In Pennsylvania middle school

'Christ centered' school activity draws FFRF's eye

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking a public school district to investigate the Bible/Library Club that is a homeroom activity at Bellwood-Antis Middle School in Bellwood, Pa.

A parent who has a child in the school received a flier Aug. 30 listing the club as one of four that students could participate in during the first-semester homeroom activity period. The other three are chorus, band and cartooning.

FFRF, a national state-church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., has nearly 500 members in Pennsylvania.

The description for the Bible/Library Club, supervised by librarian Susan Crawford, says: "Students will assist in the various library activities of organizing and returning books to the shelves and creating bulletin boards. Students may participate in various 'Christ' centered activities such as devotional readings, Bible study, prayer and games."

Rebecca Markert, FFRF staff attorney, wrote a letter Sept. 13 to the district superintendent and principal about constitutional concerns whether a public school is sponsoring a Christian Bible club. "There is no indication [in the flier] that the club is organized and run by students. There is also no indication that the school district does not endorse the devotional readings, Bible study and prayer that occur at club meetings."

Markert noted concerns about the librarian's involvement. Even if the club is truly student-initiated, it's "grossly inappropriate for teachers, other public school employees or outside adults to actively participate in or promote student-run religious organizations."

The Foundation's letter also asks for clarification whether students have the option not to participate. "By the end of the year, you will have participated in all of the homeroom clubs," the flier said.

"How could public school officials fail to recognize that 'Christ-centered' activities during the school day and as part of homeroom are a no-no?" asks Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. "It certainly looks like there's someone there with an agenda."

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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