Why Is This Minnesota Public School Sending Students on a Field Trip to Church?

The School of Engineering and Arts in Golden Valley, Minnesota opened up in the fall of 2012. It took them less than 18 months to violate the Constitution.

According to a letter from the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the public school sent children on a field to a local Christian church (Calvary Lutheran Church) in order to package food for the hungry for a separate Christian non-profit group (Feed My Starving Children). Both the church and the non-profit are interested in spreading the Gospel.

A glimpse inside Calvary Lutheran Church

Even after a parent pointed out the problems with this field trip last year, the school just ignored the complaint, a fact the AHLC points out before explaining the legal issues once again:

… we fully understand that at least one purpose of this field trip was to have the children participate in charity work intended to assist poverty-stricken people. Such good intentions, however, can be pursued in innumerable other ways that do not involve immersing the unsuspecting children into a theologically-charged environment. We are not opposed to educating children about poverty around the world, nor do we object to their participating in a nonreligious program to provide assistance.

Here, however, both the church and the Christian charity involved have an interest in propagating a specific religious message that is contrary to the views of many of the students and their families. The school has no right to select one Christian church and one Christian charity as a landing ground for public school students, just as it would have no right to direct students to a mosque, a temple, or an atheist group for similar purposes. Indeed, the religious mission underlying the charity work in question was out in the open in this situation, but your school embraced the event anyway. The packages involved were called “manna” packages, after the edible substance that, according to the Bible, God provided for the Israelites; and the venue involved included extensive religious imagery and symbolism.

As they point out, the good intentions are irrelevant here. If the goal was to get students to help those less fortunate, there are any number of ways they could do that — and so many groups they could partner with — that don’t involve promoting a particular religion.

It’s an easy problem to avoid yet the school has screwed up twice already.

They shouldn’t get a third chance. They just need to apologize, find a better way for the students to help others, and make things right.

The AHLC has given them two weeks to respond.

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.


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