Our Public Schools Their Mission Field

source:? Awaypoint, Feb 4, 2011

?The Gospel has been taught freely in public schools all over the
world for some time.? Now children in the U.S. have that opportunity,
too!? ? from the Child Evangelism Fellowship website

A fundamentalist Christian organization, Child Evangelism
Fellowship, has recently ramped up their presence on public grade school
campuses.? They are emboldened by a supreme court decision that said,
to paraphrase:? if schools lease facilities to anyone they can?t exclude
religious groups like CEF.? Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority
opinion, asserted that the establishment clause was not at issue,
because CEF activities were clearly distinguished from school sponsored
activities.? But are they?? Can children in first grade really tell the
difference? Or has CEF crossed a line?? In this interview, a Seattle
parent, John Lederer, talks about what happened at his daughter?s
school.

Why don?t you start by telling us what Good News Clubs are.
It?s easiest if I simply quote from their website:? ?Good News Club? is a ministry of Child Evangelism Fellowship?
in which trained teachers meet with groups of children in schools,
homes, community centers, churches,?apartment complexes, just about
anywhere the children can easily and safely meet. Each week the teacher
presents an exciting Bible lesson using colorful materials from CEF Press?.
This action-packed time also includes songs, Scripture memory, a
missions story and review games or other activities focused on the
lesson?s theme.?

What is their goal?
Child evangelism 24/7?Their
mission speaks for itself: ?CEF is a Bible-centered, worldwide
organization composed of born-again believers whose purpose is to
evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ,
disciple them in the Word of God and establish them in a Bible-believing
church for Christian living.?. . . ??As with all CEF ministries, the purpose of Good News Club
is to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus
Christ and establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local
church for Christian living.?. . . ?Each club includes a clear
presentation of the Gospel and an opportunity for children to trust
Jesus as Saviour.?

These folks see the public elementary schools as a great vast
recruiting ground.? Currently they have 140 Good News Clubs in
Washington State, 100 in public elementary schools.? Their goal is to
double that.? They say currently one out of ten children currently has
access to Good news club; they are shooting for one in five.? They claim
to have 3400 of these Good News Clubs in public elementary schools all
around the country.? Some fundamentalist parents may like having their
child receive religious instruction after school, but, frankly, that is
not the mission of the organization.

Yikes.? So what exactly do they do to ?evangelize and disciple? children?
If you ask, they won?t share the curriculum or lesson plans.? The
materials are tightly held, so parents don?t have a good idea of what
this is.? They had posted that parents are welcome, so we sat in on two
of their sessions and saw some stuff that was not actually kosher.? Then
they told us that we were no longer welcome.

They teach a very fairy tale version of the Christian faith.? For
example, they give the kids little puzzle toys that are fun to play with
but really it is a wordless tract.? A black heart shows the original
sin in each child, gold is heaven, a red cross represents the blood of
Christ, a white heart represents the pure child who has found
salvation.? ?My kid played with it for 20 minutes.? I didn?t tell her
what it is supposed to represent. ?The idea is that the kids bring it to
school and other kids ask about it.

These kids are easy to manipulate.? Cake, cookies, balloons are very
attractive to them.? They use enticements like these to get children to
say to their parents, ?Can I go?? Children can?t tell the difference
between good news club and school sponsored activities like chess club.

I take it you are not a fan of religion.
On the contrary.? We are an interfaith family, and we regularly attend
Trinity United Methodist Church with our children.? But as parents, we
want to be the ones who teach our children about spiritual matters. I
resent that there is an organization trying to go around me and recruit
my child through her peers in her school to forms of belief that we do
not share.? They are interfering with what that first spiritual learning
is going to be, which I believe should be between a parent and child.

How did you get caught up with this issue?
In November or December of 2008, my daughter was in 1st
grade.? I was on the playground volunteering, and another parent said,
?Did you know that there was this evangelical group running a program
out of the school??? They had sent a flyer home by kid mail.? I was
surprised.? I thought it was illegal.? Why were they showing up in my
child?s school?? When I read their mission statement and values and
principles it was clear that this was a very theologically conservative,
right wing and evangelical form of Christian faith.? My initial concern
wasn?t that they existed but that they had targeted my child?s school
and? my child is only 6 years old.? They are targeting very very young
children.

But they are renting the space, right?? Isn?t that what the supreme court approved??
Well, that?s another story.? In Seattle, all of this is being subsidized
by us the tax payers because they get the space for free. Two policies
apply:? Religious groups can rent facilities but need to pay the rates
prescribed. Religious activities can?t be held during school hours
except in areas that have been leased. But ?Community use by
certain groups that are engaged in youth character building youth
sports, YMCA,? . . . boys and girls club are able to use school
facilities after hours at no charge.? So in their application they
called it ?building character in children with biblical principles.??
Initially it was classified as a religious organization.? Then it was
reclassified.? They claimed to be child character building and the
district never asked to see the curriculum.? The district made their
decision on the basis of not wanting to be sued.? This has happened
repeatedly across the country.? The CEF website says explicitly that
they are about religious instruction, which means that providing space
for free, subsidizing their facilities costs, is a tacit endorsement of
their teachings.

How can this Not ?be an issue of church state boundaries?
There is an actual supreme court decision that made this
possible in 2001.? In a nutshell, prior to 2001 a religious organization
couldn?t rent space at a public school and provide religious
education.? That was seen to be in violation of the establishment clause
of the constitution.? In 2001, a decision was written by Clarence
Thomas in a case known as Good News Club vs. Milford School District.?
It was a six to threedecision, but there were five separate opinions
among the nine judges.? They couldn?t agree about how to justify their
decisions.? The basic finding was that if a school district makes its
facilities available to community organization they can?t discriminate.?
It doesn?t raise an establishment clause issue because there was no way
that any of the students, staff or parents could perceive that it was
endorsed by the school.? It was held after school, no teachers involved,
no staff involved, no way that anyone could think it was a school or
PTA activity.? For that reason the establishment clause was irrelevant.?
Since the decision that part of his reasoning has been ignored by the
actions of CEF.

Are they in violation of the Supreme Court decision and the establishment clause?
Child Evangelism Fellowship recruitingCEF
has systematically violated all of the conditions of the supreme court
decision.? They clearly are not about character education they are about
reaching children who are unchurched and bringing them into their
belief system.? In this mission, they try to leverage the legitimacy of
the school setting. By putting fliers in kids? back packs they are
clearly using the school?s communication channels.? By trying to put an
Ad in the PTA auction book at our school they tried to use the other
vehicles of the school to legitimize what they are doing and to
integrate it with the school?s activities.?

But the third and most egregious example of overstepping at Loyal
Heights was when the leader of the Good News Club began volunteering in a
kindergarten classroom four days per week.? This person, who didn?t
have a child in the school, who was leading the Good News Club on
Fridays was present in the kindergarten classroom, presumably so she
could identify students who she might be able to recruit and build
relationships with them.? A kindergartener can?t tell the difference
between a teacher and a volunteer.? Both are authority figures who they
implicitly trust.? So, from the perspective of the students it was a
clear violation of the principle that it needs to be separate.? There
should be no chance of confusion about whether it is part of a school.

What can school districts do about this?
One thing the school could do is insist that all parents have full
access to the curriculum.? Child Evangelism Fellowship claims that no
child ever participates without a written permission from their
parents.? This was cited in the 2001 decision:? it?s all voluntary. But
there is no school district in the country that is actually enforcing
that, and the way that materials are safeguarded means that there is no
way for parents actually to give informed consent.? Here?s what I would
recommend at the district level:

-??????? Policies prohibiting participation by teachers, volunteers
and staff in the CEF activity at the same school where they work.?

-??????? The enforcement of policies that prohibit school staff and
volunteers, when on the job, from speaking or acting in a manner that
can be easily perceived as promoting or endorsing religious instruction
or practice.

-??????? Policies that prohibit CEF from using school and PTA
communication vehicles to promote their activity, or from sponsoring
school activities.

-??????? Enforcement of student anti-harassment policies that protect students from aggressive proselytizing.

-??????? Assurances that the CEF, as a religious organization, will
pay for the use of the space they occupy, and that Good News Club
meetings occur well after the end of the school day.

-??????? Assurances that interested parents will have access to the
CEF curriculum for inspection and that their meetings will be open to
all students and parents.

What can parents do?
Here are the recommendations we came up with out of the Loyal Heights experience.

  • Review the CEF curriculum.? This allows parents who may be thinking
    of participating in the CEF?s activity to make an informed decision
    about whether the program comprises the initial religious and moral
    indoctrination they want for their children.
  • Review and understand those school district policies and procedures
    that can help ensure that CEF?s religious activity are separated from
    the school administration, operations, and instructional program.? If
    necessary, push for revision of those policies and procedures.
  • Be watchful and ensure that students are not subjected to pressure
    or harassment with regard to their religious beliefs and practices while
    at school.? Report incidents to the school administration.
  • Try to convince other parents that while CEF may have a legal right
    to rent space at a public elementary school, their activity is best
    suited for a neighborhood church or similar location.? Offer to assist
    CEF in moving their activity to a nearby location.
  • Speak up and make your concerns known to other parents, school staff, and CEF leadership.

Has pushing back worked for you and the parents at Loyal Heights?
Well, at my daughter?s school they now meet in a portable.? They no
longer advertise on campus.? They don?t give out t-shirts for kids to
wear to recruit other kids.? I see this as a clear effect from the
parents getting organized.? They may now actually be serving families
who share their beliefs.? But I fear that it?s a temporary victory.?
They are going to wait us out.? They will once again want to put up
their balloons, their signs, and do all of the things they aren?t
allowed to do.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington.? She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light, (Revised ed of The Dark Side) and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.? Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

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