The Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter of complaint after schoolchildren from the School of Engineering and Arts in the Robbinsdale (MN) School District visited Calvary Lutheran Church. The students were participating in a volunteer project sponsored by Feed My Starving Children, a nonprofit organization, to pack meals for needy families in Haiti.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) responded Friday, February 7 with a letter to the school district, clarifying that merely walking into a building which is used for a religious purpose does not constitute a violation of the separation of church and state, and that there was no religious proselytization going on as the meals were being packed.
ADF Legal Counsel Matt Sharp said in the letter:
“Public schools should encourage students to participate in as many community service opportunities as possible. The Constitution does not prohibit students from cooperating with a religious organization to help starving families, which is not any sort of government endorsement of religion. Neutrality toward religion does not permit schools to discriminate against beneficial programs simply because they are run by Christians. That is not neutrality but the very hostility toward religion that the First Amendment forbids.”
The Alliance Defending Freedom letter explains that
“…public schools may constitutionally work with religious charities to provide food or other secular goods and services to impoverished children.”
Moreover, the letter states,
“Courts have consistently upheld instances where schools cooperated with religious organizations…where they had a valid educational purpose for doing so. The School has not promoted any religious aspect of the church or the non-profit organization. Nor can AHA point to any such evidence. The School simply chose to cooperate with a local charity to do nothing more than prepare meals for impoverished children. The School is not advancing religion at all.”
ADF’ Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco called it “shameful” for groups like the American Humanist Association to attack charity groups that provide impoverished children with help they wouldn’t otherwise receive. He expressed hope that the ADF letter
“…will help Robbinsdale Area Schools understand that they can continue to allow students to participate with Feed My Starving Children and other worthy humanitarian service programs for the benefit of the needy.”