Michigan School Mixes, Nixes Church and State (April 2001)

A complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation has halted an entanglement between a Methodist church and the public school district in Clio, Michigan.

The city had agreed to donate $500 toward a “leadership seminar” conducted at the New Covenant Free Methodist Church being simulcast to more than 1,200 churches across the nation on March 24.

A few days before the seminar was to take place, the church wrote Clio and other government sponsors to say it was no longer expecting them to honor their pledges. The letter was sent as a result of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s complaint, which was publicized in Clio, Flint and by media throughout Michigan.

Featured at the seminar was Weslyn-affiliated pastor, John C. Maxwell, founder of Atlanta-based INJOY. The president of INJOY told the Clio Messenger (March 18):

“We feel privileged to be the first to tap into its effectiveness in the Christian community to train more than 100,000 business leaders through the local church.”

According to INJOY’s website, “From the very start, our purpose was to help churches and church leaders to realize their full potential.”

In her March 7 letter of complaint, Freethought Today editor Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote Mayor Thomas Yost: “While this church is free to privately advertise its seminar and invite whomever it wishes to attend, the city is not at liberty to expend public money for a seminar that is being set up for a national simulcast for churches.”

She cited Art. I, Sect. 4 of the Michigan Constitution forbidding government contributions or support “of any place of religious worship,” or drawing money from the treasury “for the benefit of any religious sect or society.”

The Clio Messenger later reported that the Clio Chamber of Commerce, the Vienna township, and the Clio Board of Education had also each pledged $500. The charge to attend the seminar was $40.

In addition, the Foundation is pursuing two First Amendment violations in the Clio Area Schools:
The district is setting up a program pairing a minister from the Clio Ministerial Association with each district school. Pastor Herb Smith of New Hope Wesleyan Church was quoted in the Clio Messenger (Feb. 25), saying: “If kids solicit prayer, we’re there.”

Every minister is Christian. The program is patterned after one in the Linden Schools in which one minister “often came at lunchtime and passed out suckers” and “was very popular,” according to a report in the “School Bell,” the Clio school’s newsletter.

In her letter of complaint to Supt. Fay Latture, Gaylor wrote:

“To give the Ministerial Association access to students is tantamount to the school system saying, ‘Come, proselytize our captive audience of students.'”
The Clio Area Schools also announced it is considering an entanglement with the New Covenant Free Methodist Church, which has an FM license, to let it broadcast school games and possibly work with broadcast classes at the church radio station.

The Foundation pointed out it recently put a stop to a similar violation in a public school working with a church radio station in the Northwest, calling the arrangement illegal because it appears to unite the radio station’s Christian message and the public schools.

“It is impossible to avoid endorsement and entanglement issues. Promotions and announcements of school events and times would be sandwiched in between Christian messages, and the whole process would be permeated with religion.”

An attorney retained on behalf of the school district has contacted the Foundation to say he is researching the Foundation’s complaint, which has received statewide news coverage.

You can write the Clio Area Schools about this violation:
Supt. Fay Latture
Administration Bldg
430 N Mill St.
Clio MI 48420

Freedom From Religion Foundation