Florida school board admits Christian fundraiser was wrong

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter (June 28, 2010) to the superintendent of Hillsborough County School District (Tampa, Fla.) over “grave federal and state constitutional concerns” occurring at its Bartels Middle School. The school distributed fliers to students soliciting contributions to a school in Namibia, but failed to mention that it is a Christian academy. The flier was further misleading because it failed to include a disclaimer distancing Bartels Middle School from official sponsorship or endorsement of the Christian school, and it failed to explicitly name the actual sponsor of the flier: the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The flier said that checks made out to Bartels Middle School would be accepted. In an attempt to remedy the violation after complaints, the school redistributed the flier, still without a disclaimer, asking for donations to a Christian school. “The new flier did nothing to disassociate the school from the religious organization, but rather seemed to further amplify the school’s endorsement of the Christian academy,” wrote Rebecca Markert, FFRF staff attorney.

Markert pointed out how the school’s involvement in soliciting funds for a Christian school (and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes) violates the Establishment Clause and the Florida Constitution. “By promoting this fundraiser as a ‘school-wide event,’ asking ‘EVERY student and family’ to participate, and involving teachers and staff to collect donations, Bartels Middle School lent its support and aid to a sectarian institution.” The district must “refrain from sponsoring, promoting, or endorsing fundraisers or other profitable events for religious organizations in the future,” the letter stated. An attorney for the district responded Oct. 11, 2010: “The events which occurred at Bartels Middle School violated several School Board policies, including the prohibition of student fundraising without the express approval of the Superintendent. . . . The appeal should not have been conducted through the school because of the just-cited policy. . . . What occurred at Bartels School was neither sanctioned by the School Board nor allowed by its policies.” — Bonnie Gutsch

Freedom From Religion Foundation