Ian, raised his hand and said, “My parents?”

“Hmmm,” said the teacher, looking around the classroom. “Any other ideas?”

“My babysitter?” asked another child.

“Hmmm. Anyone else?” the teacher asked again. Olivia raised her hand.

“My friends?” she asked.

The teacher’s face lit up and she pointed at Olivia. “That’s right, Olivia, that exactly who you should tell! Now children, I want you all to go out of here onto the playground, right now, and find a friend and tell them that if they want to live, they have to believe in Jesus!”

This exchange reminded me of a conversation I had had with the Good News Club instructor who came to my daughter’s public elementary school several years ago. He acknowledged that he was not legally permitted to approach students whose parents had not consented to them joining the Club. Then he smiled and shrugged in feigned helplessness.

“But we can’t stop the children from doing it!” he winked.

Getting children to do what adults are barred from doing is now such a common tactic for evading restrictions on separation of church and state among activists on the religious right that they have given it a name. Technically it’s called peer-to-peer evangelism. Colloquially, it’s “A God-given loophole,” one that “brilliantly threads a separation-of-church-and-state loophole,” in the words of one movement leader. Actually, it wasn’t God but the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, which in a number of cases brought forward by extremely well-financed religious advocacy groups over the past decade and a half has a forged a new legal theory that says, in effect, that as long as the kids are doing the talking, anything goes when it comes to religion in the schools.

Take, for example, the event called See You at the Pole. It involves gathering as many students as possible around the flagpole at the start of the school day and enjoining them to pray as ostentatiously as possible. It is permissible, because it is supposedly all the doing of the children. But to say that these events are run by the children is a little like saying that a children’s soccer league is run by the kids because they are the ones kicking the ball. In fact, the events I attended were quite clearly organized and coordinated by pastors at local churches who not only appeared at the events but hosted an after-party at a local mega-church, complete with adult staffers wearing “See You at the Pole” T-shirts.

The Gideons International for decades had very limited success in distributing Bibles on public school campuses, in spite of their best efforts. But then they hit the jackpot when they realized they could recruit school children to do the work for them. In schools in dozens of states, students are now handing out evangelical books written specifically with teens in mind to their peers. In just two years since the Gideon’s new peer-evangelism project, called the Life Book Movement, they have handed out over 2 million of these evangelical tracts.

The Every Student Every School movement, set to debut in 2013, has an even more ambitious target—dozens of conservative Christian denominations and organizations are collaborating to set up ministries within schools, complete with prayer meetings, distribution of literature, and multiple opportunities to communicate members’ beliefs during the regular school day. The key, of course, is that the children will supposedly be handling the operation themselves.

Last week the strategy looked set to make it into the law books of at least one state. The Florida legislature passed Bill S.B. 98 permitting students to offer short “inspirational speeches,” including prayers, at non-compulsory school events such as sports activities and pep rallies.

The language of the bill is carefully neutral about which religious messages students may deliver. However, no serious observer thinks that the bill is anything other than an intention to insert Christian evangelical prayer into the schools. The bill awaits the governor’s signature, which everyone expects will be forthcoming. “As you know I believe in Jesus Christ,” Governor Rick Scott has said in reference to the bill.

Critics have correctly pointed out that the bill is likely to end up wasting taxpayer money. School districts that elect to take advantage of the opportunity to turn school assemblies over to students for completely uncontrolled but “inspirational” messages are very likely to become the targets of expensive lawsuits. Some say the bill is little more than an expensive piece of red meat for Florida legislatures to throw before their base, a way of taking sides in the culture war and proving yet again just how devout they are and how much they abhor the Godless liberalism that supposedly runs rampant among the unfortunate people who make use of the public schools.

But it would be unwise to overlook the incremental impact that pathetic exercises like this can have in advancing the overall strategy of using children as proxies in the culture war. A bill like this helps to consolidate the notion that “It’s okay as long as the kids are doing it.”

The kids are not just doing it themselves. They are being goaded and prodded and rewarded by adults with a far-reaching agenda to destroy secular education, and failing that, the public schools altogether. We know that if Johnny were to stand up each week and give an “inspirational message” about the Church of Satan or, worse still, about Islam, that the program would come to an end. The students will be free only as long as they do as they are supposed to do.

Initiatives such as these elevate faith-based bullying to a legally mandated part of the school curriculum. The Florida bill, for example, grants the power to decide on inspirational messages not just to the students in general but to the student government. Now, what student government president has not been tempted to use his or her bully-pulpit to pressure peers to conform?

You might think that anyone who is concerned with public schools, whatever their religious perspective, would not want to support such disruptive tactics. But that is perhaps the core of the problem. Many of the activists involved in these projects to promote student-led prayer aren’t just indifferent to the needs of the schools. They think the public schools themselves are the enemy. They call public schools “government schools” and they blame them for infecting students with “godless secularism.” Maybe the real problem they have is that the public schools still manage to teach students how to think.

Richard Dawkins
Please read this book, talk about it, tweet about it, recommend it to friends, review it on Amazon, name and shame the culprits, do everything possible to bring Katherine Stewart's shocking message to the attention of everyone in America. Truly, religion poisons everything, and when the poison infects elementary schools it's time to get seriously angry. These odious people, legions of zealous, born-again volunteers, descend on innocent schoolchildren, take over their school buildings (officially after school hours: I must have missed the explanation for why they pay no rent) even enlist the children themselves to infect other children. Here's a typical passage: Continue reading

 

Katherine Stewart’s book The Good News Club is a chilling account of the power, drive, and success of the Religious Right to undermine the family, public schools, and long-standing communities all for the sake of indoctrinating children as young as 4 into being the ‘right kind of Christian’. Using deceptive stealth tactics and ruthlessly exploiting the innocence of children, this organization has risen across not only the US landscape, but in countries around the world.

Ms. Stewart’s investigative reporting and stylish writing makes for a gripping and frightening read. The Good News Club is not just after the children from Catholic, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist backgrounds - they are after the children of all mainstream Churches that are not hardline, literalist and angry “Bible Christians”. Her book explains why everyone should be concerned. She exposes the incursion by a particularly ugly form of religion into not just the public square, but into every family through brainwashing every child they can possibly reach.

Don’t bother to watch a horror film. This odious story will terrify you far more effectively

Elisabeth Cornwell, PhD
Executive Director

from Amazon
In 2009, the Good News Club came to the public elementary school where journalist Katherine Stewart sent her children. The Club, which is sponsored by the Child Evangelism Fellowship, bills itself as an after-school program of “Bible study.” But Stewart soon discovered that the Club’s real mission is to convert children to fundamentalist Christianity and encourage them to proselytize to their “unchurched” peers, all the while promoting the natural but false impression among the children that its activities are endorsed by the school. Astonished to discover that the U.S. Supreme Court has deemed this—and other forms of religious activity in public schools—legal, Stewart set off on an investigative journey to dozens of cities and towns across the nation to document the impact. In this book she demonstrates that there is more religion in America’s public schools today than there has been for the past 100 years. The movement driving this agenda is stealthy. It is aggressive. It has our children in its sights. And its ultimate aim is to destroy the system of public education as we know it.

reviews:
“Reporting from communities nationwide, Stewart chronicles just how divisive the infusion of religion - in the form of proselytizing Good News Clubs, school building rentals to church groups, and axe-grinding school textbook committees - can be. And although many of these activities are represented as emerging from grass-roots community demand, Stewart exposes a much more coordinated effort, much of it springing from national evangelical organizations and affiliated legal strategy networks.”—The Boston Globe

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CONFIRMED SPEAKING DATES

March 15th: Tempe, Arizona
7p.m.
Changing Hands Bookstore
6428 South McClintock Drive
Tempe, AZ 85283

March 16th: North/Central Phoenix, Arizona
4:30p.m.
Aunt Chilada’s Restaurant
7330 North Dreamy Draw Drive
Phoenix, Arizona 85020

March 17th: Prescott and Flagstaff, AZ
11:00a.m.
Prescott College
220 Grove Street
Prescott, AZ 86301

4:00p.m.
Northern AZ University
Physical Science Bldg 19, Room 209
Flagstaff, AZ 86011

March 18th: Scottsdale, AZ
9:30a.m.
Home Town Buffet
1312 N Scottsdale Rd
Scottsdale, Arizona

March 22nd: Palatine, Illinois
7p.m.
Northbrook Countryside Church
Unitarian Universalist
Atherton Hall
1025 N. Smith Street
Palatine, IL 60067

March 23rd: Chicago, Illinois
7p.m.
Revolution Books
1103 N. Ashland Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622

March 29th: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
7p.m.
Free Library of Philadelphia, Skyline Room on the 4th floor
Parkway Central Branch
1901 Vine St
Philadelphia, PA 19103

March 31st: Greenville, South Carolina
2p.m.
Coffee Underground
1 E Coffee St
Greenville, SC

April 1: Columbia County, South Carolina
Event Details TBA

April 2nd: Hendersonville, North Carolina
6p.m.
Hendersonville Library Kaplan Auditorium
301 N Washington St
Hendersonville NC 28739

April 8th: New York City, New York
12 p.m.
The Press Box
932 2nd Avenue

New York, NY 10022

April 14th: Richmond, Virginia
Event Details TBA

April 19th: Wichita, Kansas
7p.m.
Watermark Bookstore
4701 East Douglas
Wichita, KS

April 20th: Great Plains, Kansas
7p.m.
The Boathouse
505 S. Wichita
Wichita, KS

April 26th: Rochester, New York
Time TBA
First Unitarian Church, Meeting Room
220 Winton Road South
Rochester, NY 14610

April 28th: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Event Details TBA

May 3rd-May 6th: Florida
Event Details TBA

May 8th: Worcester, Massachusetts
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May 17th: Boston, Massachusetts
Event Details TBA

May 23rd: Colorado Springs, Colorado
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May 26th: Georgia
Event Details TBA

June 7th-10th: New Orleans, Louisiana
Event Details TBA

June 19th: Sacramento, California
Event Details TBA