‘Christians Reaching Every Where’ — except Fayetteville public schools

The Freedom From Religion Foundation responded to several serious state/church concerns which had occurred at Fayetteville County Schools (Fayetteville, WV), including: The district had allowed a ministry run by a group of local pastors to operate during school hours the non-curricular group, CREW (Christians Reaching Every Where), offer special food sales to student CREW members and distribute bibles and other religious literature to students. It was also the Foundation’s impression that the school district had coordinated with the ministry to take CREW students on a field trip, chaperoned by a mixture of public school employees and ministers from local churches. Permission slips were sent home with all students to attend the event. CREW’s mission is “to worship and honor the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Foundation Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert addressed these concerns in a letter to the district (June 17, 2010): “Under the Equal Access Act, supervision and participation by local pastors, who are not affiliated with the school, of a student group is illegal.” The letter pointed out, “Courts uniformly have held the distribution of bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited. . . . In allowing CREW pastors to distribute bibles to impressionable young students — who courts have also noted will feel immense social pressure to accept the bible — Fayette County Schools is placing its ‘stamp of approval’ on the religious messages contained in the bible. This is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, and specifically Christianity, by a public school.” The letter noted that further endorsement of Christianity was apparent when the high school offered pizza and soda for sale during cafeteria hours exclusively to CREW students. Regarding the field trip, Markert wrote: “It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that a public school may not advance, prefer or promote religion. . . . A public school cannot authorize, organize or otherwise coordinate a year-end activity for a Christian ministry.”

The district responded promptly with a letter [July 22, 2010] assuring the following changes to school policy/operations: “Area ministers shall not oversee nor direct any club meetings . . . CREW shall not have any direct connection with or oversight by the Fayetteville Ministerial Association. No employees of Fayette County Schools will lead any form of religious activity during CREW meetings. CREW has not been given and will not be given any more or less access to the facilities and services of Fayette County Schools than any other student group. CREW is not permitted to serve or offer pizza or other food incentives in connection with its meetings where the same would violate either the Equal Access Act or the relevant student nutritional guidelines. No Bibles are to be distributed by any organization on the campus of Fayetteville High School. . . . No religious officials from the community will be permitted to initiate or oversee the organization of any CREW activities.” — Bonnie Gutsch

Freedom From Religion Foundation