Elementary School Science Teacher Sends Kids Home with an Invitation to Christian Summer Camp

What would you do if your daughter came home from her public school and told you her 5th grade science teacher was preaching in the classroom? What if it wasn’t direct preaching but an invitation to join her at church over the weekend, when school wasn’t in session?

Either way, it’d be proselytizing and public school teachers are forbidden from doing it.

But one teacher apparently doesn’t see or understand the problem. She sent a flyer home with students yesterday — attached to their report cards — inviting them to a week-long Christian sports camp this summer. One parent, who understood the problem with this, posted the image on Reddit before explaining how he handled it. (Emphases hers.)

LetterFromSchool

Parents: I am so excited for the opportunity to take your student to my favorite place on earth: Kids Across America. I know that many of you will have questions before agreeing to let your students go out of state for a week with their teacher (I am a mom too, I get it). I wanted to give you some of the information I know and to see who is interested. Then, I will hold an informational meeting on February 18th at 5:30pm so you can ask more questions, watch a video, and get further details. I do need to get a head count of who is considering allowing their student to go to camp so I can work on getting a charter bus for us.

Quick Facts:

— I have been to Kids Across America 4 times (each time I have left from West Palm Beach Florida and it took 2 days to get there. Yay for a shorter trip!!)

— It is a Christian. Sports. Camp (Each word is true: It is Christian: Your students will be taught about The Bible, Jesus and having a positive attitude. It is a Sports camp: students will be doing physical activity each day. It is a Camp: It is in the beautiful mountains of Branson, Missouri. The students will stay in a cabin and they may encounter nature (i.e. bugs)…

The parent, who didn’t identify the school because his wife is an employee there, said that he sent an email to this teacher explaining his concerns (via an anonymous email address):

Hello Mrs. [Redacted], First I’d like to say that I have no problems in general with the education my child is receiving from [redacted] Elementary School and I have no problems with you as a person. Due to the nature of this email, I must remain anonymous for fear of causing my child to become ostracized. I attend functions when I can and I’m proud of the GA school system. I take great pride in my country and the rights afforded to us by the constitution. Indeed, our founding fathers had great experience and great foresight when penning those documents. It has recently come to my attention that you have been promoting the attendance of a Christian summer camp called KidsAcrossAmerica. As a person with great respect for the laws of our nation, as I’m sure you have as well, I cannot sit idly by while my childs rights are trampled upon and the law is disregarded. Perhaps my favorite and most important amendment is the first.

The practice of distributing religious fliers by public schools is objectionable on many different grounds. First, school-sponsored distributions of religious material carry the stamp of official endorsement. Certainly, small children are apt to confuse official school notices with religious propaganda. Second, even if the school disassociates itself from the religious activity through a disclaimer, the distribution of literature for religious organizations and activities requires the time and resources of paid school personnel.

Consider the following: Your child comes home with a flyer, written by the teacher saying “I want to take your student to an Islamic Sports Camp this summer. They will learn about the Qu’ran, the prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), and how to be a good person. I strongly suggest you consider allowing your child to attend camp.”

Or perhaps “I want to take your student to a super-fun Satanic sports Camp this summer. They will learn about the Satanic Bible, Anton LaVey, and how to be a good person. I strongly suggest you consider allowing your child to attend camp.”

Maybe if they brought a flyer stating “I want to take your student to a Hindu Sports Camp this summer. They will learn about the Vedas, the gods Sheeva, Krishna and Vishnu and how to be a good person. I strongly suggest you consider allowing your child to attend camp.”

Just because it is YOUR religion and you think it’s correct, doesn’t give you the right to preach to my child in school. It is illegal. Please refrain from sending any more religious propoganda home with my child. If not, I will have no recourse but to contact the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation to seek further action. Thank you.

He contacted FFRF already, so no worries there, but he raised the obvious points already: If this camp were explicitly non-Christian in any way, there would be hell to pay — for the teacher, for the administration, and for the District itself. That would be obvious if we were talking about a pro-Satanic or pro-Islamic flyer. Just because this is a Christian camp doesn’t grant it some sort of immunity.

Given her logic, what’s stopping this teacher from sending home church pamphlets with her students? After all, it’s outside of school time and there’s no “pressure” for anyone to attend, right? If she thinks that would be going too far, I don’t see how this is any different.

The teacher soon wrote back to the parent:

I am so sorry you were offended by a flyer I sent home. As a parent I understand your concern. My student often encounters “other religions” and I am so thankful that I have set a foundation for him to stand up under a world pulling him in all directions. I am sure that you have done the same with your student– helping them to become strong and able to live by their convictions– so thank you.

The summer flyer is exactly that– an opportunity for the students to go on a fun trip this summer. There will be no more flyers sent home to parents unless they have expressed a desire for their child to attend. Please also consider there are parents who will see this as a great opportunity for their child and are thankful for a teacher wanting to invest in their students, even over the summer.

We send home many flyers offering clubs, parent involvement, etc. There is no pressure to join or attend any of these events. No extra credit or special treatment is ever offered and your child (whoever they are) will continued to be loved and educated just the same.

I hope you will continue to love and appreciate [redacted] as it is a great school full of caring teachers. Thank you for expressing your concerns and again, no further flyers will be sent home. Thanks and have a great day.

Offense isn’t the problem. Breaking the law is. If this is a great opportunity for students, then let their churches advertise it. Public schools should not be in the business of promoting Christianity in any way.

Sending this flyer home is inherently a coercive act because those kids obviously think their teacher wants them to take part in this. Of course they’ll tell their parents they want to go. And the school is complicit in this if they allow it to continue.

I’ve reached out to the parent to find out what school and teacher this is. But the remedy is clear: The teacher needs to send home an apology for her actions and she and the administration of this school need to promise never to do it again under threat of a large fine.

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.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X