AUTISTIC CHILD FRIGHTENED WITH THREATS OF HELL, 'FIREBALLS'

FFRF lodges complaint over proselytizing bus driver

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the Juniata County School District (Pa.) yesterday to strongly protest the conduct of a proselytizing bus driver.

A parent reported to FFRF that a bus driver in the Mifflintown, Pa. school district targeted her 5-year-old autistic child for religious indoctrination. The driver reportedly told the child that if she doesn't believe in God, she will go to hell, describing hell as a place where "fireballs" will be shot at her. She also told the child that her parents needed to ask Jesus's forgiveness or they would go to hell, and that it was "bad" that her parents did not have a bible for her.

Indoctrinating any 5-year-old child, but particularly one with a known disability, is "predatory and an outrageous abuse of her position," charged FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell in the Dec. 14 letter. "The Supreme Court has stressed the importance of protecting students from religious promotion by public school districts."

The parent reported the matter to the district directly, and was told by the transportation director that the driver would be immediately reassigned to another bus while the district investigated. "We commend the district for responding promptly," wrote Cavell. "However, we write to underscore the seriousness of this violation and to seek more specific assurances of the district's action."

Cavell noted that the driver's actions "have caused serious trauma for this young student," who was uniquely vulnerable because "she is more likely than other children to take these threats literally and fixate on them given the fear they've caused." This conduct would be illegal regardless of the child targeted, however, Cavell pointed out.

The letter requests "immediate corrective action," including a reprimand or dismissal of the driver. The proselytizing is "a severe betrayal of parental trust that warrants a formal apology from the district," Cavell concluded.

FFRF is a nonprofit state/church watchdog with 23,000 members nationwide, including more than 700 members and two chapters in Pennsylvania.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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