A Texas school district must immediately revoke a large subsidy for a sectarian religious summer camp, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is demanding.
The Tyler Independent School District has approved $500,000 in partnership with a group called The Mentoring Alliance, a “Christ-centered, multiethnic ministry serving children and families in East Texas,” to send students to a local Christian summer camp each summer. The camp, which has “the gospel at the heart of each day at camp," includes bible study and many religious lessons led by Christians who are “godly, dedicated people passionate about sharing the love of Christ with children and families.” The Mentoring Alliance “exists to mobilize godly people into the lives of kids and families, to provide tangible help and eternal hope.” Its number one priority outcome is “Vibrant Faith,” and its first three core values listed on its website are:
“Christ centered: We point people to Jesus Christ. Biblically grounded: We are shaped and guided by the Truth. Grace based: We treat people the way God treats us.”
FFRF was contacted by a concerned district community member about the sectarian summer camp program.
“It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line points out in a letter to Tyler Independent School District Superintendent Marty Crawford. “Moreover, ‘the preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and a choice committed to the private sphere,’” to quote the U.S. Supreme Court.
Furthermore, FFRF adds, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from funding religious worship. Providing funding to an explicitly Christian summer camp constitutes government endorsement of religion. The First Amendment prohibits “sponsorship, financial support and active involvement of the sovereign in religious activity,” to again quote the Supreme Court. This means that the district may not use public money to facilitate religious exercise, proselytization or instruction.
As importantly, promoting and funding attendance for students to a camp with an evangelical Christian purpose will ostracize those students and families who identify as nonreligious or practice a minority religion. Currently, 30 percent of the country is non-Christian, with 24 percent having no religious affiliation whatsoever; among millennials, the “unaffiliated” figure jumps to 38 percent. There is little doubt that non-Christian and nonreligious children are among the students in the Tyler Independent School District — and their freedom of conscience must be respected, FFRF insists.
Due to all these reasons, FFRF is asking the district to immediately cease funding attendance at a Christian summer camp and ensure that it is not promoting religious activities to students and that it is being inclusive of all its students, regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs.
“The taxpayer money of good, hardworking Texans can’t be used to subsidize the religious beliefsof some,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The varying beliefs and nonbelief of all Tyler residents should be respected — along with the Constitution.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 36,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 1,500 members and a chapter in Texas. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.