Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

FFRF stops outside proselytizers in schools

Vol. 35 No. 5 June/July 2018

By Molly Hanson

FFRF has ended unconstitutional religious promotion within a Chicago suburb school district.

A concerned community member of Community Consolidated School District 15 reported to FFRF that the district allows outside adults to engage in one-on-one meetings with students at several district elementary schools, usually during lunch. The adults are affiliated with a faith-based organization named Kids Hope USA that connects “one church” with public schools under the guise of mentorship. Kids Hope USA believes the most effective aspect of its program is that it prays for students.

While the adults purportedly discuss only secular topics with students, and do not inform students that “prayer partners” are secretly praying for them, FFRF was informed that these adults had been abusing their access to students by advertising for a religious event.

In a letter sent to Superintendent Scott Thompson, FFRF informed the district that, in fact, Kids Hope USA’s website suggests that promoting religious events is a fundamental goal of its program: “Principals are advised that parents may choose to someday send their children to events at the church, only after parental permission is granted.”

FFRF warned the district that, regardless of parental permission, it is inappropriate and unconstitutional for a public school district to allow church representatives unique access to invite students to religious events, during the school day on school property, after developing a personal one-on-one relationship with those students.

“No outside adults should be provided carte blanche access to minors — a captive audience — in a public school,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne to Thompson. “The district may not allow its schools to be used as recruiting grounds for churches during the school day.”

The district responded to FFRF with assurances that the violation would not recur.

“The district is updating its own administrative procedures to ensure that all volunteer mentors are informed that they must refrain from praying or proselytizing while at school, including encouraging students to attend religious events,” a legal representative of the district informed FFRF.

LifeChurch expelled from Oklahoma school

An Oklahoma public school has updated its policy to protect students from religious coercion, thanks to FFRF.

A concerned parent within Owasso Public Schools in Owasso, Okla., informed FFRF that Owasso Seventh Grade Center was allowing representatives from LifeChurch, an evangelical church, to enter the school during Wednesday lunches to hand out church flyers and proselytize to students. The representatives were also pestering students and asking them why they were not going to church.

“It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the district to offer religious leaders unique access to befriend and proselytize students during the school day on school property,” wrote FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Chris Line. “It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion.”

Owasso Public Schools responded on May 29, informing FFRF that there would be no more in-person proselytizing going forward.

The district has since implemented a new policy requiring school visitors to receive permission from Owasso Seventh Grade Center Principal Eric Nantois. Additionally, school visitors will only be able to speak with one student per lunch period and must obtain written permission from that student’s parent.