Church partnership with Tenn. public school unconstitutional, FFRF warns

A new partnership between Kingsport City Schools and a local church is unconstitutional, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has warned the district.

A local community member reported to FFRF that John Adams Elementary School in Kingsport, Tenn., has entered into an official partnership with Christ Fellowship Church to set up a “mentoring ministry program” for students. The Christ Fellowship Church has stated that the purpose of the program is for students to “see how and where God has all of this designed for them … [so that] ultimately they can see the love of Christ.” Current mentors have described their roles as being a type of missionary work, and “an opportunity for me to share Jesus’ love.”

A recruitment advertisement posted by the Christ Fellowship reads:

Does walking in the life of a child to show the love of Jesus, influence in a positive direction, and offer an opportunity to be all God designed for them to be pull on your heart strings? If you answer YES then please apply now for our mentoring ministry program.

The district cannot allow its schools to be recruiting grounds for churches, FFRF reminds the district. It is well-settled law that public schools may not advance or endorse religion.

“The partnership between Christ Fellowship Church and John Adams Elementary School impermissibly advances religion, communicates a message of school district endorsement of religion and is marked by excessive entanglement between the school district and the church,” FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian writes in his letter to the district’s attorney.

FFRF has asked the district to disassociate itself from Christ Fellowship Church in order to comply with its constitutional obligation, as well as to protect the rights of conscience of all community members.

“It is shocking that the school district is allowing such a blatantly inappropriate program to operate in its schools,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor comments. “Religious organizations should never be allowed access to such young public school children.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 30,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 300 members and a chapter in Tennessee. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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