Monday, January 19, 2009

Religion Clause

Howard M. Friedman has an outstanding blog about legal issues around religion. I strongly recommend it.

This post, about clergy 'visiting' children during school lunches is fascinating.

The comments are great, including this one:

Anonymous said...

-American Atheist

The ACLU of Michigan has sent a letter (PDF here) to the superintendent of South Haven Public Schools asking the school to change their policy of allowing a local youth minister and lunchroom volunteer to proselytize students in the lunchroom during school hours.

The letter, sent to superintendent Robert Black, urges the school to prevent Mike Dubbink, the youth minister at Hope Reformed Church in South Haven, from recruiting students for his church and speaking to them about religion while acting as a lunchroom volunteer at the middle and high schools. In a press release, the ACLU says:

"Parents, not the public schools, are responsible for deciding when and whether their children receive religious education," said ACLU lawyer James Rodbard. "Public schools should create an environment where students of all faiths feel comfortable and they should protect children from religious coercion by school volunteers."

According to the letter, an outside volunteer, who is also a youth minister at the Hope Reform Church in South Haven, was permitted by South Haven Schools to come to the middle and high school during classroom hours and solicit students to participate in religious activities through the Hope Reform Church.

"We are extremely troubled," read the letter, "not only by the fact that the South Haven Schools are allowing select ministers to proselytize during school hours, but also that some school administrators are actively participating in these unconstitutional activities."

During one incident, the ACLU has learned that the youth minister and the South Haven High School Assistant Principal forced a student into an isolated room and attempted to pressure the student to pay for a church-based retreat that the student signed up for during school hours, but did not attend. During this ordeal, the student was not permitted to call his parents and in fact, his parents were never notified that he signed up for the church retreat.

In the letter, the ACLU of Michigan urged the superintendent "to assure that all students' constitutional rights are protected by putting an end to the unlawful practice of permitting and/or encouraging religious leaders to proselytize students at South Haven Schools."

The letter was sent after the parent of a student at the school contacted the ACLU and informed them of Mr. Dubbink's actions. When such letters are sent, they often result in lawsuits if the school refuses to change the policy being challenged. I'll be curious to see the school's response.

This just monstrous. Who would Christ coerce?

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