FFRF demands Ala. school district end barter arrangement with local churches

An Alabama school district must stop giving churches access to its students for proselytization in exchange for snacks and water, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting.

A concerned Etowah County Schools community member has informed the state/church watchdog that the district has been soliciting religious organizations to proselytize and attempt to convert its students in exchange for donations. Wrestling coaches at Southside High School and Rainbow Middle School have reportedly sent letters to local churches offering them the opportunity to proselytize and convert students in return for snacks, water and the like — a disturbing arrangement that has been occurring for years. This year’s letter (reproduced in full above) said:

We are looking for some area churches to connect with our Southside Wrestling team in a very tangible way. During our wrestling season we supply our wrestlers with water and granola bars. We are asking local churches to consider donating 6 cases of water and 4 pks of 24 granola bars to help out our team. Of course we can always use more but this is a good starting point and will help up greatly. Some other vocation ideas are sports drinks, uncrustables and trail mix. Every donation helps! This year we have close to 50 wrestlers on our team from Rainbow Middle School and Southside High School. We would like to give the churches, who are able to donate, a chance to speak into the lives of the students on our team by sharing a short 15 minute devotional. We are very excited about this opportunity again this year. We really enjoyed it last year. 

The school district must immediately cease its practice of allowing local churches the opportunity to approach its students in exchange for food and drinks, FFRF is urging.

“It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism toward or coerce belief or participation in religion,” FFRF attorney Chris Line writes to Etowah County Schools Superintendent Alan Cosby. “By explicitly inviting churches to proselytize to students, the district displays clear favoritism for religion over nonreligion, and Christianity above other faiths.”

In Lee v. Weisman (1992), the Supreme Court extended the prohibition of school-sponsored religious activities beyond the classroom to all school functions, FFRF adds. Thus, offering up access to students for proselytization as part of a school program is in violation of the Establishment Clause.

FFRF takes these sorts of violations very seriously and is willing to vigorously defend students’ rights. It recently settled a lawsuit against a school district in West Virginia after it similarly allowed a preacher to recruit students. As part of that settlement, the district agreed to pay FFRF nearly $175,000 in attorney fees.

“The understanding between Etowah County Schools and the local churches is an incredibly crass arrangement,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It cannot be permitted to continue.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country, including hundreds of members in Alabama. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism. 

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Freedom From Religion Foundation

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