Anne the legal analyst locking horns with local elementary school on separation case.

Contributor to this blog, Anne Orsi, is doing some activism in Northwest Arkansas.  Here’s the back story.

A longtime holiday show, beloved by children, inadvertently sparked a controversy in Little Rock over the separation of church and state.

It happened when some teachers at Terry Elementary school sent letters home offering to shuttle first and second graders to see a stage version of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at Agape, a local church.

“We’re not saying anything bad about Charlie Brown,” said Anne Orsi, a Little Rock Attorney and Vice President of the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers.

“The problem is that it’s got religious content and it’s being performed in a religious venue and that doesn’t just blur the line between church and state, it over steps it entirely.”

The letter the teachers sent home indicates the play will be held on a school day at 10 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 14 at the Agape Church. Children attending will be taken on a school bus and will need to pay $2 to cover the expense of the bus rides, according to the letter.

There are some of the usual objections.

Some of Agape staffers did say they have held holiday productions for students in the past and no one raised concerns about those shows.

Just because something illegal has happened before without complaint doesn’t mean it’s not illegal or that it should get to continue when people do complain.  And, as we saw with Jessica Ahlquist, with religiously charged issues like this, often people do not complain out of fear, not out of tacit approval.

This is undoubtedly why the parents don’t want their identities or the identity of their child revealed for fear of reprisal.  They don’t want their children singled out as “different” and they certainly don’t want to expose the children to potential bullying.  Since a teacher at the school has a role in the performance, they don’t want to subject that child to possible disfavor from the teacher due to her resentment.  The parents also do not want their children to have religious exposure during public school class time, and they do not want their children to be sent to another classroom  to spend idle time during the public school day while the rest of their classmates receive religious exposure.

Another argument is that there isn’t anything religious about the show.

A spokeswoman for the Little Rock School District says the district does not endorse any particular faith or encourage any specific religious activity.

Yeah, about that…

Either lying or incompetent.  The stated mission of the church’s drama group is to “minister to the Lord with the gifts that He has placed in the body of Agape under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.”  You’d think that might’ve given them some hint.

But even if there wasn’t proselytizing, it’s in a church where the kids will be exposed to all kinds of sectarian religious propaganda en route to the play – during school hours.

Todd Starnes of FOX News has an article out that is full of fail (though, not as much as the comments on that article on his facebook page).  Incidentally, anybody who can rankle FOX like this has a welcome spot contributing to my blog.  :)

Pamela Smith, the communications director for the Little Rock School District, told Fox News that students were not required to attend the performance and as far as the district is concerned – there is no controversy.

Nope, no controversy.  They’re just taking kids to a church while they’re supposed to be at school to hear a religious message.  Nothing to worry about here at all.  Again, either lying or incompetent.

“The teachers wanted to provide an opportunity for cultural enrichment for students through a holiday production and are supported by the principal,” Smith said. “Because it will be held at a church, as some public events often are, a letter was sent home with students so parents who took exception and wished to have their children remain at school could do so.”

It’s not enough to let students opt out of sectarian religious indoctrination.  The school should not be in that business with any students!  What’s more, many atheistic kids at that age are closeted for fear of ostracism.  Even if it weren’t egregiously illegal to cart public school students to a sectarian church to hear a sectarian religious message, you’re still forcing the non-believing students to either announce their non-Christian beliefs or be subject to that message when they should be learning.  That somebody working for a public school fails to grasp these very simple concepts is unforgivable.

The show features a poignant moment when Linus recites passages of scripture from the Gospel of Luke — noting the birth of Jesus Christ.

See the above video.  Either Starnes has not seen the show (in which case, why is he commenting on it) or he has and is simply full of shit.

Smith told Fox News the school district does not “promote or encourage students to support any religious affiliation.”

Again, either lying or incompetent and, if he and the other representatives for the Little Rock school don’t stop lying or wise up, the students may very well pay the price for their dishonesty.

Good job, Anne.  Way to stand up to the bullies, regardless of how fervently they wave their crosses.

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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.


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