The law is very clear when it comes to school clubs: religious clubs can meet, but the faculty sponsor of the club cannot evangelize within them (just as an atheist teacher couldn’t tell a religious student they were wrong) and most certainly cannot use class time to preach. A teacher at a Texas middle school broke these rules and, thanks to the work of the FFRF, has been barred from doing so:
Hawkins Middle School in Hawkins, Texas, will no longer permit a teacher to organize and promote a “Feed and Seed” club. A concerned parent contacted FFRF, reporting that a teacher ran the club during lunch period. The teacher read from the bible and invited local religious leaders to speak to students. Parents were not informed by the school that their children were participating in this religious club. Additionally, the teacher repeatedly read religious materials on Good Friday during instructional classtime.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter to the district on June 4, explaining that the heavy involvement of faculty in a religious club is impermissible and illegal. Grover also noted why religious statements in the classroom are unconstitutional:
“Allowing a public school teacher to read religiously themed materials with no pedagogical purpose, such as ‘The Tale of Three Trees,’ to a sixth-grade class on Good Friday in an attempt to proselytize the teacher’s personal religious views shows the District’s endorsement of religion.”
On Aug. 5, the superintendent replied that regulations and practices regarding extracurricular and co-curricular clubs were reviewed, as well as instructional material in the classroom.
The district stated: “We are working to make certain that the Hawkins ISD complies with all applicable laws, including the First Amendment’s prohibition concerning the endorsement of religion.” The school noted that if the Feed and Seed club returns as a strictly student-led club, the teacher involved in the abuses will not be approved as faculty supervisor.
And if the club returns without the legal violations, that’s cool. I have no issue with religious clubs meeting at schools. I do take issue when the teachers in charge of them feel like they can skirt the regulations in place to make sure government officials aren’t endorsing a particular religion or using their position at the school to evangelize rather than to teach.