By Rick Snedeker, “Secular Spectrum” group blog, Patheos Nonreligious Channel, published February 6, 2018.
A recent post in Hemant Mehta’s The Friendly Atheist blog about a lawsuit against a school district that allowed Christian indoctrination only hinted at why targeting of schoolchildren by faith-based organizations has been so successful —and why it is so subversive, and dishonest.
The post reports on the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s suit against the Kouts (Indiana) Middle/High School, which charges that two youth pastors from the local Heartland Christian Church were being allowed to proselytize to students over lunch hours. Titled “Elevate,” the program ostensibly teaches “leadership” skills and principles, not Christian concepts, according to school district officials. Superintendent Rod Gardin of the East Porter County School Corp. emphatically claims that the program was completely “free from any religious content.”
While this may be technically true, it’s also disingenuous. Christian groups across the country want to gain access to schools not necessarily to religiously indoctrinate students there—which is largely unconstitutional except for specific allowances—but to subliminally lure students to churches on the outside and subconsciously plant seeds of faith in their minds without their conscious realization. I would bet my investment portfolio that the Heartland Christian leaders of Elevate are talking to students not to teach leadership, but to gain the affection and trust of the children who attend, and direct students who do attend their church to witness their faith to fellow Elevate attendees and also encourage them to attend church.An FFRF attorney, a Jan. 26 letter to Gardin, pointed that one of the complainants in the suit reported that their child had been encouraged by other students to attend the lunch-hour “bible class” events and possibly win a “gift card.”
This is roughly he “business model” of the national Good News Club organization, an evangelical Christian outfit that began specifically targeting schools after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (Good News Club v. Milford Central School, 2001) that faith-based groups should have equal after-school access to public school facilities to host various activities. Once inside schools, though, the club’s leaders commence marketing schemes, such as advertising for various Christian events inside and outside school, sweetened with promises of treats, such as tasty snacks or gift cards. Leaders also have student club members promiscuously spread Christian messages and invites to classmates and other students during school hours. It’s a sophisticated, underhanded scheme that seeks the same outcome as if there were no limitations regarding outside proselytizing during school hours.
The bottom line is that these evangelical indoctrination organizations target kids because they know they are vulnerable to suggestion from grown-ups and people who are nice to them and give them treats. And, as in cults, once embedded in an organization they are prone to accepting all its assumptions without question—and, more importantly, find it very difficult to oppose leaders or leave. It’s also the way Christian churches have for millennia perpetuated their faith, by vigorously and relentlessly indoctrinating children.
Another problem is school district ignorance of the law. The principal of the Kouts school apparently believed religious indoctrination was allowable if not mandatory. But the January 26 FFRF letter to the superintendent requests that all district staff, including the principal, undergo training on all students’ right to a secular public school, including learning about the Supreme Court’s prohibition against outside adults providing even voluntary religious instruction during school hours.
So the “leadership” tag is clearly only a dodge for the real purpose of the Indiana youth pastors in their Elevate program. The real “leadership” purpose involved—the ultimate end game—is adults leading kids to Christ. The Elevate program is just a red herring.