On Saturday morning, approximately 40 members of the Forsyth Area Critical Thinkers, Winston-Salem Chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and other like-minded citizens stood outside the Dixie Classic fairgrounds in peaceful protest. One of their placards included a quote from me. I'll offer it here, so that you know where I'm coming from: "Deception ≠ free exercise."
Now, I'm a staunch advocate of the rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion. But I think the protesters here have reason to be concerned. The issue with Good News Clubs isn't about the exercise of constitutional rights; it's about the fraudulent invocation of those rights in a way that tends to subvert the Constitution.
I had no idea what a Good News Club was until one showed up at my six-year-old's public elementary school in Santa Barbara, California, four years ago. The program presented itself as after-school "Bible study" requiring parental permission. I soon discovered that this description was misleading in every substantial way. I eventually put my findings into a book titled The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children.
As I researched Good News Clubs and their sponsoring organization, the Child Evangelism Fellowship, I discovered that these clubs, which operate in over 3500 public elementary schools nationwide, aim their deception at two audiences. Most egregiously, they deceive very young children. But let's start with the other audience--parents and members of the public.
A public school Good News Club claims to be a mainstream, multidenominational Bible study. But the clubs are incompatible with any denomination that does not share their severe version of fundamentalist evangelical Christian beliefs.