The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent cautionary letters to nine Wisconsin public school districts in the greater Milwaukee area being targeted by a Christian evangelical club this coming school year.
The Good News Club — sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship, whose aim is to indoctrinate 5-12 year old children — annually chooses one major city to invade. FFRF warned the school districts that the club has chosen to descend on Milwaukee to convert students.
FFRF sent letters to Milwaukee Public Schools, Kenosha Unified School District, West Allist-West Milwaukee School District, Racine Unified School District, School District of New Berlin, School District of Waukesha, School District of Brown Deer, Port Washington-Saukville School District and Mayville School District. The Good News Club has already announced which schools it plans to set up shop in.
The Good News Club strategically meets in public elementary schools, muddying the distinction between church and state, and has been criticized for masking its mission to proselytize children. It describes itself as "a Bible-centered organization composed of born-again believers whose purpose is to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and to establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living."
The club lures students with snacks, games and prizes, then imposes fundamentalist Christian dogma that focuses on children as sinners who need to be "saved." The club encourages children to proselytize classmates who are nonreligious or follow a different religion. FFRF warns that such behavior breeds intolerance leading to divisiveness, peer pressure and bullying.
"Religion in schools builds walls between children and calls attention to differences that children would otherwise be unaware of," write FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker.
Courts have ruled time and again that public schools may not advance or promote religion. FFRF reminds the districts that they can not legally offer the Good News Club unique access to students, endorse the club through advertisements or assist in the distribution of religious literature.
FFRF's letter outlines ways that the school districts could ensure that they do not become ensnared by the religious group's agenda.
FFRF advised public schools to:
- Ensure that school staff members are not endorsing, serving as teachers or recruiting for the Good News Club
- Place limitations on how outside groups may occupy public school buildings to ensure that proselytizing adults cannot be allowed access to students while classes are in session or as students are exiting classrooms
- Schedule rental times for the group to use the property beginning only after students have safely left for the day
- Prohibit the Good News Club from advertising its program on school property outside of the time it has rented from the property
- Only allow school-sponsored materials to be distributed to students
- Ensure school districts are charging and collecting reasonable compensation for rental of classrooms, as required under the Wisconsin State Constitution.
Such policies protect school districts from allowing outside religionists from turning their educational buildings into religious battlegrounds.
"Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion and to protect the rights of conscience of young and impressionable students," write Barker and Gaylor. "Parents, not the school district or an evangelical Christian club, are responsible for determining the religious or nonreligious upbringing of their children."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Wisconsin-based national state/church watchdog with more than 29,000 members across the country, including more than 1,200 members in Wisconsin and a chapter, the Kenosha Racine Atheists & Freethinkers (KRAFt). Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.