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Church & State clash in Salem Schools -Do teachers hand out religious fliers?

Church & State clash in Salem Schools  -Do teachers hand out religious fliers?

Update:

After our story about teachers directly distributing pamphlets for  religious after-school clubs, the district’s position on the literature appears to remain open.

On February 13, 2012 Salem Weekly asked the district for complete clarification on this policy.  We asked the following; 1) Does the Salem-Keizer School District have a specific policy about the distribution of Good News and other after-school religious club literature?  2) If so, what is it?  3) If not, are school principals allowed,at their own discretion, to personally hand out religious fliers or instruct willing staff to do it?*

In reply, Mr. Speck wrote us, “No, we don’t have a specific policy on that. Our practice is to let clubs distribute materials to students who are interested in the club. We do not wish to offend anyone by giving their child information about a club that they object to. The principal has the final say as to how student club materials are distributed in their school. The district guidance for principals is to urge them to think about ways in which the students can access the information if they are interested, but not to send materials with every student regardless of their interest in the club. Leaving a stack of materials on a table would work.”

 

The original story starts here:

Last April, Salem parent Lisa Godwin was concerned when her daughter received a pamphlet in school.  Her daughter, who attends Brush College Elementary School, had been passed the pamphlet from her teacher’s hands and the brochure invited her to attend an After School Good News Club held weekly at the school.  The Child Evangelism Fellowship, (CEF) who runs the program, advertised activities including “Bible stories, true life missionary stories,” and the teaching of “Rich Bible Lessons. “

Godwin grew alarmed, on constitutional grounds.

She learned that CEF missionaries gave the fliers to the school office, that the fliers were placed in teacher’s mailboxes by school staff and that they were finally disturbed in classes by teachers.  Her concern was that public school staff handling religious literature on school property, and religious organizations meeting there, showed that her daughter was denied the protections of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof… “

Godwin wrote the school’s principal, Lance Cooley.  She stated that Good News clearly espoused an overt religious agenda to “impressionable kids.”  She wrote, “I have no problem with kids, including mine, being exposed to various religions.”  But she wondered, “why it’s allowed to have public school teachers distribute promotional fliers?”  Principal Cooley, since retired, replied, essentially agreeing with her, saying that he disliked Brush College Elementary “appearing to endorse this program or any other outside program that is not directly associated with the school district.”  He said he had not authorized the distribution of the fliers.  He concluded, “This does not reflect our normal practice.”

Godwin then wrote to Salem-Keizer School District Superintendent, Dr. Sandy Husk, to object to the use of school property for the Good News Club in general.  She quoted an excerpt from the CEF’s literature, “It is our goal to establish a Good News Club in every public elementary school in our district.”  Godwin requested the Club be “denied permission to meet at… any Salem-Keizer public school.”

Dr. Husk refers Godwin back to Principal Cooley, saying she had “sent more information to Lance so that he is better equipped to help you understand the district’s policies.”   When Godwin approached Cooley again, he cited an Oregon law (ORS332.172,) which mandates that public properties are required to give equal rights to “all religious denominations and political parties.”  This meant Good News had the legal right to use school property for their meetings.  But Cooley concluded his letter, “They do not have the right to recruit students for religious activities through schools.  I assure you that we will not advertise their program or distribute their literature.”

When the new year began in September 2011, her daughter again received a Good News flier from her teacher’s hand so Godwin contacted the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF,) an organization working to keep church and state separate.  A FFRF attorney wrote Dr. Husk,  arguing that distribution of fliers on school grounds goes against school’s “constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion.  When a school distributes religious literature… it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message.”

Jay Remy of the Salem-Keizer staff confirms that Dr. Husk received the letter from the FFRF, but that no policies were changed as a result of it.  He suggests that Principal Cooley’s response (that the school should not distribute Good News literature) was the same as the district’s. That flier distribution to Godwin’s daughter only happened again because, in the transition to the replacement principal, “It fell through the cracks” and just wasn’t made clear to the new staff.

Child Evangelism Fellowship district director Betty Franz tells the Salem Weekly that she physically goes to the Salem-Keizer School District Superintendent’s office every fall to get permission for her group to distribute fliers.  She receives written district approval each year allowing missionaries ( subject to individual principal approval,) enough fliers to hand out to each student in the school.  Her document carries the stamp of Dr. Husk’s office.

CEF maintains that the First Amendment protects them, too.  They say the Free Speech Clause forbids government (in this case, schools) from treating speech differently based on its viewpoint (in this case, religious rather than secular.)  They say that Oregon law guarantees them the same fair treatment as any other after-school club who pays for school space.  The law gives an after-school karate club and Good News the right to identical policies.

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33 Comments

  1. For a thorough examination of this growing concern of Good News Club and other religious proselytizers, read the well-written and well-researched book by Katherine Stewart, “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children.”

    Public school is no place for proselytizing; there are more than enough churches for that purpose. Surely there must be room in one of those churches for Bible teaching.

    • It really is worrisome to think that our kids might learn some of the things that Jesus taught, like: love God, love one another, give to the poor, help widows and orphans. We sure don’t want that stuff getting around!

      • Teaching religious beliefs to children should be the responsibility and choice of their parents. If they parents know what this organization is about and choose to send their children to the program fine. If not, as in this case, then it is worrisome. What is this organization hiding? If they have nothing to hide then mail the flyers to the parents and let them decide…..

        • It comes home with your child if you don’t want your child to go it’s up to you what are you scared that your child may want to go.

          • I wonder if you would feel the same if your child came home with a love teaching info. booklet from a pagan organization. Would you be so willing to say the same to yourself that you are saying here? Doubtful.

            It is the discrection of the parents as to whether the child should or should not be exposed to religions. When the child is old enough they will then choose for themselves.

      • Its funny that most evangelical Christians seem to be into a politics of screw the poor and widows and orphans and lets have more wars. Anyhow I don’t really have a problem with a bible club existing in a classroom after school,although I kind of think thats more appropriate for high school than elementary school. I went to one of those, got a lot of free snacks and learned that kind of close minded fundamentalist intolerant Christianity which teaches people to deny their own feelings wasn’t really for me. Whats inappropriate is the teacher handing these flyers out. It implies the teacher is in fact teaching the student you should have these religious beliefs or at least go to bible club. It sends a subtle message that the teacher might approve of you even give you a better grade if you practice the “right” religion. This isn’t about religion vs secularism its about making everyone feel comfortable, a devout Jewish or Muslim or maybe even Catholic kid might not feel welcome in that class. Somehow I don’t think Salem parents would stand for the local Mosque returning in kind. Are we ready for Quran clubs?

  2. It’ll be “good news” indeed, when some religions stop pushing their

    beliefs on people who don’t want them.

    STAY AWAY TILL JUDGEMENT DAY!

    • We talk to you about God now because when judgement day comes – it’s too late – you’re hell bound. It’s really simple, God doesn’t want to see people end up in hell so we try to tell you the truth now. – Read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and you’ll realize we’re right.

      • There is a fine line between promoting God’s word and shoving it down someones throat. And just so you know it is your version of the truth not everyone has the same vision from reading the chapters you quote. I find focusing on less judgement and more on self-improvement is more productive.

  3. No one is forcing these children to attend the Good News Club. It is no different than any other club that meets on school property. Religious groups, no matter what their philosophy, have the same right to the use of the building as any other group.
    If the parent were merely upset about the literature being handed out by the teachers, that is easily remedied. However, her disapproval of the club meeting has no bearing on the legal rights of the club. There are bigger issues in our educational system today than fighting a group’s legal right to hold meetings in a school building.
    The Good New Club will not have an adverse affect on your child’s health or well-being. Again, if you don’t like it don’t participate. it is not “BEING PUSHED” on anyone.

    • Did you read the article, NM? Nobody objected to the Good News Club using the school after hours (as many other secular and religious groups do). Ms. Godwin’s objection was to the teachers handing out the brochures. If you’re OK with this, then I assume that you’re OK with the teachers helping advertise a satanic mass.

      • That’s a rediculous response. As the writer stated above, why have we become so intolerant? If you don’t like it, throw the thing away and move on. Why does it have to be this HUGE issue?

        • so if your 3rd grader came home with a pamphlet teaching the best sexual positions would you have the same opinion?

  4. I happened to speak with an individual who is a member of the GNC and she informed me that they do not regularly ask teachers to distribute the literature. That is the school’s choice.

    • then that choice needs to be taken away!!!

  5. For those who left negative comments, how many of them would make a meal for a mom recovering from surgery, or make sure she gets a ride to pick up her husbands car in Aurora? How many of those people who make sure that kids needs are met. How many would help children learn to treat each other with kindness, no matter how they are treated. How many would teach the children to respect their teachers and obey their parents?
    The children in our club have improved academic and behavioral skills and they must have parental permission to attend. The children give invitations to their friends, we do not ask staff to handle any of our material.

    • I’m an atheist and I’ve done all of those things, Reva, except drive someone to Aurora. What’s your point? Christians don’t have a monopoly on nice and they don’t have an exemption from the establishment clause of the first amendment. Evangelize all you want, but don’t expect public school employees to help you.

    • even if the members of the club are the most generous people on planet earth does not mean we should be using the schools as a propaganda machine for an invisible man in the sky.

  6. Schools have always been the place for evangelism. It is call freedom of speech. Get over it.

    Our Christian founding fathers gave us the first amendment specifically to protect religoius believers from government interference including censorship.

    This is nothing new. The American public schools were founded to teach common people to read the Bible for themselves. And the Good News Clubs are not new. Good News Clubs started in 1921!

    Religous speech cannot be singled out for special censorship. The US Constitution has spoken on this matter with the first amendment and now we people of faith may feely speak too.

    • Religious speech can be, and routinely is, singled out for censorship when a government-funded teacher is the one making the speech, and the teacher’s class is the listeners. The U.S. Constitution has spoken on THIS matter with the first amendment also, and every U.S. Supreme Court decision made on this issue in the last half-century agrees. It’s called the Establishment Clause. Get over it.

    • Founding fathers were mostly Deists, for your information.

      • …and their book of choice was the Bible as the reader for classes. Not the Jefferson Bible, the Bible. Congress had regular prayer services in their meetings as well as the Bible as reference. The establishment clause should not be twisted. It was based on the real threat that one denomination, such as the Church of England (with political ties), and the Baptists at that time, would gain such influence in congress that individual states rights with regard to religious freedoms would be usurped. It has nothing to do with schools, every State has the right to have discussions like we are having right now. No ones rights are being infringed upon by any prayer or bible club held after school as they are voluntary participation. It is also highly likely that a club offered for Satanic expression would be allowed but not live long… there is no real demand for it by most parents. Kids who hear the good news and choose to follow it end up being a blessing to unbelieving parents who have been embittered or to parents who have a strong faith such as the religion of atheism. Islamic clubs are also found in some schools as well as Jewish ones by the way. There are also Chess clubs and athletics – a lot of great choices for kids, if the community steps up to volunteer. I am very grateful for the volunteers who help in our schools with reading programs, vocatonal mentoriing and moral support of our teachers – the same ones who operate these clubs and activities such as CEF are the ones doing this so I think those who are critical should think twice… or shut up and volunteer more. A lot of children have nothing waiting for them at home and some don’t even have a home to go back to. School is their life – thank you CEF for adding fulfillment to their lives and helping to break the chain that religious people such as the atheists bind them with. Jesus came to destroy religion and bring freedom.

  7. It is OUTRAGEOUS that kids are getting this at school. I bet if it were agnostic, atheist, Islamic or Jewish lit, there would be an outrage by parents that there is not now. Schools should be commercial free and religion free. And, Superintendent Husk, stop passing the buck.

  8. Erik, I would never want to imply that Christians have a monopoly on being kind, I have many friends who are Atheists and are some of the kindest people I know. I’m sorry if my wording made it sound like we have a corner on the market of kindness.
    At our club we do not expect any help from the public school system. We want to have access, just like any other club, to meet on school property. Our club meets after school and the children hand out their own invitations. The children who attend club must have signed parental permission slips before we allow them to come.

  9. You bible thumpers are all on a similar mission, to convert as many people as possible to your way of thinking. Why not target impressionably children who are too ignorant to question your nonsense? Now, as Mika suggested, try to imagine different religious groups doing the same thing that you’re doing? Would you want for Muslim groups targetting your children for conversion? Would you like for Aithiest to hand your children newsletters saying there is no god? Try to see the big picture here and understand that it’s about much more than just one group of people with good intentions.

  10. “Good News” for those of us who want to keep the “Good News Club” from using public school resources to help spread the club’s religious beliefs …

    As a result of the article in Salem Weekly, the S-K School District will no longer allow staff or teachers to hand out materials from religious organizations. Two different district administrators, including Sandy Husk, called me during the past week to say the policy has now been changed. The clubs can still meet after hours on school property, but the previous practice of the GNC dropping off hundreds of fliers that are placed in teachers’ mailboxes (and then distributed to students) is no longer allowed.

    Thank you, school administration, for making this important change in policy. Our children deserve to get their religious education at home or in their family’s place of worship — not in public schools!

  11. It’s interesting that the use of the phrase “the club’s religious beliefs” seems to carry such an ominous connotation. “The Club” teaches directly from the Bible and is a non-denominational organization. Many church’s teachings come from the bible so we, in fact, represent many area churches working together for the good of the community. We teach against discrimination of any kind, we teach that you should respect and care for everyone, no matter how they treat you, don’t lie, don’t take things that don’t belong to you, don’t cheat, listen to your teachers and parents.
    I have seen students who have gone from unruly children, to kinder more considerate human beings. This seems like a win, win situation to me but that’s just my observation.

  12. Bible: This word for a holy book came from Byblos, the city of the Great Mother, the oldest continuously occupied temple in the world. The Goddess…called Astarte,Baalat, Hathor, etc. patronized learning and her priestesses collected a library of papyrus scrolls. Greeks called any papyrus ,byblos, which came to mean any holy book. Hence the “Bible.” Much in the bible is re-working of ancient myths, especially of the former Semitic matriarchy. In several books of the bible, the word translated as “God” is really a feminine plural,”Goddesses.” The bible-books have been collected slowly over time rewritten and mis-written, revised and worked over by human beings, not “God.” Traditionally, the church forbade not only research but even reading of the bible by layman. Throughout the Middle Ages, possession of the bible written in the vernacular was a crime punished by burning at the stake. Please research how bible was written.

  13. So, Reva, I’m going to start an after school club and have teachers hand out my brochures to the kids in their classrooms too. After all, CEF is right, 4-14 is the age to convert them. My club would also teach the same values directly from a holy book, the Quran, since all Judeo-Christian-Islamic teachings have the same basic values. So what’s wrong with that? Of course it wouldn’t be a problem if the girls decided that it would be cool to start wearing hijab, now would it?

    Unless you’re willing to give equal access to everyone – including Jews, Catholics, Atheists, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, Mormons, Satanists, etc……. – then you give access to no one. For children to be receiving specific religious materials from the primary authority figure they interact with outside the home is wrong. It’s tantamount to an endorsement of that faith. Why is this so difficult to figure out? Religious teaching is to be done at home.

  14. I believe citizen blue, that the school does give access to all groups regardless of race, color or previous condition of said citizen or his ancestors. I have no problem with that at all…go start your group. We need more tolerance and less persecution.

  15. We all worry about gun violence in our community and in schools….perhaps we should be teaching thou shalt not kill!
    You worry about your spouse cheating on you, AIDS,HIV, teen pregnancy….. thou shalt not commit adultry.
    Shoplifting, car jacking, armed robbery is a huge social problem…. though shalt not steal.
    Kids don’t care what you say??…. Thou shalt obey/love thy father and mother.
    If you were to really look, all of the social ills were addressed in the Bible.

    Volunteers teach these clubs. Offer to help or just sit in with your kids. Kids crave adult attention and guidance. Too many parents don’t have or make the time to teach their kids basic principles of life and the schools now can’t because it does force them to cross lines. The US was founded on religious freedom and principles. Don’t like it…. then try China.

    • If you are as ignorant as your post would lead me to believe then why don’t you go “Try China”. Religious freedoms don’t work like that. It doesn’t mean you (a christian) are free to exercise your right anytime and place you feel like it without regard to the beliefs of others. Just because a person does not align themselves to a religion does not mean that they don’t have a system of beliefs.

  16. I hate to say it but I don’t think this is an isolated instance. All of the school hosted/sponsored clubs and events at my daughters school’s are through Christian organizations or may as well be. One such instance is Young Rembrandt’s art classes. We signed our daughter up and then I started doing some checking on the people who own/operate the local branch and they are youth pastors who use it as a means to recruit kids to their church. Most of the instances I have encountered are similar, subtle enough that there is no direct link to the school.

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