Religious handouts in Wash. School nixed (June 12, 2014)

Michael T. Simmons Elementary School in Tumwater, Wash., will no longer allow religious materials to be handed out.

Children were pulled out of class to attend a mandatory school assembly led by former NFL player Shawn Harper, who at the conclusion handed out cards to students with his picture on the front, and a promotion of Jesus on the back. The card read:

“I grew up in a religious home, but I did not know God. I suffered a potential career ending injury which put me out of the NFL for one year. It was during that year, when I thought I had lost everything, that I discovered the difference between religion and a relationship with Jesus. He found me, and I have been playing on His Team ever since. I was able to come back and finish my career in the NFL!”

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter on June 5 explaining why the school district needs to remedy this matter:

“Regardless of the motives of the presenters or those who invited them, allowing Mr. Harper access to your student body to hand out his cards gives the appearance that Tumwater School District endorses the card’s message.”

The district responded promptly, “The card about which you have stated concern, which looked like a traditional sports card, was made available to students by the speaker as the students were leaving the assembly hall. Not all students received a card, but many did. The card was not approved in advance by the principal. The principal has shared with me that in the future she will make sure to pre-approve any materials that are to be handed out to students in such a context.”

The district defended the assembly itself as being strictly on bullying without religious content, but said the incident would be discussed at an August training of administrators.

Freedom From Religion Foundation