The Freedom From Religion Foundation is closely examining an Indiana school district’s financing of church-run programs.
A concerned area resident has informed the state/church watchdog that among the partners the South Bend Community School Corporation Board of School Trustees has approved for summer programs are two religious groups, Kingdom of Life Christian Cathedral and Transformation Ministries. The board is providing $20,040 to Kingdom of Life to run a summer Youth Academy and $7,000 to Transformation Ministries to offer a basketball camp and several field trips.
Kingdom of Life Christian Cathedral is a church that is “dedicated to promoting the Kingdom of God and the rule and reign of God in the hearts of His people.” Transformation Ministries is a Christian ministry that “seek[s] to transform the hearts and minds of youth and their families while connecting others to the city in a positive way.”
It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion, FFRF reminds the school district.
“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from funding religious worship,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to School Board President John Anella. “South Bend Community School Corporation Board of School Trustees may not direct federal funding or other financial benefits to facilitate students attending a summer program where they will engage in religious worship or activities.”
Plus, promoting and funding attendance for students to summer camps that overtly Christian entities are operating ostracizes those students and families who identify as nonreligious or practice a minority religion, FFRF points out. As much as 30 percent of the country is non-Christian, with 24 percent having no religious affiliation whatsoever; among young people, the “unaffiliated” figure jumps to 38 percent.There is little doubt that non-Christian and nonreligious children are among the students in South Bend Community School Corporation, and their freedom of conscience must be respected, FFRF emphasizes.
The fact that Kingdom of Life Christian Cathedral and Transformation Ministries are Christian ministries that desire to spread their religious beliefs raises serious concerns about whether these funds will directly support religious activities and proselytizing. This is why FFRF is asking South Bend Community School Corporation to immediately cease funding attendance for these programs unless it can determine that these programs will not include religious activities, proselytizing or promotion of religion. To ascertain that, FFRF is requesting a number of records, such as any agreements, financial records and communications, related to the school district’s arrangement with the two Christian outfits.
“We want to make sure that secular funds are not financing sectarian religious pursuits,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Children may not be subject to indoctrination in public-funded programs, and such programs must take place in a secular setting.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with almost 36,000 members and several chapters across the country, including nearly 500 members and a chapter in Indiana. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.