An anonymous resident of a small town in western North Carolina wrote in with a disturbing bit of news.
I wanted to share something with my fellow atheists.
I work at an elementary school as an assistant in a small town in western NC. Our school is participating in operation christmas where they send kids in third world countries a box of things they need (school supplies, toothbrushes, etc.) and I am more than excited to help out the less fortunate.
My niece also goes to this school and her first grade class was given this paper to fill out to let the kids who receive the boxes know who she is and where she lives. This is a great idea because they get to track which country their box goes to.
But, here is the issue. The paper that the entire class was given had fill-in-the-blanks. For example,
- My name is ___.
- I live in ___.
- I love Jesus because ______.
This is a public elementary school and is clearly unacceptable. I would take this to the school board but I don’t want to risk losing my job. However, at the same time, I feel like I should not be afraid to speak out. Any thoughts?
This one is tough.
This person is clearly supportive of helping less fortunate people. But she views the U.S. Constitution as something not to be trampled along the way.
The offensive form is not necessary to give things to the poor. There is no reason why every student in the public school has to ‘explain’ their love for Jesus in order to send a box of supplies.
Are they seriously going to suggest that the children of Muslim, Jewish, and Atheist families should answer that question? Telling all the students to fill it out is just such a suggestion.
These types of items shouldn’t even be inside the boxes for other children in other nations to open up. Would these evangelicals really like to receive packages from Saudi Arabian children featuring treats, supplies, and Koran’s or messages about the prophet Mohammed? Maybe, but I doubt it. But in a public school program? They would throw a fit!
This video from Operation Christmas Child explains it all. It seems alright until about halfway through.
The real reason this program exists is to convert people to a particular religion. That is fine for a church, but it has no place in a public school system.
This is a line that Samaratin’s Purse / Billy Graham Evangelical Association are always crossing. They’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars in their annual budget, and they use it to subvert and pervert the US Constitution on a regular basis.
I affirmed an oath to serve and defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic. This is how I deal with ‘and domestic.’
Why this case is easy:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has pretty explicit guidance and advice to people in this situation.
It is FFRF’s position that the First Amendment erected a “high and impregnable” wall of separation between government schools and church groups. There is no separation of government and soccer required, for example. We do not think a religious group with an agenda to proselytize children should be considered on par with children’s athletic teams. But if the price parents must pay to stop distribution of religious fliers is to forego announcements on soccer teams, it would be worth it. It may be necessary to lobby your school district to stop all outside distribution of fliers.
As a concerned parent, you have the right to request your school district amend the take-home flier policy to restrict this service to school-sponsored or co-sponsored events only.
If, however, your school district allows third parties to distribute take-home fliers, there are certain parameters that must be followed. The following illustrates some of the parameters discussed by federal courts and can be used as a guide in determining whether your district’s practice of distributing religious fliers constitutes a state/church violation.
1. Does the school district have a written fliers policy? Was the policy followed in this instance? Sometimes, teachers or parent volunteers take it upon themselves to distribute fliers on behalf of religious organizations without getting approval from the district. It is important to know whether the school granted access to the forum.
Here it is. Unfortunately, it seems they are attempting to create a ‘limited public forum’ here. There are a number of internal policies this still seems to be violating. Instructional time used, clearly marked as non-school, etc… Strike one.
But even if no violations were found, the only way forward is rather tricky. I’ve seen school districts that adopted such a policy in order to allow church handouts. A few months after being forced to send out Camp Quest pamphlets, and they completely changed their tune. They abolished their own proselytism efforts so that they wouldn’t have to share the stage with non-Christian efforts.
Long term strategy, but a good one.
2. Who assembled the take-home packet? Was the religious flier handled by a paid school official? A public school teacher may only have limited involvement in the distribution of religious fliers. Please note that the rights of students to pass out literature to their classmates are more expansive than those of third parties.
It seems teachers and administrators had a big part in this. Strike two.
3. Look at the fliers’ content. The flier should have a disclaimer disassociating the school from the religious group. The flier should not contain any proselytizing language, i.e., bible verses, Psalms, or other religious sayings. Likewise, the flier should not contain any religious symbols or imagery, i.e., a cross, depiction of Jesus, or images of children praying. Finally, the flier must notify the parents that permission slips must be signed in order for students to participate.
No question here. Strike three.
If, after reading the above information, you believe that the fliers sent home with your child violate state/church separation, you may contact FFRF for assistance in filing a complaint with the school district.
So the anonymous elementary school assistant has her answer.
What readers can do to help:
Contact the McDowell County School District, and raise your concerns.
Here are the email addresses and phone numbers:
Main Central Office Line: (828) 652-4535
Main Central Office Fax: (828) 659-2238
McDowell County School District Superintendent Dr. Ira Trollinger: Ira.Trollinger@mcdowell.k12.nc.us
Local Newspaper needs to be tipped off as well: email@example.com
American Atheists is proud to stand with their friends at the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I’m contacting them for an additional head’s up.
It looks like the superintendent of the School District wants to stop this immediately, but needs me to tell her which school it is. I’m still deployed to the sandbox (active duty Army) so time zones are messing things up. I’m trying to get through though!
Also, we just intercepted an epic rant from a defender of Operation Christmas Child. It’s called “Fuck You jewboy scum” and that’s the polite part.