Ohio school district stops religious group recruitment during school lunch

a photograph of a legal form for parents to sign on behalf of their child

A complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation has resulted in an Ohio school district prohibiting outside groups, including religious organizations, from recruiting elementary school children during school lunch hours.

A concerned parent informed the state/church watchdog that last September, for the second year in a row, Lake Cable Elementary School had allowed adult representatives of the Good News Club to access over 400 students during the lunch period while on school property. Child Evangelism Fellowship, the club’s parent organization, “is a Bible-centered organization composed of born-again believers whose purpose is to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and to establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living.” Good News Club representatives spoke to students and promised kids that they would be given “candy and ice cream” if they joined the club. And Lake Cable Elementary sent a Good News Club permission slip home to be completed and returned to the school office.

It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for Jackson Local Schools to offer religious representatives unique access to elementary school students in order to recruit and proselytize them, FFRF contended.

“It is well-settled law that public schools may not show favoritism towards nor coerce belief or participation in religion,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Jackson Local Schools Superintendent Christopher DiLoreto. “By allowing adult representatives of the Good News Club unique access to a captive audience of elementary school students, Jackson Local Schools has violated its students’ constitutional right to be free from religious indoctrination in their public school and parents’ rights to direct their children’s religious or nonreligious upbringing.”

FFRF insisted that Jackson Local Schools commence an immediate investigation into this matter and make certain that Lake Cable Elementary cease allowing Good News Club representatives to recruit and proselytize students.

FFRF’s decisive action was successful.

“The district had created a limited public forum in the elementary buildings by allowing a number of groups (nonreligious, e.g., youth football, boy scouts, girl scouts, etc.) to access kids during certain lunch hour periods,” the legal counsel for Jackson Local Schools recently replied in an email. “After reviewing the propriety of allowing this forum, the district determined (to their credit) to discontinue the practice altogether and have notified all groups, including the Good News Club, to that effect and without incident. In other words, the district has put an end to allowing access to outside groups at the elementary buildings during the school day (as is already the case in all other buildings).”

FFRF is satisfied with the resolution.

“We made the district realize the exploitation of young and impressionable students that an open forum policy had created,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’re glad that officials quickly perceived the ways in which such a forum was being misused.”

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

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