I knew it

Ok, so we were worried about Joel Osteen visiting a public elementary school.  Like Bradlee Dean, they said they were going to keep it secular.  However, for people who have a vested interest in converting children it’s just a difficult cheese to swallow that they’re going to the school just to pull weeds and read The Lorax.

I hate it when I’m right.

Here’s where we stand right now.  The school did invite Osteen of their own volition.  He and his wife are at the school right now.

What’s more, a parent returning a library book noticed books stacked up for giveaways in the school library at Amidon-Bowen Elementary.  The books were Gifts from the Heart, which says that it is dedicated “To a strong and mighty generation who will develop and use their gifts to inspire others, and be ushered into the greater things of Christ.”  The books are reportedly to be given away.  Here are some pics of the book, authored by Victoria Osteen.

I know also that the ACLU has emailed the school and that the school is, to use their words, “looking into it.”  Let’s give them a little extra incentive.

Here is the email I just wrote to the school’s VP.

Mr. Ham,

I am the author of a popular blog (##### unique readers last month).  I also work with high school students for my career, which makes me concerned over some of the things I’ve been hearing about the events today at Amidon-Bowen.

First, I have heard that you have invited Joel Osteen and his wife to your school today.  I trust you are aware of the baggage associated with inviting someone to your school, presumably in a role model capacity, who speaks against the very science the students are supposed to learn at Amidon-Bowen.

But while I think you could do better with who you invite, it is still your right to invite them so long as they do not proselytize sectarian religion.  You are undoubtedly aware that it is your job as an employee of the government to maintain religious neutrality at the hands of your school, its faculty, and any events you put on.  To do otherwise would be an open and shut establishment clause case, and your students deserve better than administrators who would knowingly break the law (and risk dollars earmarked for education in a potential lawsuit).  But, so long as the pastor and his wife are doing secular work in your school, nobody should take issue.

However, I have received word from two parents at the school now that there are stacks of giveaway books in the school library.  The title, as I have been told, is Gifts from the Heart, which says that it is dedicated “To a strong and mighty generation who will develop and use their gifts to inspire others, and be ushered into the greater things of Christ.”  This would be light years beyond the line.  It would be so transparently illegal that the only conclusion that any reasonable person could reach was that you and every staff/administrator involved would be knowingly breaking the law.  Included in this email are pictures of the book.

Perhaps these reports are untrue.  Admittedly, I have not been there to verify them.  If they are false, then simply ignore this email since you have nothing to worry about from me or anybody who reads me.

But if these reports are true, and you do know about this, know that I will find out.  If these books reach the hands of students through a public school, know also that I have the means to make this a very public issue and that I will not hesitate to do so.  There are organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation that, like myself, take violations of the law like this very seriously; almost as seriously as the administrators of public schools should take them.

It is the dream of every lawbreaker to operate in the dark.  Please take a moment to assure Mr. Ham that there are lots of eyes watching.

Chancellor Kaya Henderson
1200 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002
Telephone: (202) 442-5885
Fax: (202) 442-5026
To e-mail: http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/About+DCPS/Contact+Us/Ask+the+Chancellor

Amidon-Bowen Vice Principal Dwayne Ham
401 I St. SW Washington, DC 20024.
Phone: 724-4867
Fax: 724-4868

Let them know that we can and will unleash hell if these reports are true.


From one of the people keeping tabs on the goings on at Amidon-Bowen.

I was lied to by the Vice principal.

He told me to my face when I asked, “What will be read?” that “The Lorax” would be the book.  Not so.  50ish K, 1st and 2nd graders were read Victoria Osteen’s book Gifts from the Heart.  No Lorax at all.  The school handed out “Gifts from the Heart” to the kids.

A few declined.  There were many adults- presumably Osteen entourage. Possibly a couple parents.

Joel Osteen smiled and said “Hi how are you” to the kids and patted a few heads.  It was his wife’s show.

One of the students in attendance at the reading explained of Mrs. Osteen that, ‘She didn’t read no Dr. Suess. She read this book!’ and held up a copy of “Gifts From the Heart.”

I have asked everybody on the ground to start collecting evidence.  Pics of kids with the book, recordings of them talking about it, etc.  Kind of ironic we immoral atheists must exert so much effort to prevent breaking the law in the presence of children by people claiming to have the moral high ground.  Thou shalt not lie, right?

We gave them fair warning.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist Crommunist

    Mr. Ham,

    If there is something to be learned from the rise of atheism in popular culture in the last few years, it is that we are finally becoming tired of religious people and institutions being allowed to flout the law simply because it’s “tradition” for them to do so. You have the eyes of the world on you, sir (or you soon will). If you’ve paid any attention to the news recently, you saw the story of a young woman in Rhode Island who stood up against a school for doing pretty much what you’re doing right now with Joel Osteen. Look up the case – Ahlquist v. Rhode Island. Spoilers: it didn’t end well for the school.

    I don’t know what your personal beliefs are, nor do I really care. If you have even the slightest instinct for self-preservation, you’ll immediately do your duty as a secular educator and discontinue any association with Joel Osteen, and issue a written apology to all of Amidon-Bowen’s parents. Not only will it save your ass, it’s also the right thing to do.



  • Randomfactor

    We need an antibook, printed in bulk for distribution to students in cases like these. The strategy of forcing government agencies to follow the strict neutrality mandated by the Constitution worked for Rock Beyond Belief. We need a book ready to go. Any suggestions?

    • Sean H.
      • Randomfactor

        Sean H, I thought of that one immediately and think we ought to have a blogathon/etc to put MoR in as many school libraries as still exist in these benighted times. I’m planning on doing something locally through a nascent atheist group I’m a founding member of.

        But we need something cheaper/smaller as ammunition for “distribute through schools” events.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/ Ophelia Benson

    Ach – I just posted about this, without the new info. Must update.

  • gAytheist

    I totally agree with Randomfactor. We need to have inexpensive pamphlets and books that we can give out at schools whenever and wherever the religious are allowed to come on to public school campuses to push their medieval beliefs.

  • Art Vandelay

    Wow. I’m shocked. SHOCKED I tell you!

  • fastlane

    If ‘we’ were to print some kind of book/pamphlet, I would like to see a short reader on separation issues like this. Get it out there so students know what is (personal, non-disruptve praying, shirts with sectarian messages) and is not (school led prayers, etc) legal, and how to spot the difference.

    It would have to be written with the assumption that most of the students who read it are nominally xian, and why church state separation benefits them.

  • Rory

    I hope it’s not too far into the future that administrators will learn what kind of holy hell they can expect to come down on them when they do stupid things like this. Welcome to the internet age, folks–there’s nowhere to hide, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than writing checks to the FFRF and ACLU to hammer morons who do things like this.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000243432179 jasonvalentine

      That is why the internet will be the next target of Dominionists the moment they have the power to regulate it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/toddahare324 toddhare

    I’ve written and called the school. The person attending the phones and the person that handles the press has no information. They said that they haven’t had any calls yet. CALL THEM.

  • http://purl.org/NET/JesseW/SundryStuff/ JesseW

    I called the Chancellors office, and they hadn’t heard anything about the issue, but suggested I call the school.

    I then called the school, and the person who picked up (whose name I didn’t get) denied that any books were being given out, said I could call the Principals office (then clarified that it was the same number), said something confused about wanting volunteers for beautification of the school grounds, then hung up on me.

    Feel free to reference this comment in any future calls.

  • woody

    Do not really care about christianity, but as a strict constitutionalist, the part about the free exercise thereof seems to be ignored by the judiciary.

    • Rev. Thomas Ferranti


      Do you advocate for freedom of expression of religion in schools? I hope that you feel the same when Muslim teachers and students take breaks to pray, and that you would be open to “let the kids decide” which of the many creation stories is correct. Last time I checked, I found no less than fifty of them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/genealogix patrickbarrett

    Publisher’s Description of Gifts from the Heart:

    Victoria Osteen continues her storybook series with a royal adventure fit for the most rambunctious of princes and princesses. A brother and sister, Jon and Sue, take an imaginary journey into a medieval world of kings and castles. They find themselves in a bustling town that’s preparing a party for their king. While the townspeople are busy looking for fancy gifts to buy, Jon and Sue—with the help of their new friend Maryanne–remind everyone that the talents God has given them are the most precious gifts of all. At the end of the day the king’s celebration is a success because each person gives a gift from their heart.


  • Maggie

    Interesting – you can no longer get the Principal’s email. Seems they’ve pulled that info down *links go nowhere*

    but here’s her Linkedin page

    Here’s her email

    Although the VP was responsible for this debacle, it is also the Principal’s responsibility.

    I reminded the good educator that she’s also involved, because it’s her school.


  • Kates

    haha – you guys are worked up about this aren’t you? fear not. osteen doesn’t teach Christianity. he teaches moralistic, self-help positivity couched in religious language. get over yourselves for a minute.

    • Chuk

      these guys are jobless. Imagine grown adults aching their hearts because Osteen is in an elementary school. Right..he’s handing out bibles and sending them to afghanistan to preach or be killed..right? Why don’t you frant out if a rockstar or SECULAR music artist visits a school? How about music artists who are ‘satanist’ ‘new age’ ‘wicca’ are those not ‘religions’? Why then is it that when THEY attend a school, you all shut up and don’t make a debacle? When a pastor visits a school you whip up the “constitution”.. Oh shut up, you’re all pathetic no lives. I suggest you mow your activism towards ACTUALLY productive efforts and stop “HARRASING” the school principal, which as you LAWYERS should know is against THE LAW.

  • Maggie

    Vacuous Christian Apologist #1 – welcome to reality.

    How about I tell you and your kids a little moralistic, self-help positivity couched in religious language?

    As a practicing pagan who practices as the UU, I promise it’ll just be couched in my religious language.

    Blessed Be!

    “An harm ye none, do as ye will” is closer to secular humanism than 10 rules, anyway.

  • godlesspanther

    Kates — religious bullshit is religious bullshit. You can’t change that by just calling it something else.

  • http://www.anonopotamus.com a3kr0n

    Oh ya, the principal needs to go to jail for not only allowing those books to be passed out, but for lying to a parent about it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=514716772 brianmcknight

    JT keep up the great work!

    Text of an email I just sent to VP ham:

    Dear Mr. Ham -

    Thanks to the diligence performed by blog writer JT Eberhard, those of us who believe in the strict separation of church and state have been alerted to the fact that free Christian reading material is being used to indoctrinate young people in your school. This is a clear violation of the law, and I hope that his assertions are not true. As a teacher myself, I know that sometimes the story the “outside” world gets has gone through so many permutations as to be unrecognizable as the truth. I hope that this is the case. Not only would it be against the law to disseminate religious material in a public school setting, it is a flagrant violation of the spirit with which this country was founded. There are some of us for whom “E Pluribus Unam” has real meaning. It is troubling for one religious sect to achieve a sense of lawlessness in the public sphere. I hope that you can be counted on to vigilantly protect your students from any overtly religious speaker or speakers. And, perhaps this is only my cynicism speaking, I am skeptical that you would be so relaxed about giving free church books to children if they were Tales From the Koran, Great Moments in Mormon History or The Illustrated Bhagavad Gita.

    Though I am not a member of your school district, I am an American, from a family of Veterans. My uncles and brothers did not put their lives on the line for this country over the last six decades, only to see its most central tenants undermined at home. I thank you for your time.


    Brian McKnight

    • Anonymous

      Good letter; kudos on writing it. Just FYI, the word is “tenets.”

      • Anonymous

        And “Unum”…

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=514716772 brianmcknight

        Crap. “tenets” of course, and “unum.” Well that’s what I get for rushing! LOL Thanks for the spell checks (I mean that sincerely, I’m not trying to be sarcastic). Maddening that I let those go by. These are the things that cause aneurisms. Arrghh!

  • http://www.atheist-faq.com JT (Generic)


    If the book had been about morals and ethics through the light of Allah, people would be singing a very very different tune.

    But as usual, Christian violations of the law get a free pass.

  • babz covington

    who has called the aclu?

    • Anonymous

      They’ve been contacted. I also wrote my buddy who helps run the Portland CFI. He contacted the D.C. CFI branch and they said that they were on top of it. Not sure exactly what that means.

  • Jon

    Wow. Atheists entertain me more than any other group of people in this country. It’s fantastic how obsessed you are over other people’s beliefs.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=514716772 brianmcknight

      Seriously? WE are obsessed? Every possible permutation of religion wants to put its nose into my school, my job, my TV, my bedroom, my relationships, my buildings, my dinner parties, my grocers, my doctors, my women’s clinics, my clothing, my sexual positions, my civil rights, my friends, my politics and my science.

      I am sure that I speak for my fellow atheists when I say, we would much prefer there was no need for us to get involved at all.

      Obsessed. Honestly.

      • balance

        Brian wins.

    • http://www.atheist-faq.com JT (Generic)

      Have you noticed the frequency in which we complain/talk about the Buddhists or Jewish or Hindus? (Hint – rarely)

      Do you want to know why that is?

      They aren’t constantly doing stupid shit against others. Our existence is a response to being trampled on by these people for thousands of years.

    • Makoto

      Actually, I don’t care much about your beliefs, whatever they are. I care about the impact of beliefs on the law, on our children, on our health care, and so on.

      If you believe in creationism, that’s up to you. If you believe you shouldn’t get an abortion, don’t get one. And so on.

      But I think schools aren’t the platform for teaching religion, nor do I think laws should accord to a specific religion in a country founded on religious freedom.

      In other words, believe what you want, join whatever organizations/religions you want, that’s up to you. But don’t think that means you can impose your religious rules or morals on your neighbor.

    • Chuk

      Haha my point exactly. They are simply fanatic over the idea that poor Osteen is at a primary school. Not like he’s getting 50 million dollars to appear at the school.

  • Iago

    Whilst I have my theological disagreements with Mr Joel Osteen, this pales in significance compared with your atheistic bigotry.

    Do you realise that secular does not mean non-religious/atheist. Inviting Joel Osteen ONCE and handing out free books is hardly indoctrinating children. You’re just angry that a ‘religious’ evangelist got some air-time with students.

    Your anger at the book issue is particularly disturbing. And ironic, for a so-called “free thinker”. I can’t get the image of Nazis burning books out of my head right now…

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      You either cannot read or have chosen not to.

      Many people, yourself included, seem to think we’re trying to keep people from being Christian by force of law. We’re not. By virtue of sound argument and evidence, sure. But not by force of law.

      We do care very much about gov’t entanglement with religion which Mr. Osteen, no matter how vanilla a theologian, has violated with the assistance of the school’s administrators. That’s the issue.

      Please address the issues we have mentioned rather than the ones we haven’t, unless you have some psychic ability to dredge our secret, true motivations from our skulls.

      • Anonymous

        Flawless victory!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=514716772 brianmcknight

      Iago – I would imagine that the Nazi image in your head is quite disturbing. I find it disturbing as well. I hope you can find a way to expunge it from your imagination in regards to this discussion. I’ll be right beside you to protest the book burning, by the way. Mr. & Mrs. Osteen’s book has NO PLACE in a school. I am not advocating for its destruction. Only for its proper placement.

      As an atheist this is how I feel: don’t poke me with a stick for two-thousand morally bankrupt years and then act surprised when I complain. “Free-thinking” does not translate as passive, dispassionate or indiscriminate. There is a proper place for fairy tales presented as truth, and a house of education isn’t it.

      You are right on one point only: I am angry that The Osteens got some air time with impressionable children. But more angry that their unprovable delusions are treated with complete carte blanche in a building that should be dedicated to facts and to learning. I shan’t accept the mantle of bigotry, easy as it is to lay at my feet. I have disdain equally for all the monotheistic death-cult religions, whereas most religious folk I know have disdain only for the ones that aren’t theirs.

      I should not have presumed to speak for all atheists, either. For that alone, I will apologize.

    • Eliott

      Iago, Interesting note. You chose to completely ignore that not only did a member of the school board violate the law, they lied and tried to cover it up. And then having chosen to travel down this intellectually dishonest path you label the post as Atheist bigotry. And you compare that to Nazis and burning books. Wow. Maybe if you dug a little deeper, read a few more blogs and tried to understand the Atheist anger at constitutional violations that happen regularly in the public space, you would save yourself some embarrassment when you respond with this type of bullshit. Of course, that’s just my opinion. You may want to continue to respond like an illiterate asshole which is your constitutional right.

    • http://blogingproject.blogspot.com/ Ing: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream So I Comment Instead

      Ah “iago”…I get it

  • Everett Attebury
    • http://purl.org/NET/JesseW/SundryStuff/ JesseW

      Here is a WebCitation cached copy of the Christian Post article, including the incriminating pictures that show which book was read.

  • Simon

    Just as insidious, Osteen also visited an abortion misinformation er, Crisis Pregnancy Center in NE DC. It’s not far from were I live and that place gives me the creeps every time I go by it: http://www.christianpost.com/news/joel-osteen-visits-christian-pregnancy-center-in-dc-73961/