Disband your Faith Advisory Council, FFRF advises an Ohio school system

Get rid of your Faith Advisory Council, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is recommending to an Ohio school district. 

Poland Local Schools has initiated a Faith Advisory Council and advertised this council on the school website on a page titled “September 2021 Faith Advisory Council Newsletter.” The newsletter states, “This is a new initiative by the superintendent created in an effort to develop ways that Poland Local Schools and the neighboring faith groups can collaborate to help our students.” Five churches were represented at the first meeting on Sept. 7: Poland United Methodist Church, Poland Village Baptist Church, Heritage Presbyterian Church, and Bethel Friends Church. The stated goal for the council is to discuss how the faith groups and schools can “meet our students’ needs best.”

Pastors interested in joining are directed to contact the superintendent. The newsletter ends with links to each of the represented churches that “positively impact our community” and “programs they are directing that are available to their communities,” including a “Word of Life Club,” which teaches bible lessons and scripture memory, and a “Youth Ministry,” which is “focused on teaching our future generations about God and showing them how to build their own, personal relationship with Christ.”

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

“It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the district to offer religious groups unique access over other community groups, which signals school endorsement of religion over nonreligion, and, specifically, Christianity over all other faiths,” FFRF Legal Fellow Karen M. Heineman writes to Superintendent Craig Hockenberry. “Courts have repeatedly struck down public school practices that affiliate public schools with religious groups and religious instruction.”

The formation of the Faith Advisory Council and the newsletter on the website promote the viewpoint that the Poland Local Schools district believes religion, which at this time is essentially limited by the council to Protestantism, is the answer to students’ problems. (Although it encourages other faith leaders to join the council, it specifies pastors, and excludes leaders of other community groups altogether.) Sponsoring a Christian message alienates and ostracizes non-Christian students, families, teachers, and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted, including the more than 43 percent of young Americans — those born after 1990, which is the student body — who are not religious, FFRF stresses. Partnering with churches to promote their religious activities to the Poland Local Schools student body is exclusive and divisive.

To keep Poland Local Schools an inviting and inclusive place for all, the Faith Advisory Council needs to be dissolved, FFRF is demanding.

“It’s upsetting that there’s such an egregious case of official flaunting of religion happening in one of our secular public school systems,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor remarks. “The Poland Local Schools needs to scotch the religion and concentrate on education, not indoctrination.”

Although the page to the newsletter is no longer available after they received our letter, we are depending on a formal reply to confirm whether the program is being discontinued. FFRF is hopeful this is a sign the district is correcting the problem.

FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 900 members and a chapter in Ohio. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend