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Lead Us Not Into Penn Station:Provocative Pieces

National Convention

September 15-17, 2017

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

1Milwaukee Evangelical Blitz

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is warning Milwaukee parents about an evangelical offensive.

The freethought organization is partnering with Protect Our Children and Southeast Wisconsin Freethinkers to alert parents and community members that a two-week invasion of evangelical missionaries targeting children is beginning in the greater Milwaukee area.

Each summer, Good News Across America, a national children's outreach sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship, targets the children of a different U.S. city for evangelism. In the past, the Fellowship has sent missionaries specially trained to evangelize children to Chicago, the Twin Cities, and Indianapolis. This summer, it is descending on Milwaukee.

The Child Evangelism Fellowship will lead local churches in recruiting children as young as 5 years old to join its 5-Day Clubs. It only partners with fundamentalist "bible-believing" churches (mainstream Christian churches like Episcopalians or Presbyterians are not welcome). These local churches pay a fee to the Fellowship for training and materials, agree to use its teaching materials exclusively, and sign onto its 15-point Statement of Faith (with beliefs like biblical inerrancy, salvation not by good deeds but by faith alone, and the damnation of unbelievers to the Lake of Fire for conscious, eternal torture). In exchange, the Child Evangelism Fellowship offers local churches the opportunity to recruit "unchurched" elementary school children and their parents.

The 5-day Clubs, which pop up in "parks, community centers, day cares, apartment complexes, wherever children gather" use "fun games, tasty snacks, and cool prizes," quoting from the Fellowship's online materials, to entice children into a fundamentalist Christian bible study. They are shamed for being sinners, then expected to memorize bible verses, listen to bible and missionary stories and begin evangelizing their friends and family.

FFRF and other groups, such as Protect Our Children, are deeply concerned about the deceptive, controversial tactics that the Fellowship uses to lure children to both its 5-Day Clubs and Good News Clubs. These clubs give the impression that they are operated by local churches and staffed by caring volunteers, but local churches are not free to teach what they wish. They are trained by the Child Evangelism Fellowship and required to use its curriculum.

These 5-Day Clubs, like the Good News Clubs, emphasize sin and the fact that children are sinners. The clubs shame and frighten children by telling them they're bad, they're sinners, and that they don't deserve God's love. The clubs claim the only way to escape the terrible punishment they deserve is to believe what the club tells them and to do what the club tells them to do.

FFRF encourages local citizens to observe and document the activities of 5-Day Clubs that spring up in their community, so parents are not deceived about the clubs' true nature and purpose.

You can find out more about the Child Evangelism Fellowship at the Protect Our Children website.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Wisconsin-based national nonprofit organization with more than 29,000 nonreligious members across the country, including 1,200-plus in Wisconsin. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

1kennedy

The Freedom From Religion Foundation will be attempting to convince a Colorado civil rights committee this evening that the state constitutional "No Aid" clause should be preserved and enforced.

FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel will be testifying at the University of Denver tonight, Tuesday, July 18, at around 6 p.m. before the Colorado Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on the importance of preserving the state's "No Aid" clause, commonly referred to as the Blaine Amendment.

In 1875, Congressman James Blaine proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Although this amendment failed to pass the U.S. Congress, 38 states including Colorado, adopted some form of the Blaine Amendment in their constitutions. In June 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that a county scholarship program that aided religious schools would violate the state's Blaine Amendment (also known as the "No Aid" Clause), which bars "public moneys" from being allocated "in aid of any church or sectarian society."

The no-funding principle has a long, clear history that shows it was designed to foster religious freedom, FFRF asserts.

"The principle in every No Aid Clause, including Colorado's, is that the government should not tax citizens to benefit a religion," Seidel states in his testimony. "Religious education, propagation and worship should be the result of free and voluntary support given by the faithful."

The principle underlying No Aid Clauses dates to America's founding and was uniformly accepted after years of experience. This history seems distant today, but was the result of centuries — millennia—of oppression by religion blended with government. Thanks to the separation of state and church, we do not have that oppressive experience.

Even now, some use the machinery of the government to impose their religion on others, FFRF points out.

"The nonprofit I represent, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, exists because people disregard clear constitutional rules all the time," Seidel says. "We get about 5,000 state church complaints every year from all over the country. In the past five years, we've received more than 300 complaints from Colorado, addressing nearly 100 different violations. I have a job because in our democratic republic, individuals occupying government offices and employed by the government often use their public power to promote their personal religion."

The push to eviscerate No Aid Clauses is meant to augment the benefit churches receive under the separation of state and church and minimize the burdens. Vouchers and school choice provide a perfect example.

Last month, the Supreme Court decided Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, holding that the state could not bar a school, even a religious school, from a state program that resurfaced playgrounds.
The Trinity Lutheran decision did not analyze or address any federal Establishment Clause concerns, nor did it declare Missouri's No Aid provision unconstitutional. So, the impact of this ruling on Colorado's No Aid clause is minimal.

In the minds of some school choice activists, the rise of nonreligion and the erosion of traditional Protestantism in this country is due to public schools, FFRF underscores. School choice is theoretically about privatizing education, but for many it's about ending public education.

"And that is what will happen if We the People abandon the no-funding principle and No Aid Clauses," Seidel concludes. "Not only will citizens be taxed to support religions in violation of their rights of conscience, and not only will this call down extensive state regulation of religious operations, it will also destroy our public schools."

This is a scenario that will indeed spell doom for our country, Seidel will testify.

1Shutterstock Borysevych

An Illinois statewide fishing competition will not be angling for religion, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

A concerned Illinois resident informed FFRF that the Illinois High School Association, in conjunction with the Fishing League Worldwide, started this year's 2017 IHSA Bass Fishing State Finals for member Illinois schools with a Christian prayer that included "Thanks for your son Jesus."

This sectarian prayer was inappropriate and unconstitutional, FFRF told the association.

"The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit determined that associations like the Illinois High School Association are state entities due to their membership, and must ensure that the constitutional rights of their students are protected," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to the association's Executive Director Craig Anderson last month. "As a state actor, IHSA may not endorse religion, even if that endorsement does not occur on public school property. It is illegal for public schools to sponsor religious messages at school athletic events, and it is illegal for the IHSA to do so, as well." 

By allotting time for Christian prayers at the start of its competition, the Illinois High School Association also sent a message to the 30 percent of Americans who are non-Christians "that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community," to quote the U.S. Supreme Court. Public entities such as the association must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students of its member schools, FFRF emphasized.

The Illinois High School Association responded quickly and positively to FFRF's note.

"We apologize for the action, as the IHSA has a policy that would prohibit this," Anderson replied. "As a result, I have communicated with our administrator of bass fishing to notify representatives of Fishing League Worldwide in the future that our policy prohibits prayer from the public address system." 

FFRF is delighted that it made certain that this public sporting event will not have religion glommed on to the action in the future.

"Jesus may supposedly have been a fisher of men who delivered loaves and fishes, but state-organized fishing competitions should stay within the factual realm," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "That way, they will also avoid violating the Constitution."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national state/church watchdog with more than 29,000 nonreligious members and chapters all over the country, including more than 900 and the Metropolitan Chicago chapter in Illinois.

Image via Shutterstock by Borysevych

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