The Hudsonville Public Schools in Michigan has ended a teacher-led Bible study that took place at Alward Elementary School, during recess, without any parental consent.
The Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists (MACRA) acted on complaints from parents and they reached out to the district urging them to stop the Bible study.
According to parents, 5th grade teacher, Christopher Karel was leading students in weekly Bible studies during school hours — every Friday during lunch period. Students attending the Bible study would bring their food to Karel’s classroom where he would read a Bible verse, tell a story or show a video and lead students in prayer.
You can understand the problem of coercion here. When a teacher leads a Bible study, kids feel pressured to attend. If one child goes, her friends may follow for fear of being left out. And students who aren’t Christian are made to feel like outcasts by their own school. That nasty pushback for not attending a meeting was exactly what one parent described to MACRA’s Mitch Kahle.
The District has now shut down the Bible Club, though they don’t seem to think this is a big deal. Maybe they would if we were talking about an atheist or Satanist group.
“The teacher (who thought the Bible discussion was appropriate because it was during lunch and voluntary) immediately put an end to these lunch meetings,” said [Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Scott] Smith. The district will continue to educate staff about the policies related to religion in schools.
What’s concerning is that this isn’t an isolated incident. The very same District was guilty of another church/state violation a couple of years ago, which MACRA also investigated.
In February 2015, MACRA alerted the district that it was inappropriately allowing Georgetown Elementary students to attend a Bible Club in a recreational vehicle in the parking lot during lunch hour. The district discontinued the practice and made Bible Club Ministries International-Western Michigan aware of the conflict.
Whatever happened to kids goofing around on a playground during recess…?
This isn’t complicated. Teachers can’t lead Bible clubs. Not during recess. Not after school. They don’t get to create a church on the taxpayer dime. (That’s also different from the perfectly legal ability for teachers to sponsor a student-led Bible Club in high school. In that role, they’re mostly people who sign papers, helped manage the group, and serve as a liaison with the school.)
It’s hard to believe the District didn’t notice this problem until MACRA complained on behalf of a parent, but the pressure’s on them to take care of it quickly and take action so that it doesn’t happen again. They clearly failed last time since we’re dealing with the same situation now.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)