The Freedom From Religion Foundation has persuaded a Kansas school district to discontinue fundraising for a proselytizing Christian organization.
A concerned staff member conveyed to the state/church watchdog that Liberty Middle School in Pratt, Kan., was preparing to participate in “Operation Christmas Child,” a charity project sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse, which describes the program as a “shoebox ministry.” Samaritan’s Purse is a pervasively sectarian religious organization headed by zealous evangelist Franklin Graham, FFRF informed the school district. According to Samaritan’s Purse’s website, the organization does its “utmost to follow Christ’s command by going to the aid of the world’s poor, sick, and suffering.” The website also mentions that the purpose of the shoe boxes is to attract children in the developing world to convert to Christianity.
“Organizing a donation drive that for all intents and purposes employs school staff and resources to convert people to Christianity violates basic constitutional principles,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Pratt USD 382 Superintendent Tony Helfrich. “It is inappropriate for public school teachers to use their authority to encourage students to donate to religious groups.”
While honoring the charitable intent, FFRF noted there are many secular charities to support that do not have a religious mission and proselytizing agenda. It requested that the school district take immediate action to ensure that all of its staff members remain neutral toward religion while acting in their official capacity, especially when their actions alienate non-Christian students, teachers and parents whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted, including the 38 percent of Americans born after 1987 who aren’t religious.
FFRF’s complaint proved to be a teachable moment for the school district.
“Regarding our students’ participation in ‘Operation Christmas Child,’ we are discontinuing that effort upon learning that its mission is more sectarian in nature than we realized,” the superintendent recently responded.
FFRF is pleased that it was able to educate the school district about the true purpose of Samaritan’s Purse — and that the district officials were quick to see the light.
“A lot of these groups rely on school authorities being ignorant about their mission,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We appreciate how swiftly the district discontinued the fundraising after our alert.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members across the country, including members in Kansas. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.