FFRF protects Illinois schoolkids from religious indoctrination

the inside of a homemade card that reads "Jesus loves you!! Llama just say, I think you're wooly cool! Happy Valentine's Day!" with a doodle of a Christian cross underneath

A Christian group has been barred from targeting an Illinois school district’s children with religious propaganda, thanks to the efforts of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

A concerned parent informed the state/church watchdog that Marion Community Unit School District #2 was regularly allowing outside adults to enter Adams School during the school day to give low-income students food and candy — along with overtly proselytizing messages. Gum Drop Kids, a southern Illinois nonprofit, provides snacks to low-income children at Adams School every Friday, and two of the snacks this year contained proselytizing messages. For instance, a Valentine’s Day card said “Jesus loves you!!” with a Latin cross drawn at the bottom. Another snack was accompanied with a bookmark with the same religious message as the Valentine’s Day card.

Students — including low-income students — have the First Amendment right to be free from religious indoctrination in their public schools, FFRF insisted. “It is a basic constitutional principle that public schools may not show favoritism toward or coerce belief or participation in religion,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Superintendent Becky Moss. “Here, Gum Drop Kids uses access to particularly vulnerable school children to promote a religious message that seeks to convert children to Christianity.”

Gum Drop Kids’ tactic of combining indoctrination with charity is a common tactic employed by some ministries: handing over food with a bible or other religious literature. The purpose is to lure disadvantaged individuals into believing that such religion — here Christianity — is responsible for or somehow attached to the cessation of hunger and dawning of prosperity. Ultimately, it is the public school’s responsibility to ensure that materials given to children on school property during the school day do not unconstitutionally promote religion.

FFRF urged the school district to investigate this matter and ensure that Adams School ceases permitting outside adults to evangelize students during the school day. Only hours later, the district responded to FFRF.

“I received your letter and I have made contact with one of the Gum Drops organizers; I told her that we appreciate the Gum Drops bags but I ask that moving forward there are no messages promoting religion in any way,” Superintendent Moss replied via email. “Separation of church and state must be upheld.”

FFRF appreciates the focus of the school district on constitutional matters.

“We always feel that our work has been accomplished when school officials respond positively,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We applaud actions to alleviate food insecurity or brighten up the school day with occasional treats, but it is exploitation when the real intent is proselytization.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 1,200 members and a chapter in Illinois. 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

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