about Zoe, who was on the playground at recess when a 6-year-old classmate, whom I’ll call Ashley, said to her, “You can’t go to heaven because you don’t believe in Jesus.”

Zoe objected, saying, “That’s not true.” The children’s teacher, overhearing the exchange, decided to use this as a teachable moment. Different religions, she told the class, have different perspectives on different issues.

Zoe was fine with this, but Ashley was devastated and burst into tears “How can that be? I know it must be true because I learned it in school, and they don’t teach things in school that aren’t true. How can they lie to us in school?”

That story gets to the heart of the trouble with the Good News Club. I don’t have a problem with children expressing their faith at school, having religious discussions or even proselytizing. But I do have a problem with Ashley believing that her particular religious beliefs are coming from the school. That perception on Ashley’s part was no accident.

‘One way’ to heaven

It soon became obvious to me that the main purpose of the Good News Club is to deceive children into believing that a particular religious creed is sanctioned by and has the support of their public school. The Good News Club wants kids to think that its mission is approved by the school and by the state.

Here’s why I think that. When the Good News Club announced it was coming to our school, a number of concerned parents offered the group free and better space in this stunningly beautiful evangelical church located literally next door to the school. Club leaders declined, saying the school was where they wanted to be.

Good News Clubs at other schools make a point of showing up before the bell rings, trailing balloons and laying out spreads of candy and cupcakes in places where the children are sure to see them. They know very well that 5- and 6-year-olds can’t make a distinction between what takes place in a school and what is sponsored by the school.

Another layer of deceit is their effort to present themselves as being broadly Christian by using nonthreatening labels like “nondenominational” or “interdenominational.” In fact, most activists I met who work with the Child Evangelism Fellowship believe that most people who call themselves Christian really aren’t, including most U.S. Episcopalians, United Methodists, Roman Catholics, liberal Congregationalists — the list goes on.

Of course, they categorically reject the legitimacy of all other faiths. Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and freethinkers of all stripes — all these are merely “the harvest” who need to be converted. In many cases, Good News Clubs aim to convert children, who come to the club with parental permission, away from the very same religion of their parents.

While they claim to offer bible study, they are less about study than proselytizing and indoctrination.

It was no accident that Ashley decided to proselytize on the playground. It was the main thing that her Good News Club, or what she thought was the school, taught her to do.

The real purpose of the club is not to teach the students who are enrolled from the beginning by their parents. Many, if not most of those children are already affiliated with churches that are ideologically aligned with the Good News Clubs.

Instead, the purpose of the Club is to pressure those kids to try to recruit their nonparticipating peers. At every Child Evangelism Fellowship training I attended, kids were told to tell their friends that there is only “one way” to get to heaven, and were often given points or prizes for recruiting their peers to the club.

Steeped in fundamentalism

Who’s behind Good News Clubs? I decided to investigate and spent three years traveling across the U.S., attending clubs in different public schools and talking to their leadership. I participated in several club trainings, joined a mission project in Boston and attended the CEF’s national convention in Talladega, Ala.

What did I find out? The group that sponsors the clubs, the Child Evangelism Fellowship, has a very specific and deeply fundamentalist agenda. They are represented at their national conventions by extremists who rail against the so-called “homosexual agenda,” support creationism in public schools and condemn interfaith marriage, referred to as “interracial marriage.”

I’m here to tell you that the impending arrival of a Good News Club at our school was not good news for our community at all. Neighbors argued bitterly. Some were attacked for their faith and ethnicity. A father from a country torn apart by religious wars wrote poignant letters to the principal, expressing his shock and dismay that the same kind of thing could be happening here in America.

Several families decided to pull their kids out of public schools and send them to private schools instead. Large numbers of parents, dismayed by the arrival of the club, told me they feared that if they expressed their feelings, their family businesses would suffer.

I was surprised to learn that there are over 3,200 Good News Clubs in public elementary schools around the U.S. Their presence in public schools has grown 728% in the last 10 years. Their numbers double about every three years. If they continue to grow at this rate, they’ll reach their goal of placing a club in every public elementary school in America within just two decades.

I soon learned that religious initiatives in public schools are not just limited to the Good News Club. The issue is much broader and deeper.

A year and a half ago, my husband and I moved to New York City and enrolled our children in a public school across the street. One Sunday, just after the school year began, I looked out my kitchen window and saw a group of people gathered in front of the schoolhouse door. They had a table, brochures, a tray of lollipops and a 4-foot-tall sign. It turned out that they were part of an evangelical ministry and that our school was their church.

Just pay the janitors

I decided to attend the service at the “church” at our school.

“Notice the names of the children on pieces of paper,” the pastor advised his flock. I looked around and saw the posters my children’s schoolmates had made. “Pray for them!” the pastor continued. “Pray that the families of this school will come to know Jesus and say, ‘This is a House of God!’”

After the service, I chatted with the pastor and asked how much it cost to rent the school. “Oh no,” he said. “We don’t pay rent! New York is way too expensive! We just pay the custodians’ fee.”

I learned that the church was using the school not just on Sunday mornings and evenings, but also on some Wednesday and Friday nights, and that it paid a pittance for the privilege. They didn’t pay for heat, electricity, air conditioning or wear and tear on the furniture. They had no lease and were paying no rent.

Ours was just one of 160 New York City schools that have doubled as rent-free houses of worship — the vast majority of them evangelical Christian churches — in their off-hours. Thanks to a 2001 Supreme Court decision, churches were now able to plant themselves in public schools across New York City, bypassing preexisting laws that barred partisan political groups as well as worship services from using public schools. I attended services at dozens of these “churches.”

In public school classrooms, I learned about creationism and was taught that all children who do not believe in Jesus will go to hell. At a public school in Greenwich Village, I heard a congregant praise the anti-gay ministry that is affiliated with the church planted at that school. From my seat in a public school library, I was instructed to pray for the glorious day that America’s systems of government, law, finance, media and education would be overtaken by Christian control.

All of this happened at taxpayer-funded public schools.

In many instances, the churches in question were not spontaneous expressions of faith created by members of the local community. They were part of national groups that realized they could use a state subsidy to open up a branch office. National and international “church-planting” organizations, determined to save New York from its alleged Godlessness, rushed to establish taxpayer-subsidized houses of worship throughout New York City in each neighborhood’s best piece of real estate — the public schools, where the kids are! Your tax dollars at work.

‘Just’ speech?

What happened to separation of church and state? Why is this happening now? It’s the direct result of a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Good News Club v. Milford Central School, in which the court appeared to suggest that keeping religious groups out of schools was a violation of their free speech.

The court held that religion is nothing more than speech from a certain point of view, and therefore all these religious activities are protected by the First Amendment.

Is religion nothing more than speech from a certain point of view? I don’t think so, and our founders didn’t think so either. That is why they inserted two clauses in the First Amendment, the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, that treat religion as something distinct from speech.

Our tax code doesn’t treat religion as “just” speech either, which is why religions enjoy significant tax privileges. Our legal code doesn’t treat religion as nothing more than speech, which is why religions don’t have to adhere to the same antidiscrimination laws, for instance, that other for-profit and nonprofit groups must abide by.

More to the point, religions are free to promote the kinds of doctrines — the idea that same-sex activity is an abomination, for instance — for which they are rightly excluded from government institutions. But in this case, the court overlooked all of that, and initiatives that force an inappropriate entanglement between church and school, such as Good News Clubs, are the direct result.

Subsequent federal rulings effectively forced the city to let churches in. In 2002, there was one church operating out of a public school in New York City. By 2011, the number had grown to over 100.

After a long legal battle culminating in a decision by the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, the religious groups were told to vacate the schools. But this is only a local victory, and the issue is far from settled. Legal advocacy groups of the Religious Right have vowed to continue the fight to overturn the 2nd Circuit’s decision.

Evangelism by peers

In the course of researching my book, I discovered that church-planting and Good News Clubs were not the only religious initiatives in public schools.

I became aware that there are enormous resources being devoted to something called “peer evangelism” — getting kids to be more visibly religious on campus in order to create a sense of a religious or “in-group” and thus convert their peers.

To reiterate, I support the right of kids to talk about their religion with their friends at school. But many of the peer evangelism efforts I witnessed can’t be really defined as “student-led.”

For instance, last fall I participated in an annual prayer event that takes place on thousands of America’s public school campuses called “See You at the Pole.” It’s well-established that students are allowed to pray in school, and the legal understanding is that as long as they lead the prayers themselves it’s perfectly acceptable.

But it turns out that even though the prayers themselves were led by students, the event simply wouldn’t have been the spectacle that it was without adults.

Churches order materials including signs, booklets and T-shirts from See You at the Pole’s central offices near Fort Worth, Texas, allowing adults to organize the event on behalf of their youth groups. At the See You at the Pole I attended, pastors in the area produced a slick video telling kids to participate and put it on YouTube.

Many of those same pastors showed up and participated at the event. The vast majority of the kids who attended the See You at the Pole event on school grounds also attended a party afterward at a local megachurch. The church event was staffed by adults wearing “See You at the Pole” T-shirts.

The event was “student-led” in the same way that a peewee soccer league is. It may be the kids kicking the ball, but it wouldn’t happen without adults on the sidelines telling them what to do, cheering them on and funding and promoting the whole event.

The idea that “it’s OK as long as the kids do it” is now so pervasive among those who view the public schools as missionary fields that leaders of religious advocacy groups are publishing books with titles like Reclaim Your School: 10 Ways to Legally Evangelize Your School. Their ideas include organizing on-campus “revival rallies” and turning oral reports into opportunities for kids to “witness” to their peers.

‘God-given loophole’

The Life Book Movement is a project of Gideons International, which attempts to distribute bibles onto public school campuses, with mixed success. But they’ve hit the jackpot with the peer evangelism exception. The Life Book Movement gets kids to distribute “Life Books,” or evangelical books written with teens in mind, to other kids in school.

Using kids to do what grownups are not allowed to do is “a God-given loophole,” in the words of a movement leader. It “brilliantly threads a separation of church and state loophole.” In just three years, the Life Book Movement claims to have distributed nearly 3 million of these books on public school campuses.

Student athletics also provides the Religious Right with opportunities for peer evangelism. I don’t have a problem if, at the high school level, Christian athletes or Jewish athletes or Muslim athletes want to get together after school, perform acts of worship and talk about their religion. The problem is that many of these groups make their prayers part of the normal school day, forcing all kids to take a stand.

The largest of these athletic programs is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which instructs children on how to pray before, during and after school sports activities. The FCA seeks to present an open face of tolerance, thereby drawing in Christians of all types, but its leadership and support are hardline evangelical. Over the past 20 years, the FCA has grown from having 100,000 students involved to reaching nearly 1.8 million children.

Fellowship of Christian Athletes claims to use athletic fields to develop “character.” Of course, membership in such clubs is technically optional.

But other evangelizing groups bring “character education” inside the school, and all children are required to participate.

There are hundreds of groups that use “character education” as a cover for religious proselytizing. Team Impact, Commandos! USA, the Power Team, Answering the Cries, Go to Tell Ministries, the Todd Becker Foundation and the Strength Team are just a few of the faith-based groups that come into the public schools with programs on drug addiction, drunk driving and other important topics and aim to leave with a collection of young religious converts.

Judicial activism

What do all these initiatives have in common? They have strong backing and support from Christian legal advocacy groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom, Liberty Counsel, the American Center for Law and Justice and the Pacific Justice Institute. You may not have heard of them, but they have combined budgets of over $100 million per year. These groups are determined to turn America into a so-called Christian nation, and they have public schools in their sights.

This brings me to one of my main points: judicial activism from the right. The pivotal moment was the 2001 Supreme Court decision Good News Club v. Milford Central School. In that decision, the court pushed free speech so far that the Establishment Clause, which prohibits government endorsement or funding of religion, has been eviscerated.

They’ve used the distinction between school-sponsored speech and student speech as a kind of loophole. The Supreme Court opened the doors to let programs like the Good News Club turn public schools into mission fields.

In conclusion, there isn’t much doubt that the separation of church and state is being undermined. These multiple initiatives are breaches of the spirit of constitutional law, if not the letter. But much more important than these individual breaches is the ongoing and largely successful project of undermining public education.

All of these religious initiatives in the schools, aggressively pursued, will chip away at the credibility and standing of the public school system. The work of the Good News Club and its friends creates precisely those ills against which the separation of church and state was intended to defend. That separation is not just a luxury of our system of government. It is the foundation of it.

Sometimes we deceive ourselves about the nature of the problems we face. We suppose for legal purposes that a school building is just a building, when it is not. We suppose that education is just another transaction, when it is much more than that.

We have grown so used to the idea that collective action is never more than an infringement on individual rights that we easily overlook one of the most successful collective efforts in our history: the public schools.

We may well find, in a future world, where the rich have their schools, the religious have theirs, the poor don’t get educated at all and everyone is schooled in contempt for those who are different, that we have kept all of our rights, yet lost everything but the pretense of democracy.

Katherine Stewart is an investigative journalist and the author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children. She’s written for the Village Voice, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Marie Claire, New York Times, Daily Beast, Bloomberg View, Religion Dispatches and The Guardian. She lives with her family in New York City.

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.

  • WoodyTanaka

    “Good News Clubs at other schools make a point of showing up before
    the bell rings, trailing balloons and laying out spreads of candy and
    cupcakes in places where the children are sure to see them. They know
    very well that 5- and 6-year-olds can’t make a distinction between what
    takes place in a school and what is sponsored by the school.”

    These people are like spiritual pedophiles. They should banned from coming within 1/2 mile of any public school.

  • Katherine Nobles

    And yet, when schools attempt to allow yoga classes for their students, there is a huge outcry against teaching “Hinduism” in schools.

  • Mario Strada

    I think the only way to combat this illegal and immoral infiltration and planned brainwashing of our children is to combat them with similarly organized groups that are going to be just as legal or just as straddling the limits of legality, yet they should be extremely unpleasant for them to digest.

    When we will be able to leverage the same loopholes they do pushing an agenda they truly dislike they will have to stop doing this.

    Meanwhile, I believe that educating parents, be them religious or not, is of the utmost importance.

    There is a need here of a well organized, laser focused organization that can do battle with these organizations both nationally and locally.

    • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

      Organizing Atheists is like trying to herd cats. This is the Atheistic Paradox. We wish to protect the freedoms of expression by the Theists but at the same time protect the First Amendment Establishment Clause. Honestly though should we even be concerning our selves with activism against theism? I don’t think so. Our Activism should be “laser focused” on making the way easy and straight for disgruntled theists to come out.

      • Charles Honeycutt

        This isn’t activism against theism. It’s activism against Dominionism.

  • onamission5

    This follows with my experience with Vacation Bible School back in the early 80′s, and the FCA at my high school in the late 80′s. It was pretty clear even back then that the function of these groups was not to support their existing members in their private faith but to actively seek out recruits from within the school, using children as pawns. The kids were pressed to share “personal testimony” and to “witness” about jesus to their friends, to anyone who seemed “ready to hear god’s word,” aka vulnerable or hurting.

    My kids’ elementary has a church which uses the gymnasium for their Sunday services. I found out only because the church took out a rather large ad in a free paper advertising our school as its church building. That squicked me out and good, but thus far I have heard little noise about it on the campus itself, seen no fliers, no signage, no one is passing out bibles. Should that change at any point they will be hearing from me, yes they will.

  • Anna

    I can’t recommend Stewart’s book highly enough! I really think it needs a wide readership, especially among people who aren’t evangelical Protestants. Their children are targets just as much as the children of atheists are. The fundamentalists who run Good News Clubs have the goal of converting children from Catholic families, Jewish families, etc. This isn’t simply a problem affecting people who are non-religious.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      Exactly. Many of the lawsuits against schools pushing religion have been from other Christians who were not happy that the school was pushing a particular denomination or brand of Christianity. Not only do they not consider the rights of nonbelievers or minority religions, they don’t even consider the rights of Lutherans and Episcopalians.

  • Ders

    This really made me think about all those lawsuits against public school districts who incorporate Christianity. I was celebrating those, but when I hear about the fact that the religious right wants to destroy the public school systems I get the feeling that we’re doing what they want somehow. Dawkins’s question was particularly poignant. Maybe we should go after the people who are really being insidious instead.

  • Robster

    Scary stuff this. The bottom line for the godbots must be as to how effective it is in gaining converts to their delusion. By that indicator it seems not too well. Census and other data show that more than any other demographic, young people are leaving the dark ages behind and expressing no interest in religion and its hate filled dogma. Young people in most cases know gay people, know people that work on Sunday, know people that wear mixed yarn fabrics and eat shellfish. They are an intelligent and increasingly worldly demographic. This and the rise of communication through the web and the twittery rest can only compound the problems and the losing battle the godbots are fighting. There’s still much to do, the hateful dogma, early Sundays, christian ‘music’ and the contradictory nonsense on offer from the various religions will see them fade from view or be shoehorned into the same hole the flat earthers and astrologers etc. As they fade they will kick their legs in the air and flail about in a silly manner while screaming nonsense, all we need to do is stand back and giggle.

  • Rain

    “Good News Clubs”. I think they mean “Hello We’re A Bunch Of Child Stalking Nitwit Clubs.” I think the anagram was too long and they shortened it. I could be wrong so don’t quote me.

  • Spazticus

    There is a documentary about these clubs that I saw earlier this year, for those who may be interested in learning more. It’s chilling how single-minded some of the people in these clubs are. Then again, this is the legally supported indoctrination of 4-14 year old kids.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?&v=aISnyA6k5Io

  • Phasian

    Wow those Christians must work really hard to keep your kids out of hell. Shame on them for doing everything they can to prevent that.

    • CassandraJK

      They should be ashamed of making children fear a place that does not exist. I consider this nothing less than child abuse. Religious indoctrination of children, especially other people’s kids, should be illegal.

      • Rwlawoffice

        So you believe that it should be illegal for a parent to teach their children the Christian faith? It should be illegal to their children to church?

        • Spazticus

          To both of your questions, no. That would be a violation of the Establishment Clause, and to suggest otherwise would be absurd. That’s not what many of us want to see happen.

          However, I and many others take issue with this group because they are trying to convert very young kids by using other young kids to pressure and even try to bully them into said conversion. What should be illegal is the use of religion to justify bullying, and sadly, that is not the case everywhere.

          I’d have less of an issue with it if they were targeting kids in high school, because by that point, they are old enough to have developed some critical thinking skills. Most 4-14 year old kids on the other hand, will NOT have those skills developed yet. I for one would not want my kids being bullied by other kids, just because they don’t happen to follow a specific religion. It’s not right to allow it, much less endorse it with taxpayer funding.

          The golden rule applies here: If you wouldn’t want people from another religion to bully your kids, then don’t tolerate it when it happens to any kids, religious or otherwise.

          • Anna

            The problem is that fundamentalists tend to believe that they have a special exemption when it comes to the golden rule. Since they are convinced they have Jesus on their side, they break the law without feeling guilt. They don’t consider it immoral to go after other people’s children the same way the rest of us would. They think they have a right to do it, and that their activities are sanctioned by their deity.

            One of the most terrible things in Stewart’s book is how proud and happy the leaders of Good News Clubs are about sowing discord and division within schools. They don’t care if they upset friendships between children or turn parents against each other. They honestly believe that they’re involved a war between good and evil and that everyone who opposes them is on the side of Satan. They’re not interested in tolerance, cooperation, or coexistence. They’re engaged in a spiritual battle where other people’s children are the target and anyone who blocks their access to them is the enemy.

            • Spazticus

              I am all too aware of this dangerous and hypocritical mentality. The documentary I linked covers it as well, though not with as much detail as the book. They refuse to allow themselves to acknowledge how morally reprehensible it is. It’s sinister and even sociopathic, in my opinion. They would consider it wrong as we do, if any other group(s) targeted kids in this manner. Yet they somehow manage to justify it in their heads that there is no hypocrisy whatsoever whenever -they- do it.

              That arrogance is astounding. It’s not faith, it’s not resolve, and it sure as hell isn’t stemming from some perceived war on Christianity. Not at all. It’s just pure arrogance and dishonesty on their part. It is so far removed from being Christlike in nature, that I doubt Jesus would be remotely happy with these acts being accomplished in his name.

              Religion often entices people to make these absurd leaps of logic See “The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion” as just one of many other examples of this “do as I say, not as I do” behavior in action.

              In this case, however, it comes down to wanting even more obedient sheep to donate money, so those at the top can remain in power, and keep expanding said power base. Their god isn’t Jesus; it’s greed, and the kids are the means to perpetuate their power for its own sake. That’s why they so desperately want a theocracy – they want to be the “theo” in it, and nothing less will suffice for them.

    • benjdm

      No work is required to keep anyone out of hell.

    • RobertoTheChi

      Yes, they absolutely should be ashamed.

    • onamission5

      I have no fear of your imaginary post-death torture dimension wish fulfillment fantasy. My kids are not yours for the plucking.

  • Free

    Valid concerns. However, this is a volunteer program not existing as part of an educational curriculum and signed with parental permission. This is constitutional much as if an atheist club were to set up a program to teach evolutionary science with parental permission. Can’t have your cake and eat it too because you do not like the content. Peer pressure over every area of life happens daily in schools. Children have to grow and learn and form their own beliefs. If GNC’s wanted to be part of the school curriculum then absolutely no! However this is not the case and this organization is well within its boundaries. Much like if AAI were to start a chapter or club to share their world view. Religion is not going away. It is part of our community and is woven into the fabric of humanity. This club is an expression of some but you do not have to play – there is no mandate.

    • Spazticus

      This club targets 4-14 year old kids, because the research conducted by CEF determined that these kids are the easiest to reach, and specifically because they haven’t had the proper time to develop critical thinking skills. They know that the more time the kids have to develop those skills, the less susceptible to indoctrination the kids will be. In other words, they’re trying to indoctrinate them before they even have the opportunity to form their own beliefs. Their tactics include bribery and religious bullying of other kids to get their message across, and the adults involved encourage this behavior, even if it means that kids of a different branch of Christianity are on the receiving end of it.

      The kids aren’t allowed to question whether this behavior is correct, morally or otherwise…the curriculum of the club is centered around blind obedience, even invoking genocide as an example (specifically, the “incomplete” genocide of the Amalekites.) As long as one is told to do it, they must do so, to the letter. They further teach that questioning orders like that one, much less anything at all, is not just disobedient, but sinful. THAT is the type of expression they espouse, and it is harmful to the healthy maturation of these children, as well as to the future of our educational system. The kids aren’t old enough to understand the ramifications of their actions, much less developed enough emotionally to understand the impact this bullying has on their victims.

      As I’ve stated elsewhere about this: If the religion involved were a similarly fundamentalist Muslim sect, legally able to force their way into a public school, even if every teacher and faculty member objects..the same people in favor of the Good News clubs now would be up in arms over it. But of course, that is precisely what they have opened the door to allow. Never mind the fact that it is a violation of the Establishment Clause, because taxpayer funding is being used to promote one particular religion. This is -not- religious expression, this is religious bullying of our kids.

      • Free

        Sensational exaggeration! Wow. GNC teaches bible to people that want to send their kids there. It is after school and volunteer. The school building acts as a community building in these cases. Many other organizations etc… use schools for the same purpose. They support the people! I have no problem with an atheist club or Islam club for the same purpose. This is America and rather you agree or not all have the privilege to expression. These children are growing up in a home that values the expression of this club. The parents make the choices that best suit their perspective on the well being of their children. The children at this age will form their parents belief for the most part. In time, the children will accept or reject. BTW, research has shown that the communities that have GNC have a higher rate of community service and care, values consistent with what they are learning at the club. The Establishment Clause was considered when the Supreme Court supported the GNC as constitutional. Careful here, fighting against the constitutional rights of GNC can backlash on your fighting to remove a their constitutional program. No more shooting feet.

        • Spazticus

          How is it exaggeration when it’s straight from their curriculum that blind obedience must be carried out to the letter? The kids are being told that to question an order is to be disobedient, and disobedience is a sin! It’s a major part of the curriculum, and as for the example of genocide being used, they relate it to “cleaning your room.” How much do you have to clean before you can say “It’s done!” Not some of it, but ALL of it. If you don’t do it all, you’re being disobedient. So if one of these indoctrinated kids stops thinking for themselves, gets into the military, and is told to commit genocide, they’re not going to question it, either. Try to deny it all you want, but the phrase “I was just following orders” has been used to justify many unconscionable acts. It’s a very dangerous mentality to have.

          • Free

            I agree assuming we are robots and not humans. Your reasoning does very little to to advance the progress of humanity. The hinge point of the GNC does not rest on blind obedience as you put it. It does however, have children consider that there is right and wrong. We can debate what that is but for children to have such an awareness protects them. When they step out into society they will be expected to respect their employer, pay taxes and a host of other obey or else situations. They of course, as we all can make our own choices but they do come with consequence. Gravity is a natural consequence that says obey or else.

            • Spazticus

              Again, they are taught that to question why, or whether an order is the right thing to do, is to be disobedient, and to be disobedient is to be sinful. That is part of the curriculum. If the information or order is coming from a person of authority, such as a parent or pastor, they are conditioned to not question it, and accept it as fact. Another problem there is when the source being used has been definitively proven to be lying about what is factual, for advancement of an agenda, e.g. David Barton and his knack for revisionist history.

              Now where in that do you see them being told to think for themselves? That time of their lives is when it is most important that they learn to question why things are, so they can be independent critical thinkers, later in life. If they are indoctrinated to accept that everything being told to them by certain groups is true, and everything they learn from other groups is always lies from the pit of hell, which do you think they’re going to believe, even in the face of evidence?

        • TCC

          BTW, research has shown

          Sorry, going to have to see a citation on that.

  • Rwlawoffice

    This doesn’t sound like an alarmist. I think the words used here are paranoid bigotry.

    I doubt that she would have the same concerns about the Secular Student Alliance. Interesting that she doesn’t mention that there is a national organization designed to promote and support atheist clubs across the country.

    She criticizes Alliance Defending Freedom and the Liberty Counsel, yet is speaking at a conference for the legal group Freedom From Religion Foundation. This is the legal judicial activist group that sues school districts and towns to promote its vision of the appropriate way to have separation of church and state. Just as ADF and the Liberty Council do for theirs.

    • Spazticus

      One major issue in play here is the neutrality of government in
      religious affairs. It’s not just about bullying, which does happen, and
      certain conservatives have pushed legislation that excuses bullying, if
      it is religiously motivated. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDK-ja8PLgg

      Public schools are government-run institutions, and therefore have to abide by the Establishment Clause. The reason groups have to sue to protect the separation of church and state, is because it is in the Establishment Clause, and religious groups try to walk all over it in hopes of gaining a theocracy. The government is supposed to be neutral in relation to religion. So no, that’s a false equivalency. One side is trying to
      violate the Constitution, and the other is trying to uphold it, for the
      sake of all groups, religious or otherwise. The tyranny of the majority
      is not inherently moral.

      • Free

        This isn’t about Theocracy. You are paranoid. This is about free expression. Any born-again believer understands that Theocracy is for Heaven and for those that want it. God does not force His way into government not should Christians. We do however, want to be able to express the real faith we have as does anyone else rather it be no faith at all. Jesus came and died. His followers and the Jewish nation thought He would overthrow the government. But, He came, He died, and life went on. He had a different way of change. That was to love. Do not confuse religion with Jesus or those that truly follow Him although they be few.

        • Spazticus

          No, this decision puts religious speech on a level above other free expression, and the intentional targeting of kids this young for conversion is proof of that. Name one other type of club a school legally cannot choose to cut funding for; you can’t, because they don’t exist. The schools may cut funding for any sports, music, or art program, but not these clubs. Their expression is on a level of that above all others, and again, even if every teacher and faculty member objects to their presence, they can legally force their way into the school.

          Your insistence in this matter proves that you don’t understand the intent of the Establishment Clause. They could set themselves up near, or even right across the street from a school, and there would be no legalities in question here. By forcing their way into the public schools, they by definition, ARE forcing their way into government affairs.

          They set themselves up IN the school, because they know kids that young don’t understand the difference between what they learn while in science class, or history, and what they learn in these clubs. To them, it’s learned “in school”, so it must be true. At least, it is to the kids, -because- they haven’t developed enough mentally to see the difference.

          You may claim you wouldn’t have a problem with other religious groups also coming into the schools in this manner, but the outcry from primarily Christian groups when other religions (or yoga, as mentioned here) are involved in schools, contradicts that notion.

          • Rwlawoffice

            Because children are impressionable is your concern? Is that why others are trying to get homosexuality accepted as morally equivalent to children the age of 5 and 6? And this is done through the power of law and approved curriculum.

            These clubs are purely voluntary and with parental consent. To claim that they encourage bullying is paranoia and bigotry. If an atheist child tells a Christian child that there is no heaven would you call that bullying? Or is it bullying only when the Christian children talk about salvation?

            • Spazticus

              I’ll indulge your questions. Let’s think critically about that for a moment. Children are impressionable, which is why they’re being targeted by this organization, and we seem to agree on that point. Where the bullying comes in, is the point where any child feels they have not just the right, but the obligation, to tell another, “You are going to go to hell, and you deserve it.” The reasons they may rationalize for telling someone else this are absolutely irrelevant. “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” both come to mind here.

              They are encouraged to proselytize ideas that they don’t fully understand, much less learn to empathize with the ramifications of their sentiments on others. I can personally recall a boy I met in middle school proudly telling me that my entire family was going to go to hell, simply because they are Catholic. Their deeds had nothing at all to do with it. They didn’t deserve to be saved like he was, simply because they weren’t following the “correct” branch of Christianity. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that he was (and still probably is) a fundamentalist. If what he said to me sits well with you, then you are part of the problem.

              Fundamentalism factors in greatly in the backlash against these clubs. Tolerance isn’t widely taught in fundamentalism, but then again, it actively encourages people to become more closed minded and judgmental of others. As they make the kids chant, “God will help you obey.” They teach that disobedience is a sin, and to question authority is sinful. If they encouraged kids to think for themselves, and to learn to take responsibility for the real world consequences of their own actions, instead of calling anything that happens by their own hand, “part of god’s plan”…Suffice it to say I’d have more respect for their beliefs.

              An atheist child may say, “I don’t believe in heaven.” and that doesn’t have to be confrontational in nature. That’s also not a condemnation of someone anyone’s beliefs. Contrast that with the judging of someone to be deserving of hell, and that is very much a statement that does not sit well with most people, especially when it’s being said by children. Now take that to the extent of the bullying of gay kids, to the point where they commit suicide. Don’t try to convince anyone that it’s not religiously motivated, -most- of the time.

              If you still don’t understand how bullying factors into this situation, I’ll point you to the video I linked in these comments, in which Michigan Republicans gutted an anti-bullying bill. They not only gutted its effectiveness, they went to the point of adding exclusions from any disciplinary action, if an accused parent, faculty member, or student, can claim there was a moral or religious reason for bullying. Let me reiterate that: It set forth a blueprint for bullies to get away from the repercussions of bullying,

              • Free

                If there is no hell, no ultimate justice, no place or concept of wrongs righted, why would you be offended if someone were to talk about it? If it is simply imaginary why would it be offensive? Should be mocked and made light of. Telling someone that there is a hell does not have to be done ill spirited any more than telling someone that you are going to jail if you break the law. Bullying is real and reserved for it’s true intention, not for a label when someone does not agree with you. We are raising a generation of social wimps – lazy, selfish and without moral backbone.

                • Spazticus

                  Oooh! The “blame the victims” card! Right… Because somehow, it’s their fault that some religious parents are raising their kids to be judgmental assholes. Nope, it has nothing at all to do with the fact that religion is being used to justify bullying kids to the point of suicide. And nope, it has nothing to do with bullying being wrong, no matter who does it. You’re actually trying to justify bullying, and then you claim other people have no moral backbone. How does that irony taste?

                  I was wondering when someone would play that card. You win a cookie. You’re also part of the problem.

                • Free

                  Answer the questions. Spin Doctor.

                • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

                  How do you tell someone they are going to hell in a way that is not mean-spirited? I’d love to hear this.

              • Rwlawoffice

                What a leap you make to try and answer the question. Where is the evidence that this club encourages bullying? Why do your assume that a child spreading the gospel does so through bullying? Why also assume that the atheist child will tell a Christian child that he will not go to heaven calmly and without being a bully? I don’t condone any type of bullying from children and would stop it if I saw it no matter the subject matter. But it is pure paranoia and bigotry to assume that the bullying only comes from Christians.

            • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

              Why shouldn’t homosexuality be accepted as “morally equivalent” by everyone?

              • Rwlawoffice

                The question is why does everyone have to agree with the LBGT agenda that it is?

                • Spazticus

                  Nobody is claiming that you or anyone else has to “agree” with it, but the “agenda” as you put it, is to have equal protection under the law. As a straight man, I fully support their right to equal protection in legal matters, the right to marry the consenting adult of their choice, and all the rights that are granted by the state in terms of marriage. Does that mean you or I have to get gay married too? Of course not, but the fact that I have to explain this to you speaks volumes.

                  But you can’t accept that they should have equal protection under the law, because what, a book you consider holy, but cherry pick out the things -you want to follow- from it says it’s not simply immoral, but punishable by death? When was the last time you ate shellfish, or wore fabrics made of two or more materials? Is it also morally equivalent that anyone who does either be put to death? Is it morally right that -based on religious interference- the anti-bullying bill in Michigan was gutted, and exceptions for religion turned it into a pro-bullying bill?

                  I hate Dominionism, and all it stands for. I personally think the concept should be completely and permanently eliminated as a possibility from our society. But I also respect the First Amendment, and while I hate their agenda, I accept the right of Dominionists to believe what they want – provided that their oppressive and regressive views do not turn from belief to law. Their agenda is by its very nature designed to impinge upon the Constitutional rights of others, and that is why I oppose it vehemently. I agree with their First Amendment right to believe and speak as they do, but I do not have to agree with, ascribe to, or even condone -what they believe-.

                  I also hate the vitriol hateful groups like the Westboro Baptist Church spew at the families of dead soldiers and children. I do not agree with them, and never will; I will take every opportunity to speak out against what they believe, as any person of conscience should. But even for them, I accept that they have the right to speak, provided no laws are being broken.

                  Acceptance of certain rights does not have to imply agreement. It -does- however require equal treatment and protection under the laws of the land, and Dominionists don’t seem to understand why this distinction is important in the first place. Perhaps they are ignorant of the country’s history – or rather, they pick and choose what they want to believe about it, and ignore or whitewash (no pun intended here) over the “ugly” parts, like that whole “slavery thing”, or the Jim Crow era that followed it.

                  They gloss over the fact that religious oppression by the tyranny of a majority is a reason that many of the original settlers left Europe in the first place. Of course, in the case of the Puritans, it wasn’t as much “oppression” as it was Dominionists not getting everyone else to ascribe to their moral code, then packing up their shit and moving away in disgust. Their “oppression” ended when they left England. They didn’t learn much from that lesson, however, as they were quite oppressive within their own community.

                  (Granted, the Puritans considered themselves the only “saved” people, and everyone else was so immoral and corrupt, they were bound to end up in hell. They were considered so uptight, that they kicked -themselves- out of Europe, after they moved away from England. Here’s to hoping history repeats itself with the Dominionists.)

                  This is why the Establishment Clause exists, so no minority gets marginalized and silenced by the tyranny of the majority. You don’t have to -agree- with it, but when it is law, you must respect it.

                • Rwlawoffice

                  Actually the agenda of the LBGT goes much further than equal protection under the law. it is to make everyone believe that their lifestyle and their sexual orientation is morally equivalent to heterosexual marriages. To deny that is to deny the reality of their position.

                  As for your ridiculous argument about shellfish and mixed fabrics, you really should understand the Bible before you start to try and use it in a discussion. Read Acts 15. You will see that as a Gentile, I am under no obligation to follow the laws established by Moses for the Israelites.

                • Spazticus

                  And as an atheist, I am under no obligations to follow any moral codes of the bible, nor any of its definitions of what is either moral, or law. The Constitution is a secular document, and whether or not you agree with gay marriage, when it is the law of the land, your legal obligation extends only as far as accepting its existence, and respecting equal treatment and protection under the law. To deny that they should have equal protection is bigotry; and using a religious book as a legal justification for that bigotry, in a secular society, is an affront to the Constitution. Your holy book does not, and -should not have-, any greater legal standing than the Constitution.

                  That does include rights that separate but equal statuses do not confer, but then again, nobody is legally forcing anyone to do anything other than not -act- like a discriminatory bigot. People can still believe what they want, just like they have about other civil rights issues, but as long as those beliefs do not turn into illegal actions, then the law is upheld. No churches are being sued to force them to perform marriage ceremonies they don’t want to. But then again, it’s not about the ceremony, it is however about the legal protections, and avoiding being treated as second class citizens.

                  What you believe, and what the law is, are two separate things, but using religion to justify -your- agenda also happens to violate the religious expression of churches that would allow and perform gay marriage ceremonies. They already do so now, and to deny them that legal right is tantamount to bigotry against -their- freedom of religious expression. You do not have a monopoly on what is moral here, and only the law is designed to speak for everyone.

                • Fanraeth

                  So that means Gentile LGBT people are in the clear. Good to know.

          • Free

            There is a push for use of Public Schools these days to promote social and community driven programs which will of course include religious ones. In Berkley, CA the community and education system are seeking a “New Social Contract” with public schools to promote more community and social interaction. The space in the public schools is the largest combined facility space in the country and communities are seeking ways to tap this space under constitutional means to advance the needs of the community and the sentiments, hobbies and such of the community as well. GNC is not receiving funding from the school but rather the school is opening it’s doors to promote community as we as tax payers are already paying for it. The issue is that you are opposed to this particular groups agenda. Sounds like its your turn to start an atheist club.

    • Charles Honeycutt

      Libel is lying. You should know that, being a lawyer and all.

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

        I feel bad for this guy’s clients…

      • Rwlawoffice

        I know what libel is. Made millions off of libel and slander suits. Tell me where I committed it?

        • Stev84

          Careful with your riches (though you are no doubt lying about that too). According to Jesus you likely won’t go to heaven.

          • Rwlawoffice

            I don’t lie and you really should understand the meaning if that passage before you throw it around.

            • Carmelita Spats

              You do lie. Right…YOU need to tell Jesus what he meant…ROFLMAO! It’s called “cherry picking” and it really, really, really, ticks off Jesus. Now you’re going to tell us that it’s not “money” but the “love of ” money that makes Baby Jesus cry and that Yahweh’s brat was a TRUE Pray-As-You-Pay Paunchy Christian Capitalist who started the first nail and nail gun factory. Do go on…amuse me.

              • Rwlawoffice

                I stated to you once and will say again. there is no reason to discuss theology with you because you are too angry and hate filled to have a discussion that would be productive. But God loves you and so do I.

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

              Yes, you do lie. Every single time you post here, it’s a fucking LIE.

              • Rwlawoffice

                Really? Maybe you and Carmelita can give an example and i will be happy to discuss it with you.

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

                  Go and read your post regarding the “gay agenda”. It’s a LIE.

  • ORAXX

    I know of no place on earth with more religious freedom than the United States and, there certainly isn’t any shortage of churches. And yet, certain Christians……and it’s always Christians……never stop trying to force their religion into the public schools. Those who would force their religion into the public sphere, and otherwise attempt to break down the barriers between church and state, should imagine a world where the religion they like the least has control over the lives of their children.

    • Spazticus

      They’re not thinking that far ahead. They’re panicking, because people are leaving the churches in droves. This plan to legally force their way into the public schools, and indoctrinate them while they’re young is just one of the ways they’re trying to keep their supply of obedient sheep in the positive. Make no mistake, they don’t want anyone who will question it; they want sheep. The “Thaw” video, as posted here and elsewhere, is just another such tactic.

      The really sad thing to is that it comes down to something entirely separate from saving their souls. It comes down to obedience and money. If they have no followers, their coffers will dry up, and that’s what they fear most. That is the sinister side of this. Anyone can donate directly to charity, if they have the money. But only religious people will donate to build megachurches.

  • JET

    I don’t know where within Santa Barbara the school she talked about in her speech is located, but Santa Barbara is, relatively speaking, a very upscale community. It struck me as odd that a program like this would appeal to parents there. I went to the club’s website to see where they currently had clubs active in schools in Southern California and found that they were largely in lower socioeconomic areas. I didn’t find one in Santa Barbara, so this club might have been abandoned. It appears (at least in So Cal) that these clubs are not only targeting young children, but that they’re targeting areas where parents would find ANY after school program attractive. Free babysitting? Sign me up! The atrocity is that students in these areas are the ones most in need of educational support at school that they might not be getting at home, and instead we are giving them programs like this that are just dumbing them down. This does nothing more than widen the already huge gap in the quality of education in different socioeconomic areas. Disgusting!

    • Anna

      Stewart also discusses the horribly deceptive (and racist) ways these groups target children in lower-income immigrant communities. For example, a book about converting Asian American children was actually called Rice-Bowl Communication.

      It is difficult for children of Hindu, Buddhist, or Taoist background to recognize lying as a sin for they do not have moral absolutes.

      One Good News Club leader in the book bragged about how she told a Mexican American elementary school student from a Catholic family that his deceased brother was now in hell because he wasn’t a born-again evangelical. Immigrant parents aren’t told that the group is anti-Catholic. The group leaders are specifically taught to hide any evidence that this is the case.

      • JET

        To say nothing of taking advantage of possible language or cultural barriers that might exist with immigrant parents. These parents might logically assume that the classes are simply an extension of a public education in this country. Shouldn’t the obvious racist and anti-diversity nature of their message keep them out of our public schools? We certainly wouldn’t allow the KKK to hold afterschool programs on public school campuses.

        • Spazticus

          One would think so, but the Supreme Court ruled they could be there, and nothing short of the Supreme Court overturning that decision can put a stop to it. They even have a 400 page book designed for starting their cookie cutter curriculum in a new school, including the legal documents they present to the principal. It basically states that that if they encounter resistance, they have a toll free number to call and get free legal support. And because of the Supreme Court’s decision, nobody in the schools have any reasonable legal standing to counter them. It’s sickening.

          • JET

            I don’t mean to be naïve, but does the Supreme Court ruling mean that even an obvious racist/hate group (such as the KKK) has a right to freedom of speech in our public schools? Or is it that no one has yet shown that the GNC is an obvious racist/hate group whereby they would lose their privilege?

            • Spazticus

              My understanding of the Supreme Court decision is that the protection from the ruling only extends to religious groups, so the KKK or hate groups like them still wouldn’t be able to have an official presence, The documentary video I linked doesn’t definitively portray them as a hate group, but certainly one that is less tolerant (from the top down, but much more so at the top) than they would lead us to believe.

  • Katie

    It’s the foundation?


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