In Moore, Oklahoma, Students Whose School Was Destroyed by the Tornado Will Have Classes in a Church

This is a possible disaster in the making but it doesn’t have to be:

School officials in the Oklahoma city of Moore say students whose schools were destroyed in the deadly May tornado will attend classes next month in a refurbished junior high school building and a local church.

Specifically, students who would normally be attending Briarwood Elementary School will be having their classes in Emmaus Baptist Church (PDF) next year instead.

Emmaus has graciously offered their facility to our school district and directly to the children, teachers, and families of Briarwood. This allows us to keep the Briarwood school family together and close to their home school location. Bus transportation will be provided from Briarwood Elementary attendance area to Emmaus. Our transportation department will be establishing those routes this summer and that information will be available to you at open house. Briarwood will continue to offer the before/after care program at Emmaus.

Before people flip out about church/state separation, there are two questions we ought to be asking:

1) Were there other alternatives?

My guess is that there probably weren’t a lot of options in the community that could hold all the classrooms, offices, students, and faculty members you need for a school to function. If a church offered space to the school district, I think that’s a genuine, generous offer on their part and we should be grateful for their willingness to do it. As far as I can tell, that by itself is not a violation of church/state separation.

2) Will there be any effort to proselytize?

Hopefully not. The school administration and church officials have to make sure that all efforts are made to keep religion out of the classroom. There may be things, like crosses on the walls, that can’t be removed, but as long as church officials aren’t doing anything to make their influence felt when school is in session, they should be okay. Ideally, the only change kids experience is the location.

It’s important to keep in mind that both sides want this to work, for the sake of the students. The last thing the school district needs is a lawsuit, and I can’t imagine any church/state group is eager to file one, either, but they will if they have to.

A tragedy shouldn’t be exploited, period, certainly not for the benefit of a church, so this is one of those partnerships we just have to keep an eye on to make sure nothing fishy happens.

(Thanks to Scott 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.

  • Tel

    It’s a better use of a church building that the normal one.

  • A3Kr0n

    We had a water pipe burst in the road a few years ago evacuating the elementary school next to it. They went to the closest church for the rest of the day. No foul cried.

  • The Other Weirdo

    The funny thing is that as soon as a school is destroyed(tornadoes, earthquakes,, giant demons trying to ascend), churches should be as school until a new one is built, if for no other reason than that churches are paid for by public moneys anyway and serve no actual purpose, nor are part of the tax base.

  • spider

    Its interesting to note, that one hand you have articles here on how former Christians became atheists. All of them are grateful for their upbringing. They detail how “said upbringing” taught them to think critically. Yet, you’re turn right around and have reservation over the role of church to fill in during a time of tragedy.

    Intellectually dishonest much????

    You can’t have it both ways. It either helps or it hurts. If you say it depends? Then you’ve lost the bases for everything atheist.

  • axelbeingcivil

    An unwillingness to examine situational subtleties is an intellectual dishonesty. Acknowledging that, sometimes, religious groups can do good things while still finding the overall influence of religion to be negative is not. If we’re tackling the subject of police abuse, for example, we can say that abuse is rampant in a police force without saying every police officer is abusive and that they don’t do good things.

    Plenty of churches do good, amazing charity work, helping people without forcing their beliefs on them. I used to volunteer at a mission a while back and they provided free food and clothing to the poor and homeless without even an ounce of proselytizing. These were good people.

    At the same time, there are those who would use an opportunity like this – by their own admission – to push their religion on children. It’s a violation on several levels for an authority figure to do so, especially with the consent or assent of a government official.

  • The Other Weirdo

    How’s that, then? Communism is one of the most destructive forces of the past century and I hate it with a fiery passion of hate, but that doesn’t mean I am not grateful for my upbringing in the Soviet Union.

  • axelbeingcivil

    I do hope this works out well. These kids deserve a good learning environment. I’ve got the usual “Someone will use it to proselytize” vibe but, who knows, maybe they’ll show restraint? Even use it as a chance to give a religious history lesson and invite people from all faiths – and lack thereof – in to talk?

  • frankbellamy

    I see a couple of other relevant questions:

    1. Is the school district moving ahead with plans to buy/build a new facility of its own? If the tornado becomes an excuse to keep the school in a church permanently, that is a problem.

    2. The last time I read the bill of rights, it permitted private property to be taken for public use with just compensation. Why doesn’t the school district simply purchase the church building and remodel it as necessary? In general, having a public school feel indebted to a church is a bad dynamic to have, the school personnel may feel they need to give the church people a break. An arms-length contractual relationship, where the church is compensated in money, only in money, and in the amount of money that the market dictates, so that nobody feels a social obligation to anyone else, would be much better.

  • Holytape

    You do realize that not all churches are the same? Just like not all christians are the same. While some churches might encourage critical thinking, I know of some ex-christians whose up-bringing did not teach them to think critically. If fact, critical thinking and questioning faith beyond pre-approved questions was almost a sin.

    So yes, given the track record, especially of Baptists, of trying to proselytize in school, we should be wary.

  • RowanVT

    My christian upbringing never taught me critical thinking. My parents, both of them fascinated with science, taught me critical thinking. I am NOT grateful for my christian upbrining. I AM grateful that my parents never baptised me, and that they weren’t super religious. My christian upbringing provided me with nothing but two decades of abject terror. The upbringing my parents provided me with a sense of wonder about the natural world.

    How you can possible be stuck in a stark black-white with regards to religion boggles the mind. It can only help or hurt, nothing in between? Do you apply this to other things as well? How about medicine? Is Foxglove helpful or harmful?

    How is religion being sometimes useful for some folks, and sometimes harmful a cause for losing the basis of atheism?

    You want to know what the basis for my atheism is? The bible. I read the bible, and I ceased to be christian, because the deity depicted therein is evil. Over the next 15 years I went through various pagan leanings, slowly becoming more and more agnostic, and then finally taking the step into atheism.

    NONE of the basis of my atheism has to do with the role of churches.

  • Dirty Sanchez

    Atheists are just chomping at the bit to sue over this. I hope they do. They will look like utter swine.

  • RowanVT

    Are we? Are we truly? If they start preaching to the kids, then they should be sued. If they leave them alone, there’s no reason to sue. Stop trying to sling mud; maybe you wouldn’t be so dirty then.

  • allein

    I’m neither grateful nor regretful of my Christian upbringing. I was raised going to church and Sunday School and was involved in some of the social aspects (e.g., youth group; even Confirmation class was not something I really looked at as a religious exercise); my parents mostly stopped going when I was in high school, therefore I stopped going, and I just naturally drifted away over several years. Religion was something we did on Sundays and really had little effect on how I thought about the world. It wasn’t until over a decade later that I actually started really thinking about what it is I believed, and at that point it was a simple realization that, well, I don’t.

  • allein

    Which atheists?

  • TheG

    Christians are chomping at the bit to have new blood to lie to and new little girls to molest. I hope they don’t. Because I’m not an a-hole looking for the opportunity to laugh at the misfortune of others when they inevitably exploit this situation.

  • spider

    I stand by what I wrote. Atheism is based on ignoring the “subtleties” of most anything. The situation can be good. The situation can be bad. The author assumes there is nothing good to come out of the situation. This in contrast to accepting SOME good things can come out of Christianity. Doing so, it intellectual dishonest. If the author was intellectual honest. He would also see the good that could come out of this situation. The author purposely ignores this. This is intellectual dishonesty at its best.

  • Len

    And they represent the god whose act destroyed the school in the first place.

  • RowanVT

    “This is a possible disaster in the making but it doesn’t have to be:”

    That is the very first sentence of the post. The situation is rife with ability to be abused… but it doesn’t have to be. It would be easy for them to sneak in opportunities to preach to the kids… but they don’t have to and won’t necessarily.

    That first sentences acknowledges that it could be good OR bad. So he didn’t ignore it. You are the one displaying intellectual dishonesty in this situation.

  • spider

    Stuck? I’m not stuck in Christianity. I am stuck in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Then again, I wouldn’t call it stuck. I could say you’re “stuck” in reprobation…. but I won’t go there if you won’t assume things about me aren’t true.

    I reject 75 percent of what is taught as traditional Christianity… but I haven’t abandoned the love of my life. Jesus Christ.

    You assume too many things. I made a statement about intellectual dishonesty in the author of the blog. He purposely ignored the good that could come out of the situation. I’m not saying the good in the situation will out weigh the bad. Don’t read anything into what I wrote.

  • The Other Weirdo

    LOL! That didn’t even occur to me. Good catch!

  • RowanVT

    Reading comprehension fail on a massive scale. I said you were stuck in a black-and-white view on RELIGION WITH REGARDS TO it being helpful or harmful.

    Talk about dishonesty.

  • Dirtpuddle

    We had a bomb threat in high school and they shipped a bunch of us to a nearby church. I don’t think any parents flipped out. But it was mainly a holding tank until they could decide if we could go back to the school or if they were going to call it a wash and send us home.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    This is how I feel.

  • allein

    What in Hemant’s post gives the impression that he thinks nothing good can come of this situation? He acknowledges that in this particular circumstance, this church building may be the best option, and as long as the church people aren’t proselytizing in any way, it will probably be fine. It’s not ideal to move a public school into a church building, but the kids need a place to go to school. He’s simply saying that school officials (and parents) should keep an eye on the situation.

    Unless, of course, your idea of the potential “good” of the situation is that the kids get some religion snuck in with their schooling, I think you are reading something into Hemant’s post that is not there.

  • corps_suk

    Suppose its “an atheist” whose child has to go there everyday that sues? Then what, why is that person swine for not wanting their child to associate learning with bronze aged superstitions in violation of their constitutional rights?

  • Rich Wilson

    Churches are protected from eminent domain, if that’s what you’re referring to.

  • frankbellamy

    They are? Do you have a citation for that?

  • corps_suk

    Hold on… did you just try to call out atheists for picking and choosing what parts of mythology were good and what parts were bad and then do the EXACT SAME thing in your own religious life with the bible?
    Not only are you intellectually dishonest, you’re also a hypocrite.

  • Cyrus Palmer

    You know nothing about atheism. Stop pretending you do.

  • Rich Wilson

    What if a Mosque happened to be close by and offered its building? Would the Christian parents feel differently?

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor


  • Cyrus Palmer

    Your personal relationship with Jesus Christ? What does that mean?! He’s a mythological figure! All of my ‘personal relationships’ involve a dialectic with that person. A two way conversation in which we come to understand each other. Share experiences together. We touch and talk and laugh and cry and fuck. Do you do any of those things with this mythological figure that you love so much? And who you only belive 75% of what he says? Someone i have a personal relationship with and only trust 25% of what they say is has basically zero credibility.

  • Rich Wilson

    Seems my google was overly hasty. I stand corrected. I would say the reality is problematic and it would be unlikely given the church and the state involved.

    Churches have been exempt from even local zoning laws.

  • newavocation

    It was all god’s plan ;)

  • Artor

    It’s horrible how those swine stand up for the Constitution and rationality, ain’t it? Horrible I tell you!!!

  • Rich Wilson

    It might actually work out very well if the school feels they are under extra scrutiny. They may make an extra effort to make sure no proselytizing goes on. I’m skeptical however. On the other other hand, I doubt if the students’ daily life at school will change at all. If this is a school administration that wants the students to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, they don’t need to be in a physical church to push that.

  • Artor

    A “Dirty Sanchez” isn’t filthy with mud. Google the phrase if you don’t know what I mean.

  • RowanVT

    The play worked better with mudslinging, which is why I used that and not shit.

  • onamission5

    I’ve been in many a Baptist church building, including the teaching spaces typically used for Sunday school, VBS and child care. I have yet to see any such space which was not covered in religious paraphernalia from top to bottom. I wonder, if that is the case with this church as well, do they plan to remove all the cartoonish bible literature and religious themed posters each Sunday night so the kids can attend school-school, then put it back each Saturday for Sunday school? Do they plan to remove it for the duration? Do they plan to leave the religious paraphernalia in place?

  • Anna

    There should be nothing wrong with this, but given the track record of evangelicals when it comes to proselytizing other people’s children, there’s good reason to be wary. Looking at the constant stream of news stories, I would be extremely uncomfortable leaving my children alone with an evangelical. It’s horrible because I’m sure there are decent ones out there who don’t try to surreptitiously convert kids, but how can you tell which is which? Their churches constantly use dishonest means to try to trick children into attending religious services or sneak religious material into secular curriculum.

  • Anna

    Whether it helps or hurts is irrelevant. It’s not the business of government schools to encourage children to adopt a particular religion. If you’re saying some children might become atheists if they are exposed to proselytizing at a Baptist church, that wouldn’t make it okay. The proselytizing should have never happened in the first place.

  • Beth

    I think it is a nice gesture. Remember that churches are filled with people nicer and kinder than their holy book. I am sure this will be temporary, it could take a while for the city to rebuild the school, and the kids need to get back to a normal schedule.

  • Beth

    Delicious Delicious Swine

  • edb3803

    LOLz! Absolutely! I have heard about old churches becoming libraries, as well. Much better use.

  • edb3803

    Really? I’m not. That’s the point. Atheists aren’t out looking for lawsuits because we enjoy suing people. We do it to protect equal protection of the law.

    Honestly, if they are proselytizing, good for the church. And I would be the first to thank them for their help.

    It’s the proselytizing that’s the problem.

  • islandbrewer

    Uh huh. Citation?

  • Michael W Busch

    I am stuck in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

    That is just a way of saying “you are a Christian” – albeit one who doesn’t assert membership any of the currently-large sects. Also, you don’t have a “personal relationship” with someone who has been dead for 2000 years, if he ever existed at all (I might as well claim to have had a personal relationship with Archimedes).

    I made a statement about intellectual dishonesty in the author of the blog.

    There was no intellectual dishonesty in Hemant’s post. He was quite clear that as long as there is no effort to proselytize the students and the situation is temporary, until the elementary school is fixed, there won’t be a problem.

  • islandbrewer

    Spider obviously knows a lot about the atheism he’s constructed in his head because he’s the one who made it up. It’s us atheists who must know nothing about Spider-Brand Atheism (TM).

  • Michael W Busch

    All of them are grateful for their upbringing. They detail how “said upbringing” taught them to think critically.

    Yes, they are. They are grateful for the critical thinking, not the religion. That is not exactly a subtle difference.

    Nor is it necessary to have been religious to have critical thinking skills. Again, this is not a subtle point.

    If you say it depends? Then you’ve lost the bases for everything atheist.

    No. Whether someone’s religion leads them to do good or bad actions is irrelevant to the basis of atheism (which is simply that there is no evidence for the existence of any supernatural entities).

  • islandbrewer

    I am stuck in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

    When’s the last time he sent you a birthday card?

  • TCC

    I wasn’t taught to think critically by my religious upbringing; I learned how to think critically despite my religious upbringing.

  • islandbrewer

    If Spider had a personal relationship with Sandra Bullock in the same way he has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, he’d get a restraining order.

  • allein

    All of my ‘personal relationships’ involve a dialectic with that person.

    I was just thinking about this on my way to work this morning. I’m listening to last week’s Thinking Atheist podcast in the car, and he is talking with his former boss from his Christian radio days. The guy keeps making a distinction between “Christianity” and “the Christian Religion” (though he hasn’t really explained what the distinction is). I don’t remember if he used the phrase “relationship with Jesus” but I gather that’s how he thinks of his religion (“it’s not a religion”). He talks about being a Bible follower and then Seth mentioned some issues he has with the Bible and suddenly the Bible isn’t relevant. The whole line of thought frustrates me so much. I’m only halfway through (it’s over 2 hours); I’d listen on my ipod at work but in the car I can yell at the radio and I don’t think my coworkers would appreciate that…I suspect there is much more exasperation to come ;).

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Jesus must love that you gleefully wish hate upon people.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    There’s a similar line that I like to use:

    “He’s throwing manure at my house and hoping some sticks, but either way he just ends up with shit all over his hands.”

    Actually, I haven’t used that in a while, and I know exactly where it belongs…

  • Benny Cemoli

    And what if a group of Christians placed wooden crosses on the site of one of the destroyed school buildings. Would the Islamic parents feel differently? How about the Jewish parents.

    Oh wait. They did .

    Interesting that no one seems overly concerned about that.

  • David Kopp

    Not always. But they do raise a hell of a stink when they’re asked to comply:–Neighbors-call-it-a-church-118411589.html

  • tm17

    I’m willing to bet that the church is being paid for the use of the space. I’m quite sure that the school district lawyers would have a lease or other agreement in place. It would be interesting to see how much money is changing hands.

  • TheGodless

    Two things; I have heard the excuse about there being no other convenient buildings to host things in before, but when I looked into what was transpiring, no other buildings had been sought out. I wluld like to know what efforts were made to find other more appropriate buildings. Besides secular buildings, as someone else mentioned, were there any Mosques, Kingdom Halls, or other religious facilities that were closer and suitable? Secondly, there are no crosses or other religious trinkets, save the 50 foot crosses in front of many Oklahoma churches, hat cannot be either temporarily removed or covered. If I was a parent with a kid in this school, I would not be satisfied with Hemant’s statement about crosses being allowed to stay.

  • TheGodless

    We must also remember that this is the school that allowed crosses to be planted on it’s lawn as a “memorial” to the children. Yeah, no reason to be suspicious of this plan at all.

  • Cyrus Palmer

    I wouldn’t want MY hypothetical kids looking at bloody corpses adorning torture devices all day.

  • Cyrus Palmer

    So the church is profiting from this, and kids who might not be otherwise exposed to Christianity find themselves forced to go to church every day. Seems legit.

  • Grindstone50k

    No reason to be. It’s just a private memorial. It’s not publicly funded. Similar to the crosses left at the site of the Murrah building bombing site.

  • Matt D

    If people need examples of utter swine, we hardly need more than your post to demonstrate it.
    Barbs aside, your missing something crucial here. You’ve demonstrated that you have to literally create a fantasy scenario to support your personal bias about Atheists.
    See, there’s a problem with lying to yourself when others can view you doing so. I’ll let you figure out what that is, since it’s clear you’re more interested in making your religion look better than the truth of it.

  • Tobias2772

    I agree with your first point. There probably aren’t many better alternatives (although I am calling on our OK atheists to look for some) and we should be grateful that the church stepped up to help. I don’t think that they rubbed their hands together and said, “Oboy, here’s the perfect chance to convert some unsuspecting kids.”
    On the other hand, I do not think that they will go out of their way to be spiritually neutral either. Churches are filled with proselytizing posters and symbols. These will be especially coercive to elementary school kids. I don’t think we should say anything unless we can provide a better alternative, but this will have a detrimental and proselytizing effect on the kids. It will also lower the wall of separation in that community in the future.

  • A3Kr0n

    That’s pretty much what is was with the water pipe, too. Kind of fun day I think.

  • Mario Strada

    “I could say you’re “stuck” in reprobation…. but I won’t go there ”
    Well, in turn I could say that you came here to whoop some atheist butt and that you really don’t care about anyone’s intellectual honesty.

    I could say that you went over the article with a fine tooth comb so you could find something to complain about.

    I could even say that you are a pompous ass having a relationship with a historically challenged character and that you define yourself that way because in your warped mind that makes you more special than those other Christians that follow a denomination like sheep.

    I could say all that and then some, but I won’t go there either.
    Good thing neither of us “went there”.

  • Mario Strada

    I started listening to it too, but I could not stand the guy. He was such an intellectually dishonest person and Seth, being is usual accommodating self, had a hard time taking control of the interview.

    Seems to me that guy, like our friend here, didn’t ask for a show to catch up on old times and discuss things, but to do a soliloquy.

  • Mario Strada

    “I stand by what I wrote.”
    Of course you do and no one was expecting anything else.

    “Atheism is based on ignoring the “subtleties” of most anything.”
    I have no idea where you came up with this asinine concept, but if it’s your opinion you are free to hold it. I am free to ridicule it as misinformed and prejudicial.

    You are misrepresenting Hemant’s article to prove your point. Instead of skipping the sentences read the whole thing.
    If you have, then google “reading comprehension”.

  • allein

    Yeah, he kept talking over (or under, really, since his voice was a little lower) Seth…some of it was a delay in the skype connection, I think, which they mentioned at one point, but mostly I think he just couldn’t not finish his point no matter what anyone else was saying. He interrupted Seth numerous times, and Seth is nice enough to let him do it. That was as frustrating as anything he was actually saying. I listened to it in about 5 chunks (to and from work over 2 days and the last 10 minutes or so I played on my computer when I got home last night). I don’t think I would have gotten through the whole thing if I’d tried to listen all at once.

  • SeekerLancer

    Did you even read Hemant’s post? He’s encouraging people not to flip out.

  • axelbeingcivil

    Firstly, I sincerely disagree with the notion that atheism is based on ignoring subtleties. Certainly, some atheist’s positions and views can be but atheism as a philosophy is simply not having seen enough evidence to believe in a divine figure.

    As for acknowledging that good can come out of this situation, the amount of caution in this article should not be taken as indicative of this being a declaration that this is a bad thing. Rather, this article says the opposite, saying that this is a situation everyone wants to work for the good of the students. The caution is simply there as a result of an extended hand being bitten more than once.