What nonreligious students and parents are up against is illustrated by what happened at a public school in Tampa, Fla.
Pamela Hatley and her husband are Foundation members. Their son, Joe, in his first year of middle school, wore a shirt to school one day with a Florida Atheists logo on the back. The front said, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”
“He received some harassment from other kids, which is not surprising, but what was surprising is that he was actually called to the principal’s office,” Hatley said. “The strange thing was that the office personnel ignored him when he came in, and just let him sit there and never called him in to see the principal. He had no idea what he was in trouble for. When I called the office later to check this out, I was told that he was called in because a teacher had reported some students were ‘offended’ by his shirt. Of course, I explained that if the school allowed students to wear articles expressing religious beliefs (which it does), then it must allow my son to wear this shirt expressing his beliefs. Nothing more was said about it.”
Then, in early December, Joe brought home a flier soliciting donations for the Talitha Kumi Academy in Namibia, Africa. Hatley investigated and found out her son’s teacher also taught in the summer at the African school, which is actually named Talitha Kumi Christian School. “My son’s public school was soliciting donations from students and their parents, without disclosing that the cause is a religious one,” said Hatley, who wrote a letter of objection to school officials and later talked on the phone to the principal.
The school agreed to distribute new “remedial” fliers that said donations were going to a Christian school and also to make an announcement to students. “My son said that same day his teacher read to the class the information on the new flier and informed the class that because one person complained, the announcement was required to notify people they could receive their money back if this humanitarian effort offended them,” Hatley said. “Although the teacher did not name the complainant, my son knew she was talking about me. And the students’ reaction to news of this awful person who would complain about such humanitarian efforts really made my son feel badly.”
The new flier claimed the solicitation was a “school wide humanitarian outreach project,” when in reality it was sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The flier ended with, “If for any reason, you object to this humanitarian outreach project and wish to have your donation returned, please contact the office.”
Hatley wrote the school again. “The Florida Constitution prohibits any public revenues being used to support a religious cause.
Moreover, to reprint the fliers, redistribute them and use the school’s intercom and television systems to make the disclosure, simply uses additional public resources for this solicitation effort, and exacerbates the problem. In addition, you explained to me that this solicitation is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ annual fundraiser. However, the flier states that funds are being raised to support the Christian school, not the FCA.”
Hatley also suggested to the principal that the school might not be so keen to push this “humanitarian effort” if the beneficiary were the “Talitha Kumi Muslim Academy” or some other non-Christian religious school. And she asked, what if it were a fundraiser at a public school to benefit a local Christian school, not one in Africa? “I believe the principal could see the problem with that,” Hatley said.
“I cannot see turning a blind eye while this school takes advantage of its students in this way. If we ignore the problem, these religious organizations will continue to run their tentacles through public institutions in search of opportunities to get more public money.”