After-school programs must be transparent
The Good News Club isn’t being straightforward on its true purpose.
BY TOM WADDELL
FFRF Maine, the official Maine chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, gave a talk in May at the Margaret Chase Smith School in Skowhega. We asked if parents had the right to know what the purpose of any after-school program is before parents give permission for their child to attend. The obvious answer is yes, but FFRF Maine learned at the talk the one tax-exempt international corporation that runs the Good News Club’s after-school programs in Maine for very young and vulnerable children disagrees. At the meeting, Brad Walker, the director of the central Maine chapter of the Child Evangelism Fellowship, said, “Everything people want to know is readily available on our website” and “It’s not hidden. If the issue is transparency, it’s available and there for anyone to read.”
FFRF Maine wonders why the “readily available” CEF website information is not stated on the parent permission slips. CEF states on their website, “Child Evangelism Fellowship 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”. But the purpose for the club is not stated on the club’s parent permission slips. Instead, the club represents itself as a “fun-filled hour and a half for children after school that includes: dynamic Bible lessons, creative learning activities and life changing scripture memory”.
FFRF Maine’s position is after-school programs in public schools have the responsibility to tell parents what the purpose of the program is so parents can make an informed decision for their child. Since the goal of the Good News Club is clearly to convert children into a religion with a strict fundamental interpretation of the Bible, the parent permission slips need to inform parents so they can decide if they want to send their child to a religious program for conversion or not. If the club’s purpose is “readily available,” what does the CEF have to hide?
The Good News Club is allowed to be in school because the Supreme Court decided teaching religion is free speech. But the Club’s real purpose is to convert children to fundamentalist Christianity. U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter saw, in his dissenting opinion, that “it is beyond question that the Good News Clubs intend to use the public school premises not for the mere discussion of a subject from a particular, Christian point of view, but for an evangelical service of worship calling children to commit themselves in an act of Christian conversion.”
Our position that the Good News Club does not adequately inform parents about the true purpose for its after-school program is a well-reasoned conclusion based on watching hours of CEF training videos, reading a well-researched book by investigative reporter Katherine Stewart, “The Good News Club – The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on Americas Children,” and by talking to several adults who still carry the scars from attending the club as children. Based on that empirical information, FFRF Maine has a very good understanding of what the club’s real purpose is.
The CEF’s purpose is to establish America as a Christian nation by having a Good News Club in every public school, so this issue is larger than what happened in Skowhegan. The CEF characterizes schools as “harvest fields,” further eroding the separation of church and state that is so necessary for our democratic way of life in America. In a speech to the Dallas Theological Seminary, CEF President Reese Kaufmann described the Supreme Court decision as giving evangelizing school children more freedom than it took away with its 1963 ban on school-prayer, saying; “Since that law passed we now have the opportunity to have a Club in every public school. We can open our Bibles, and not only can we present the gospel to them, we can pray with them in the classroom to receive Christ,” and “We are now in 2500 public schools, but there are 65,000 public schools in America. We can change the course of a nation if we go into the schools and teach the Word of God to children at that very early age.”
FFRF Maine takes the club’s president at his word. We simply advocate that parent permission slips tell parents what they need to know to make an informed decision for their child. Who would be against that, especially when the lives of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens are at stake?
Tom Waddell is the president of FFRF Maine. The group’s website is ffrfmaine.org and Waddell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
COMMENTS as of 7/6/16