American Atheists is proud to announce that Glenwood Elementary in the McDowell County (NC) School District, has apologized for the unconstitutional “I love Jesus because ___” controversy.
An article I wrote here on FtB last week sounded the alert, and the secular internet community reacted strongly. Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media support is often crucial to our success at American Atheists (I’m the Military Director at American Atheists).
Here are the results, for now.
Becky Pearson at McDowell County School District relayed the corrective actions taking place at Glenwood Elementary, as well as ‘their side’ of the story.
Here is an account of what has transpired since Friday.
Glenwood Elementary has participated in Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child for the last 2 years. This has been a great service project for students to participate in voluntarily and has allowed teachers to integrate geography lessons as students study maps to see various countries where the boxes are delivered as well as writing lessons where students may choose to write letters to children around the world who will receive the boxes. Principal, Amy Dowdle has worked closely with a volunteer from Samaritan’s Purse to create a service learning project that connects the children of Glenwood to less fortunate children from around the world. She made sure that parents were informed of the school’s participation in the program and that individual student participation was completely voluntary.
The issue that has risen this year is that as part of the materials provided from Samaritan’s Purse included a “fill in the blank” letter for younger students K-2 that allowed them to simply fill in such information as their name and age instead of having to create an entire letter on their own. One of the sentences in that letter was “I love Jesus because….”. This letter was provided to younger students as a voluntary center activity . No child was forced to participate or called out for answering or not answering any or all of the questions involved. Our local paper, the McDowell News contacted the Samaritan’s Purse volunteer via email Friday morning and said that they had received “some e-mails and one letter to the editor that students were given a questionnaire during this school event that asked them to list the reasons why they love Jesus.” Ms. Smith immediately contacted Mrs.Dowdle. Mrs. Dowdle was unaware that the form asked children to answer this question that was religious in nature. She immediately sent an email reply to our local paper and a Connect-Ed call to her parents and staff Friday night acknowledging the mistake, reassuring her parents and staff that she will carefully inspect materials to ensure that none of them contain matters that are religious in nature in the future and apologized for offending anyone.
On Monday, Mrs. Dowdle met with her faculty and staff and reiterated her stance on the issue. Letters were also sent home with all students. Mrs. Dowdle also participated in an interview with our local paper and Asheville TV station, WLOS.
Please let me know if you need any further information.
Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services
McDowell County Schools
It’s encouraging to know that so many of you actually followed through on my requests to contact the Superintendent of the school district, as well as the media outlets. For the most part, it worked. It generated awareness and real-world change.
But it was only a first step. Operation Christmas Child as a whole, needs to go.
As Operation Christmas Child freely admits on their FAQ:
Q. WHAT IS THE MISSION OF OPERATION CHRISTMAS CHILD?
A. The mission of Operation Christmas Child is to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Bibles are still included as a part of the boxes that OCC sends. Christian literature, and themes are still present in many of the objects that can be stuffed into the boxes.
So we still have some work to do.
My response to the McDowell County School District:
Thank you for the update, and the written clarification. As per our conversation, I’m pleased to write about positive developments. Such a rapid rush to apologize for mistakes is most welcome. Admitting the inappropriate nature of this was a great start. Likewise, the promise to remove the form is fantastic.Government institutions like the public school system must not promote religion over others (or over non-religion) – an issue central to the U.S. Constitution, and centuries of SCOTUS rulings. This may even violate the No Religious Tests Clause of the US Constitution, before you even get to the amendments (Article VI Para 3). But the goal of our outreach has not been to call for the rolling of heads. We just wanted it fixed. And this is a huge step forward.
I mentioned in our phone call that I wanted to print your updates to the situation. It is extremely well written, and I’d like to share it verbatim. You deserve to have this opportunity, and I thank you for providing such a succinct written account. The atheist community will appreciate this.
However, there needs to be a closer look at this Operation Christmas Child, as it most certainly has a singular purpose of converting children to Christianity (be it in this country or not). All of the videos associated with this effort (self-produced) brag about this being the point of the entire operation. This operation was designed for churches, and that’s exactly where it should stay. No part of this operation is acceptable, ‘I love Jesus because…’ form or not.
I understand the urge for damage control may want you to sugar coat that, but it’s true. Watch any of their videos, it’s an undeniable and inappropriate goal for a public school to endorse (optionally or not).
We understand that religious activities may be a part of students’ lives. But there is a huge difference between supporting a religious demographic, and supporting the growth of one over others. By definition, converting a child to Christianity involves removing a child from their previous religious affiliation. This has no place in government.
If you still think this program is acceptable for your school district, I just a few questions. Would you support such an effort from an atheist group? Packing boxes with toys and copies of atheist literature, etc… I’m hoping you say ‘no’ and that this causes you to also reconsider your position with the Christian membership drive that Mrs. Dowdle volunteers for – with your public school students.
And what about supporting other efforts from atheist groups, which were not focused on ‘de-converting’ children? (Perhaps, simply a group of atheists who donate toys and clothing with no atheist literature. Or a group of atheists wanting to do a 5k run that raises money for cancer research, etc.) The answer should be ‘yes’ here.
Military Director – American Atheists, Inc.
Fort Bragg, NC
This is not the first time that I’ve put out a request for help that was massively successful because of the public and legal pressure it generated. In the last year, I’ve learned that those two things are the only forces that work when the system is broken.
I’m proud of you, internet atheists. Crowd-sourced activism is like an effective Lorax, speaking for those who can’t.
How you can help (again)
If you want to help, you still can. You should let them know that a Christian membership drive is not appropriate for government-funded public schools. Respectfully express your outrage that more wasn’t done.
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 (ext 125 or 0)
Main Central Office Fax: (828) 659-2238
McDowell County School District Superintendent Dr. Ira Trollinger:Ira.Trollinger@mcdowell.k12.nc.us
If it helps, my wife has drawn the Lorax with meme-ready brilliance.
Be like this guy. It works. From now on, you’ll see the rage Lorax on my pleas for support. Feel free to ‘steal’ it.
While our legal and fundraising teams mull over the prospects of suing to get this entire Operation dropped from the public school agenda, perhaps they will see the light.