Oklahoma public school opens doors to Christian evangelicals

According to information from a local complainant to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Puterbaugh Middle School in McAlester, Okla., is allowing illegal religious proselytizing during school hours at the school.

Foundation Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter of complaint Oct. 13 to Ann Walker, McAlester Public Schools board president: "It is our understanding that Puterbaugh Middle School hosts a program called W.O.W. or Worship on Wednesdays, which is a Christian worship program for students. We understand that W.O.W. is advertised on posters around the school and is organized by Assistant Principal Adam Newman.

"We were informed that during each Wednesday lunch period, students participating in W.O.W. are escorted to the front of the lunch line in front of the other students. We understand that they then go to Mr. Newman’s room, Room 2, for a preaching session. We are told that Mr. Newman brings pastors from the community to preach to the students and that Mr. Newman speaks to the students on occasion."

FFRF was also told that Pastor Steve Mayhew of First Free Will Baptist Church spoke to students at W.O.W. last Sept. 29. The preaching session included a discussion of “faith” and ended with the prayer “speak to their hearts dear Jesus that you will be there for the rest of their lives.”

Elliott added: "Our complainant informs us that a concerned parent contacted Superintendent Tom Condict by telephone about W.O.W. The parent told Mr. Condict that federal law did not allow such an activity to occur in public schools. The parent reported that Mr. Condict said, 'I don't care what federal law says.' We understand that Superintendent Condict has taken no action in regards to W.O.W. since the parent's phone call."

An adult-led Christian group for teens named Wyldlife is also advertised at the school with posters and intercom announcements. Wyldlife has the goal of "introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them to grow in their faith.”

Elliott said that a public school and its personnel cannot organize, authorize or otherwise coordinate a Christian ministry program. "Even if school personnel were not involved, it is illegal for public schools to allow religious instruction to occur on school property during the school day."

It's unclear if parents had knowledge of their child’s attendance at W.O.W. or if parental written authorization was solicited by the school.

FFRF asked the Board of Education to consider disciplinary action against school officials who organized or approved a Christian ministry program in the public schools: "Did Assistant Principal Newman organize W.O.W. activities while on taxpayer time? We also question whether Superintendent Condict’s unprofessional lack of response to valid legal concerns, as alleged, demonstrate unfitness to head a public school system," Elliott said.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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