FFRF kicks teachers out of ‘Kids for Christ’ clubs in La. and Ill.

College Oaks Elementary School in Lake Charles, La., and the High Mount School in Swansea, Ill., have both barred teachers from leading bible clubs for students, after complaints lodged by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

FFRF, a national state/church watchdog with more than 21,500 members across the country, has more than 800 members in Illinois and 100 in Louisiana.

FFRF wrote to Louisiana’s Calcasieu Parish Public Schools on Jan. 9, 2015, after a concerned parent reported that College Oaks Elementary was recruiting students for Kids for Christ, a bible club. All the club’s logistics were handled by College Oaks teacher Kristen Shepherd, who encouraged other school staff to announce club meetings in their classrooms, according to public email records obtained by FFRF.

Reminders about Kids for Christ meetings were sent home with students, and one teacher directly called a parent to ask permission for a student to attend the club. The school also sold children’s bibles and T-shirts for the club reading, “We are Christians at College Oaks.” Shepherd distributed bibles to students, as well as order forms for Kids for Christ merchandise.

“Given the high level of faculty involvement in the organization and content of the Kids for Christ bible club, plus the location of the meetings and regular faculty promotion of the club, a reasonable student or parent will perceive this religious club as ‘stamped with her school’s seal of approval,’ ” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover to the Calcasieu Parish School District’s attorney, Gregory W. Balfour.

Balfour responded promptly, assuring FFRF that school staff were told that they could not hand out bibles, wear bible club T-shirts at school, or be involved in promoting or leading Kids for Christ. “School staff were also reminded that they may not ‘pressure’ students to join the club,” he said.

In a similar situation in Illinois’s High Mount School District 116, the district sent emails to kindergarten through 8th grade students and their parents at High Mount School to promote a new Kids for Christ bible club. The district email described the club as “a permanent program” that “operates in cooperation with local schools.”

In a Feb. 4 letter to Attorney William D. Stiehl, Jr., Grover wrote that High Mount’s club was unconstitutional. “All HMS staff should be reminded that their duties under the Establishment Clause prohibit them from actively promoting a religious club while acting in their official capacities as district employees,” he said.

Stiehl responded the next day, saying, “The employee who sent the emails has been advised that emails which appear to promote or sponsor a religious organization may not be sent using the High Mount email system or on High Mount letterhead.”

“What made these situations particularly troubling is the extreme youth of the school children being improperly proselytized by their public school district and teachers. A captive audience of young students aren’t going to be able to distinguish between public school and bible classes when the teachers and the venue are the same,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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