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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Good News Club comes to SPS

A group called The Child Evangelism Fellowship has established after-school Bible clubs in two Seattle elementary schools, Loyal Heights and Whittier. See this story in the Seattle Times.

I know how this could be a hot-button issue. Believe me, I know. Personally, I'm not a Christian and I'm sensitive to evangelical efforts. That said, I am devoted to fairness and transparency. The same rules should apply to everyone equally - evangelical groups, the military, corporations, whatever. I'm not alone in this view. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled this way. The District can set some rules. They could, for example, set a rule that any after-school group must be non-discriminatory in their admission policy. That would prohibit the Boy Scouts thanks to their anti-gay policy. It doesn't apply to this group because they welcome participation from non-Christians - that's what the evangelical effort is all about: getting new people to join.

So people could get all worked up over this, but there's no cause for it.

Hey, if you want to start a free-thinkers group, an atheist group or a pagan group, go ahead and you'll get the same opportunity from the District as they have extended to this group. And let's remember that participation is completely by choice. No children are being required to attend. If you don't want your child to go, then don't let them go.

As an activist in the District I sometimes get some flak for having a louder voice than other people, but I'm not taking any opportunities that aren't available to everyone. Likewise this group isn't exploiting any favoritism; an equal opportunity is open to everyone.

59 comments:

hschinske said...

"SECTION 11: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM.
Absolute freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief and worship, shall be guaranteed to every individual, and no one shall be molested or disturbed in person or property on account of religion; but the liberty of conscience hereby secured shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify practices inconsistent with the peace and safety of the state. No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment: PROVIDED, HOWEVER, That this article shall not be so construed as to forbid the employment by the state of a chaplain for such of the state custodial, correctional, and mental institutions, or by a county's or public hospital district's hospital, health care facility, or hospice, as in the discretion of the legislature may seem justified. No religious qualification shall be required for any public office or employment, nor shall any person be incompetent as a witness or juror, in consequence of his opinion on matters of religion, nor be questioned in any court of justice touching his religious belief to affect the weight of his testimony. [AMENDMENT 88, 1993 House Joint Resolution No. 4200, p 3062. Approved November 2, 1993.]"

How is this group NOT using public property for "religious worship, exercise or instruction"?

Helen Schinske

Charlie Mas said...

They are using public property, but it wasn't appropriated for them. They are paying for it, just like any other group that wants to use school property after school hours.

ParentofThree said...

Personally, I would rather have the group opeerating out in the open as an after school club where students sign up to attend rather than have Younglife representives imbedded in the school inviting kids to their events.

alxdark said...

"Hey, if you want to start a free-thinkers group, an atheist group or a pagan group, go ahead and you'll get the same opportunity from the District as they have extended to this group."

Except that it's my personal value not to push my religious beliefs in the public sphere, so I wouldn't start such a group. Whereas it is expressly the purpose of The Child Evangelism Fellowship to convert children to their faith, not just to provide religious instruction to the children of evangelicals. So it does deserve careful scrutiny compared to say, woodworking class.

At the moment I'm mostly wondering how the Fellowship can claim (in the Seattle Times article) two conversions at Loyal Heights last year in their bible group... does this mean two families sent their kids to bible study, even though the families weren't religious? That's surprising, I wonder why.

Do they mean that children who were already raised in one denomination were converted to the Fellowship's denomination?

Or do they simply mean two Evangelical children renewed their faith during bible study?

Anonymous said...

This is very troubling. I think some of you are letting this slide by too easily. As hschinske points out in SECTION 11:

"No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment"

Certainly the portable is being "appropriated or applied to religious exercise or instruction", I don't think this is in question.

The portable is most definitely public property, and according to my dictionary, one definition of "appropriate" is: "devote (money or assets) to a special purpose". Charlie points out that they are paying for the space, but this is a very fine line that the "club" and the district are walking. Are they fully paying for ALL costs associated with keeping the portable open? Including some small percentage of administrative, custodial, security, heat, lights, you name it, costs. It seems that a religious group would have to meet that standard, which could be higher than another, non-religious group, like a drama club. As far as I know, public money can be allocated to non-religious clubs at school.

Apparently I don't understand the ruling in its entirety, but I think it's a very, very bad situation when we allow groups with the express goal of converting children's religion to meet in our schools. These folks are weaseling their way through the legal system to push their religious agenda in a way that most of us thought was not allowed. Maybe it's time for the new House to amend this amendment.

Charlie Mas said...

Here's an irony: to say "it's my personal value not to push my religious beliefs in the public sphere" but to then expect people of other faiths to adhere to that personal value by not proselytizing when that is their way and to use the civic order to impose that restriction on them.

If part of your way is to not try to get other people to do things your way, then you have to accept it when they do things their way, including when their way is to try to get other people to do things their way.

My faith does not seek converts, in fact, we actively shoo them away. That doesn't mean that I begrudge other faiths their perspective on the question of conversion when it differs from mine. To do so would be to impose my way on them, the very thing that I have denied an interest in doing.

There are a number of definitions for the word "appropriated". That doesn't mean that the law is true for all of those definitions. The one at work here is the same as when the legislature appropriates funds for a specific purpose. The religious users of a space are charged the same rent and subject to the same rules as any other user of the space. They should not have any lower barriers, but they should not have any higher barriers either.

Ananda said...

Actually Charlie, there is a part of NCLB called the "Boy Scout Amendment" that prevents schools from appyling anti-discrimination policies to the Boy Scouts, and the Solomon Amendment keeps schools from applying anti-discrimination policies to miltary recruiters. This one isn't a district issue, it is a purely legal issue.

hschinske said...

On thinking about it, I would have no objection if an already-formed group of outsiders were coming in and renting space to have their Bible study group -- especially if it were adults. But the *express purpose* of this group is to convert children who are in the school to their brand of Christianity. That seems to me to be going over the line into the school supporting a religious establishment.

Helen Schinske

Charlie Mas said...

Every so often there is an effort by some organized - usually religious - group to have a television show removed from the airwaves. The usual response to such people is to remind them that the television not only has a number of other channels to watch, but an off button as well. They are told "If you find this offensive or if you don't want your children exposed to it, then don't watch it and don't allow your children to watch it."

I think the same response is appropriate here. If you find this offensive or if you don't want your children exposed to it, then don't go to the meetings and don't allow your children to go to the meetings.

Really, it's not that hard to avoid one twenty by twenty classroom for an hour or so once or twice a week out of the whole planet and all of time.

In the meantime, if it is your ethos to live and let live, then follow that ethos. They aren't interfering with you or yours so long as you don't participate.

If there were Spanish classes after school would you think them sinister for trying to spread Latin culture? If there were art classes after school would you think it sinister for trying to spread an aesthetic? There isn't anything more sinister to be found in Bible classes than can be found in most other things, and it is very easy to avoid finding it simply by choosing not to attend.

Unknown said...

I have a few problems with CEF:

1. At a meeting when parents discussed their concerns about the club, the local representative effectively threatened to sue the PTA if the PTA declined to accept CEF's sponsorship of our auction. From other news stories, it appears that they are very free with litigation threats or action when they don't get their way.

2. Some of the materials CEF has used in their classes is borderline hate speech. Some of it was beyond borderline. I admit that I'm extremely sensitive to people using religiously-protected free speech--my wife grew up a mile or two from the First Church of Christ, Christian, aka Aryan Nation. My hackles go way up when there's even a sniff of people using religious grounds to put hateful messages across.

3. The volunteer that was working in the school and teaching the class after school was using her observations of student behavior during school hours in the CEF newsletter, and writing about it with enough detail that at least one child could be identified.

I'm sure this is clear, but these are my personal opinions. I do not represent other people or organizations.

hschinske said...

"They aren't interfering with you or yours so long as you don't participate."

Not sure that's true. They are teaching children to evangelize other children in school, and are specifically trying to get Christian teaching back as a mainstream element in public schools. See http://www.independent.com/news/2009/may/07/reading-writing-and-original-sin/

I don't mind lining up with the dissenting opinions of Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, and Souter on this issue.

Incidentally, the CEF may be paying fees to the schools in Seattle, dunno, but in other communities it has requested and been allowed the same fee waivers granted to other community groups. See http://www.lc.org/index.cfm?PID=14100&PRID=718. So they are being allowed free use of public facilities elsewhere, and the "they're paying for it" defense doesn't fly.

Helen Schinske

Unknown said...

In SPS facilities, the Good News Clubs are not paying rent, just like other athletic, student, and "character-building" organizations. This is a legal issue--under the Supreme Court decision, if other community groups aren't being charged rent, the religious ones can't be charged either.

If you're really interested, there's a policy on community use of public schools.

hschinske said...

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/policies/e/E55.00.pdf

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/policies/e/E54.00.pdf

I don't see anything about *anyone* not paying rent for community use of Seattle school facilities. Looks to me as though everyone is charged, though school-related groups get a different rate.

I don't think the Good News Clubs should get the school-related rate, as both religious organizations and "privately organized activities for children" are specifically listed under the non-school-related groups.

Helen Schinske

Unknown said...

Re-reading what I wrote earlier about the GNC, I want to make clear that I do not in any way equate CEF with true hate groups like Aryan Nations.

CEF does use materials that would be completely within the mainstream in 1920, and would be considered extremely offensive today. Looking on the bright side, it says a lot about how far we as a society have come with our current expected tolerance for those who are of different backgrounds and faiths than we.

Unknown said...

"Looking on the bright side, it says a lot about how far we as a society have come with our current expected tolerance for those who are of different backgrounds and faiths than we."

Tolerance, of course, assumes a level of moral equivalence, which many are not comfortable with.

As for the Good News club teaching kids to be evangelists, I say this. If your lack of faith is that weak, isn't that something to be discussed? I would also what underlies the history of this country, for the most part, lies in the roots of a Christianized Western European culture and the fact that many are absolutely ignorant of even basic facts of the Christian faith is saddening in itself.

TechyMom said...

I find it ver odd that it's not ok for kids to do art projects involving Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, figures arguably more commercial than religious, but that it's a-ok for a group of adults to actively try to convert those same kids to Christianity.

Are kids in these clubs encouraged to try to bring their friends? I would hope that attempts to do so during school hours would result in a stern talking-to, and discipline for repeat offences.

Charlie Mas said...

TechyMom, is that true? I can understand prohibiting a teacher from assigning an art project featuring a religious icon (or even a semi-religious one), but not a rule prohibiting students from choosing to do art projects that feature Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. I would find that sort of prior restraint very disturbing.

And, to clarify, it is not okay for adults to actively try to convert kids to Christianity at school during school hours. Of course, that's not the situation and therefore of questionable relevence.

Are kids in these clubs encouraged to try to bring their friends? I suspect they are. So what? If you don't want your kid to go then don't allow it. This isn't hard to walk away from.

hschinske said...

"As for the Good News club teaching kids to be evangelists, I say this. If your lack of faith is that weak, isn't that something to be discussed?"

The point is that through evangelism the religious instruction is, by design, intended to extend into the school and subvert ideas taught there, rather than remaining an outside activity. That seems to me to violate the state constitution.

When my kids were at Whittier, they were also attending an Episcopal church regularly and participating in children's activities there (my youngest is an acolyte and will be playing Joseph in this year's Christmas pageant). They've learned plenty about the Bible, but not from a fundamentalist point of view -- they were not taught anything against evolution, for instance.

CEF most definitely does teach that evolution is an "atheistic teaching" -- see http://www.cefhouston.org/newsletters/2008/2008_11.pdf "Far too many professing Christians are trying to reconcile Creation and Evolution as though both can somehow be true when in actuality, they are two completely opposing views."

"Dear reader, in this cultural war in which our children are the spoils of war, we must fight the battle on two fronts. First, we must present them the truth of the gospel as we “teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). On the other hand, we must show them that evolution is wrong by using the Bible and science to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). So, to reach today’s children, we must both teach the gospel and demolish atheist arguments at the same time."

From http://cefhighdesert.com/Newsletter.html

"One little girl in the 6th grade sat and talked with me for some time about the Bible and evolution. One of her teachers is trying to convince her that she came from apes; we are teaching her about God and the Bible. She is very confused and asking a lot of tough questions. My heart breaks to hear stories of teachers trying to turn children away from God. Thank God he has allowed Good News Clubs to go into the schools and proclaim the message of Christ."

Helen Schinske

Dorothy Neville said...

I haven't yet posted anything about the C&I meeting last week because of a million other distractions. However, something pertinent, I think.

There was a discussion of the BMI component to the PE curriculum. The staff was adamant that an opt-out policy was fine. The board members present (at that point just Harium and Sheri) were adamant that an opt-in was more appropriate.

For sensitive controversial matters involving children, what is a better process? What would ensure that the vast majority of parents are making an informed decision? I say opt-in is preferable (actually, with BMI, research says it is an invalid indicator of health and do not support its use.) Charlie is saying here for the GNC that opt-out is fine.

Now, this is different from a PE curriculum in that it already is a voluntary activity, but it takes place at school and the kids involved would be doing the encouraging your child to participate during the school day.

So at the very least, I think there should be an informed process where all parents get information on the philosophy and creed of this group and have a more informed ability to do as Charlie says: simply do not let your child attend.

Another analogy with the BMI is that one reason for being cautious about using BMI at school is that it could easily be a vehicle for bully situation. I am concerned that such a group is teaching kids to be so persuasively evangelical that this can also lead to bully situations.

And that anecdote about the newsletter commenting on behavior with identifying information? That's horrible.

hschinske said...

Wait, I missed this bit in the facilities rental info: "There is no rental fee for the above activities if they occur during regular building hours, and no heat is provided. Regular building hours are those hours when the custodian is routinely present. A rental fee will be charged for the above activities if they occur outside regular building hours." That applies for "school-related activities" -- the group that I said Good News Clubs should not belong to.

I now suspect, given what blumhagn said, and given that other communities have listed Good News Clubs as character-building organizations along the lines of Scouts and such, that the Good News Clubs are *not* paying for facility rental; does anyone know for sure?

Helen Schinske

mumbojumbo said...

The Good News Club is NOT paying rent for the use of the classrooms and lunch rooms at Loyal Heights or at Whittier. Contrary to what was posted earlier, this is not because of a legal precedent but is primarily a result of an administrative decision by the Seattle School District.

Under school district policy regarding community use of school facilities (see http://www.seattleschools.org/area/policies/e/E54.00.pdf) organizations are classified as either school-related activities or non-school related activities. Religious organizations are specifically identified as non-school related activities. Child character building activities (such as boy/girl scouts and boy's/girl's clubs) are considered school-related activities and are not charged rent (just a small one-time administrative fee). Knowing this, CEF claimed that they were a child character building activity and not a religious organization on their application to the district. The District accepted this contention, apparently at face value without reviewing the CEF curriculum or program.

I think the District should be asked to review the Good News Club program and determine if they are best classified as character building or a religious organization, and they should be charged rent if they are (properly, I believe) reclassified as religious. I think it is wrong that taxpayers are being asked to subsidize religious instruction by providing this organization with free access to public facilities.

Parents concerned about this issue may want to join the parent group Seattle Schools Free from Proselytizing but sending an email message to seattlefree-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

John Lederer

hschinske said...

Thanks, John. I think even Charlie may agree that the CEF ought to at least "render unto Caesar" here.

Helen Schinske

Charlie Mas said...

Absolutely they should pay rent. There is no doubt as to their nature or intent.

They are, however, an OPT-IN program. The default is that your child does NOT attend.

Dorothy Neville said...

Of course it's an opt-in program. But an opt-in program leaves parents powerless unless they know the facts.

All parents should be told that there's a religious group meeting at school that is teaching children techniques to persuade your child to attend. So yes, if your child attends school there, it is possible, perhaps even likely, that they would have a classmate or two try to talk them into attending. Forewarned is forearmed.

At the very best, it can get ugly and divisive among the children. They'll be the pawns hurt in that. I don't think they should be allowed to meet at school, but I don't know the law well enough to know if that's feasible.

mumbojumbo said...

To Charlie:

You and I don't seem to have any doubts regarding CEF's nature and intent, but apparently either the district does have doubts or they don't but are willing to look the other way. As a result they are not charging CEF rent. This seems quite bizarre to me since CEF openly acknowledges proudly that the purpose of their activity is Bible study--overtly religious in nature.

You also say that their activity is "Opt-in", and I think this is ostensibly true, at least from the parents' point of view. But if a student is told repeatedly by a GNC member and fellow student that they are going to hell because they have not found Christ (as has happened at Loyal Heights), is that "opting in?"

CEF claims that all children attending have signed parental permission slips on file (with CEF). This self-imposed rule supports the "opt in" notion, but only if it's true. There's no district policy requiring signed permission slips and no district enforcement mechanism. Parents in the SeattleFree group who wanted to monitor this and asked to attend the GNC sessions (without disruption) were told we were not welcome by CEF leaders, in clear violation of district policies which require that all school- related activities "be open to all interested participants."

My point is that it's only an "opt in" program if mechanisms are in place to ensure that only willing participants are directly impacted by CEF's presence on school property. This group targets young impressionable children (5-9 year olds) luring them in with cake, cookies, candy and t-shirts. They deliberately try to blur the lines between their private activity and the school's instructional program (the GNC's lead teacher and organizer volunteered four days per week in a Kindergarten classroom last year at LH, though she does not have a child at the school).

CEF needs to be watched closely.

John Lederer.

Ananda said...

Again, the law requires that school districtrs treat groups like the GNC the same as other youth character groups, meaning so long as the Boy Scouts or Camp Fire or the PSTA after school clubs get free space, so does the GNC. The US Supreme Court case is called "Good News Club v. Milford." Any guesses who won? This is why people need to remember that the most important thing a President does in the long is appoint Supreme Court Justices.

mumbojumbo said...

"meaning so long as the Boy Scouts or Camp Fire or the PSTA after school clubs get free space, so does the GNC."

That interpretation is not the finding of GNC v. Milford and has not been established in case law since the decision. The finding in the case was that if schools make space available to secular community groups they also have to make it available to religious groups, PROVIDED that steps are taken to ensure that no Establishment Claus conflict arises. The finding of the case did not supersede policies school districts may already have in place regarding the terms of making that space available. Some districts have gotten into trouble when they've instituted new policies in response to CEF requests for space that were found to be targeted and discriminatory.

Seattle School District has a PRE-EXISTING policy of charging rent based on whether the activity is school-related or not. There is no reason to believe that this policy conflicts with the finding in GNC v Milford. The District needs to enforce its policy as written and determine if the GNC is a school-related or non school-related activity.

John Lederer

seattle citizen said...

Ach: for those still wondering, the Supreme's ruled in favor of Good News (c'mon, with a name like "Gospel," uh, "Good News," how could this NOT be a religous group? Yet the Supremes ruled that it is essentially prohibitive to limit "speech" by asserting that the Gospel, uh Good News "club" has a religious, rather than "character building" intent. What they seem to be saying is "who are we to decide which speech is religious and which is not? That would be...discriminatory!"

So the Gospel club, uh, Good News Club, is allowed the same status as a "character building" club.

Scary stuff.

Being so close to Christmas, I can't help but feel saddened by the nefarious and self-promoting activities undertaken by this group: One would hope that someone holding true faith would NOT rely on devious legal tactics to practice their faith - they have, in effect, gamed the system by claiming not to be religious in order to gain access for their evangelical fervor. Furthermore, they are preying on vulnerable young children, whose religious and spiritual life, if any, one would hope is left to the parent/guardians and community.

I'm reminded of a story in the paper twenty or so years ago. It seems that there was this youth carnival at a church in a neighborhood. All the kids were welcome to play on the rides, etc. But it turns out that when the parents who accompanied their children to this event let them run around playing games, etc, the kids were led into a tent where they were "baptized." Imagine the parents' surprise....

Sad. And scary. And predatory.

hschinske said...

There has been at least one case where a Good News Club was required to pay a fee and sued: http://www.lc.org/index.cfm?PID=14100&PRID=657


http://www.wydaily.com/local-news/723-dispute-over-1250-rental-fee-costs-w-jcc-schools-over-21000.html

However, the policy of the school district involved was not nearly as clear on who would be charged a fee and who wouldn't be as Seattle's is. There was a very general policy that allowed the fees to be waived under certain circumstances. Our policy includes *lots* of other groups besides religious groups who would pay fees. I'm no lawyer, but I think we're in a MUCH stronger position than the other district was.

That said, once there's a precedent such as the case above, people get scared.

Helen Schinske

Charlie Mas said...

The District can't win here. If they charge the Good News Club rent, then they will get sued by the Children's Evangelism Fellowship. If they DON'T charge them rent they can get the decision challenged in Court as a violation of the Washington State constitution. The District's choice is whether they definitely want to face the CEF's lawyers or possibly face lawyers from a disorganized and poorly financed group of free-thinkers.

I'd say they made the right choice.

Charlie Mas said...

Now, who would like to join with me as a disorganized and poorly financed group of free thinkers to oppose the unconstitutional gift of this classroom to the CEF?

Melissa Westbrook said...

"the fact that many are absolutely ignorant of even basic facts of the Christian faith is saddening in itself."

My belief is that children should learn the basics of ALL religions as the U.S. has many religions represented today whether we started with Christianity or not. As for whether Christianity is more important to learn about, well, that would be a personal opinion. A lot of so-called Christian thought has made its way into our government but it certainly was not the doing of our founders (and probably for most of them, not their wish).

Religion is very important to many people in this country and throughout the world and sadly, can be credited for much dissent and anger throughout the world. Understanding and tolerance is probably the most important thing we can teach our children. And that includes tolerance of people who don't believe in organized religion. Many people are spiritual without being part of any organized anything.

Sadly, many religions will not allow tolerance or acceptance of thought other than theirs (indeed with some, you'll be burning in hell as either a heathen or one who doesn't have the "correct" religion.

I'll join you Charlie. And this CEF group better watch their step because they could be one step away from a lawsuit.

Ironically, my son has been recruited by the Teen life group at his high school. He goes for the girls and the fun and doesn't care a whit about the religious end piece to the evening. But that's the mind of teenaged boy and not a child in elementary school. I would not be happy if he were still at Whittier.

Anonymous said...

Charlie said: "Now, who would like to join with me as a disorganized and poorly financed group of free thinkers to oppose the unconstitutional gift of this classroom to the CEF?"

Sounds great, how appropriate would it be to file a suit on Dec 26 (I'm sure the court system is closed on the 25th) ;-)

People, if you have any doubts about the intent or unscrupulousness of this group, you should really read the Santa Barbara Independent article hschinske referenced at: Reading, Writing and Original Sin.

It's eye-opening. This group is focused and on-task with targeting the youngest, most impressionable kids, and making their "religious pitch" appear to be coming from the schools. Here's a short passage:

"When the Cold Spring School Board politely asked the CEF representatives whether they would be willing to hold their meetings at 4 p.m., instead of at 3 p.m., in order to avoid giving children the impression that the program was sponsored by the school, they refused. I was also told that when some Westmont-affiliated parents offered space for the group in the church right next door to the school, which was believed to be available and had better facilities, again the answer was no. Clearly, this was a group that knew what it wanted, and wasn’t going to shy away from a fight to get it."

The first part could potentially be due to scheduling logistics, but not the second. They want to look and feel as much like a real classroom as possible. This is misleading and dishonorable.

Charlie also said: "Are kids in these clubs encouraged to try to bring their friends? I suspect they are. So what? If you don't want your kid to go then don't allow it. This isn't hard to walk away from."

This is a perfectly reasonable attitude in high school, as Melissa mentioned, but not in elementary. Especially not at the very young ages they are targeting. And they are targeting.

Anonymous said...

John Lederer said: "Parents in the SeattleFree group who wanted to monitor this and asked to attend the GNC sessions (without disruption) were told we were not welcome by CEF leaders, in clear violation of district policies which require that all school- related activities "be open to all interested participants."

Is this in fact a clear policy violation? Do you have a reference?

Charlie probably knows district policies as well or better than any one single person in the district, including staff and Board members. Charlie, can you weigh in on this?

If true, this would be a perfect way to start pushing back.

owlhouse said...

Many branches of my family tree are deeply rooted in missionary and evangelism work. In the south sound, they've been working for a decade plus to bring the "Good News" to schools and are proud of their success.

Of course this is anecdotal, not necessarily applicable to all CEF leaders/supporters, but my family who are involved are outrageously bigoted, hateful I've argued. They're "birthers" still insisting Obama is a secret Muslim. They absolutely see themselves as saving children. My aunts don't understand why the program isn't incorporated into the school day and routinely comment on the need to hold the meetings at school so kids will understand God's word is a core lesson.

I hope a core of interested citizens insist on transparency in the operation of the GNC in SPS- including meetings open to district observation, clear scheduling and promotion boundaries... And, they should be charged rent.

Dorothy Neville said...

Not allowing other adults in the room ought to be, by itself, a deal breaker.

I assume that they follow policies to protect children like the boy scouts. Such as every adult has a criminal record check and they absolutely forbid having an adult alone with a child other than their own. If not, that should also be a deal breaker.

hschinske said...

The documents I have run across so far have indicated that CEF's general policies and procedures concerning background checks are in order. I haven't seen anything troubling there.

Helen Schinske

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thank you None, interesting article. I think I might drop into a meeting soon. After all, it is a public meeting in a public building so I"m sure it's no problem. Sitting quietly and observing is a hallmark of public interaction.

Ananda said...

If they are getting space after school, it is not a "school- related activity." SPS policies won't apply, and just like SPS can't force the Boy Scouts to accept gay Scout leaders, they can't force GNC to allow people they don't want in. Until the law changes, the only way for SPS to avoid this is to not allow any outside groups access to school buildings after hours. That means no PTSA meetings/after school programs, no city OST programs, no community groups renting the band rooms. Is that a trade off that folks want?

hschinske said...

Ananda, they can't have it both ways. They signed up for rent-free premises as a "school-related activity." If they don't want to follow those rules, they have to pay rent. In any case, they DO have to follow either the "school-related" or "non-school-related" policies if they are to be allowed to use the premises at all.

Under the "non-school-related" section of the SPS policy it says "Only uses which are consistent with the District's educational program will be permitted. Activities which are discriminatory, promote or involve the use of illicit drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or firearms, promote hostility, disorder, or violence, attack or demean any individual or group, interfere with other uses of facilities, cause damages or excessive maintenance or cleanup, or reflect poorly on the District's reputation in the community will not be allowed."

I don't know how far one has to go to be considered inconsistent with the district's educational program. I would hope that a statement such as "Your teachers are lying to you when they say that evolution is true" would qualify.

Helen Schinske

Dorothy Neville said...

"they can't force GNC to allow people they don't want in."

I don't follow this. If you want to attend and observe a boy scout meeting held at school, that would be fine. If you want to attend a PTSA meeting held at school, that's also always fine. Telling parents and teachers that they cannot sit quietly in the back and observe a bible study class held at school? That's not fine.

mumbojumbo said...

So here is the deal on not being admitted to GNC meetings: Last spring several members of the Loyal Heights parents group, Seattle Schools Free from Proselytizing (see http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SeattleFree/), attended GNC meetings at Loyal Heights to get a sense of what was going on. They attended for two weeks running without incident and did not announce their presence or intentions. The GNC hand bill posted on the community bulletin board at LH said that "parents were welcome to attend." Some of the observers were, frankly, shocked by some of the racial insensitivity/inappropriateness of one of the bible lessen plans dealing with an African missionary story, but that's another issue.

The following week, another member of our parents group attended, this time announcing to the lead teacher that he was representing our group. He was told by the lead teacher that he was not welcome to attend without advanced notice. Subsequently, he gave them noticed and just before he was to attend the following week he received a voicemail message from the lead teacher saying that the other GNC parents were uncomfortable with his presence and that members of our group were not welcome. Attempts to attend this year by our group and by the Santa Barbara journalist that wrote "none's" article (above) were similarly rebuffed.

The School District policy E54.00 for community use of facilities states that for school-related activities such as GNC, "activities by these groups must be open to all interested participants." GNC has advertised that their sessions are open to all parents, and yet they are actively denying admission to some parents at our school. It would be one thing if we were disruptive but we attended twice without incident and have no incentive/intention to disrupt. That is why I said that they are in violation of school district policies.

John Lederer

Unknown said...

John: with all due respect, I am not sure you are really an "interested participant." You are pretty hostile, regardless of whether you sit "quietly" in back, or not.
I am wondering how it would be if a group of glbt kids, and kids who supported greater tolerance for glbt kids, held after school meetings of their group and were confronted by a group of suspicious, highly critical, anti-gay adults who only wanted to "sit in and observe" their meetings, as "interested participants."
Personally, I think that "truth" and "right" tend to win out in these things -- over time (and I am not talking decades -- nor by truth/right do I refer to religious doctrine -- I am referring to common sense, human decency, compassion, a sense of justice and fairplay). Where people are being devious, or "hiding" their true intentions, families and kids will figure it out, and the groups will not prosper.
But when you claim a right to attend their meetings as an "interested participant," when you clearly are NOT (in any reasonable sense of the word) interested in "participating" in the lessons or the underlying message to me lowers you to the level you are condemning them for (you are certainly no more an "interested participant" than they are a "character building club".) Give kids (and parents) credit for common sense. I have no children at these schools, but if I got the sense that an afterschool group was dividing little kids from their friends, making some kids feel left out purposely, etc., I would not allow my child to attend, whether I agreed with some of the underlying theology of the group or not. And I don't think I am in a minority in thinking this way.

anonymous said...

From a purely personal perspective I am OK with student initiated and run clubs, but not so comfortable with adult initiated and run clubs.

Nathan Hale high school has many many clubs including a bible study club and a Jew club. All student run.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Jan, I didn't say I'd go and make comments or anything else. Observing is observing whether the adult in charge knows (or cares) why I am there. Again, a public meeting in a public building is open to all and not allowing people to be there would be in violation of the usage rules. I know that while the district's lawyers will do everything to allow clubs usage of the school, they also would have to make sure the groups were adhering to the district's rules for usage.

Interesting though, there is no posting of either club at either Loyal Heights or Whittier (even though other club activities are listed).

Adhoc, again, as I pointed out, high school groups are a whole other issue.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Jan, I didn't say I'd go and make comments or anything else. Observing is observing whether the adult in charge knows (or cares) why I am there. Again, a public meeting in a public building is open to all and not allowing people to be there would be in violation of the usage rules. I know that while the district's lawyers will do everything to allow clubs usage of the school, they also would have to make sure the groups were adhering to the district's rules for usage.

Interesting though, there is no posting of either club at either Loyal Heights or Whittier (even though other club activities are listed).

Adhoc, again, as I pointed out, high school groups are a whole other issue.

mumbojumbo said...

To Jan:

I think it's odd for you to suggest we should treat any student initiated group with the same level of trust and scrutiny as CEF's Good News Club--a group that was not initiated by students or parents at either Loyal Heights or Whittier, but by a national organization with a political and legal agenda and nearly 4,000 of these clubs across the country. CEF provides "local clubs" with trained club leaders, helper training, its own curriculum and free legal support when the club runs into trouble.

CEF likes the controversy--its really what they're after. I'm personally aware of 12 legal actions resolved in CEF's favor against school districts in the last two years (and I'm sure that's an under count).

We asked the GNC at Loyal Heights to move to the evangelical church on the next block and offered to provide them with any assistance they needed, and they refused citing their legal right to be at the school. If religious instruction were really their primary goal, they would have gladly moved to avoid the controversy and the imposition of district rules and policies (like open meetings).

One thing I definitely do agree with Jan on is that truth and right do tend to win out in these things over time. I'm looking forward to that.

John Lederer

Anonymous said...

Melissa said: "I think I might drop into a meeting soon. After all, it is a public meeting in a public building so I"m sure it's no problem. Sitting quietly and observing is a hallmark of public interaction."

I'd love to hear about this if you do follow through.

Right after typing the above, I realize how silly it is. OF COURSE you'd let us know if you visit! So instead, I'll just offer some encouragement; not everyone has the flexibility to hit meetings like this right after school.

Unlike some of the high school clubs, this group seems focused on dishonorable tactics and litigation. It feels like it needs some watchful eyes. Would be ideal if it could be done by parents in the building, but anyone with a little pluck could probably get something started.

Charlie Mas said...

Once again, to be clear, it's within the CEF's rights to establish these clubs and it's within their rights to evangelize to those who attend the club meetings.

I may not want to participate or have my children participate in these activities, but I acknowledge - and will defend - their right to do these things.

It is not, however, appropriate for the club to exempt from the usual room rental fees. While the club activities may include some "character building", the religious instruction and evangelism is unquestionably the primary purpose. The sponsor organization claims that to be the case on their web site.

It is up to the principals at Loyal Heights and Whittier to execute the District Policy and collect the rents. If they don't (or won't), then it is up to the District's property management people to do it.

Here are the applicable Board Policies:

E50.00 JOINT USE OF SCHOOL FACILITIES

This ones says: "It is the policy of the Seattle School Board to encourage the use of surplus space within an operating school building, both during and beyond the regular school day, at fair rental orlease rates."

Policy E55.00, USE OF SCHOOL FACILITIES BY RELIGIOUS GROUPS says "Groups may rent and utilize school facilities for religious services under terms, conditions, and rates prescribed by Board policy. Activities of such groups should be clearly separated from school-sponsored activities so that the School District does not support, or appear to support, the practice of religion. Religious services shall not be held on school facilities during school hours, or in connection with any school-sponsored or school-related activity, except in areas which have been leased for the exclusive use of organizations for non-school purposes."

Finally, Policy E54.00, COMMUNITY USE OF SCHOOL DISTRICT FACILITIES speaks to which groups are charged rent and which are not. Among those exempted from paying rent are: "c. Youth character-building activities such as Scouts, Campfire, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA youth activities, youth sports activities and other organized youth club activities"

However, according to that same policy, "Activities which are sponsored by a particular group must conform to the normal activities engaged in by such group in order to receive Group I treatment, and where a Group I user engages in other activity, it will be treated as a non-school related user. Thus, for example, where the PTSA sponsors an election rally, it will be treated as a non-school related user and charged and prioritized accordingly. By the same token, when a religious organization sponsors a youth sports activity, for example, it will be treated as a Group I use."

That same policy specifically lists religious organizations among the Non-School related activity groups (Group II users) who should be charged rent.

It also says that "Only uses which are consistent with the District's educational program will be permitted." That means that if they teach that the approved science curriculum (evolution) is incorrect, then they can't be there at all.

Thomas Jefferson said...

By classifying this group as a non-rent paying "school-related" activity, they are endorsing this club in violation of the United States Constitution. By allowing the group free use of the public property they are violating the Washington State Constitution (section 11).

Only school related groups are allowed to use the facilities rent free. If the district is allowing the CEF to use the facilities rent free then the CEF/Good News Club is a school related group.

According to the CEF's website, they are seeking to reach unchurched children and evangelize them in a bible believing church.

By not charging them rent, then this group (and its goals) becomes a "school related activity."

I don't like that.

If the CEF wants to (accurately) describe themselves as a religious group, then they can pay to rent the space.

However, organizations that rent space from the school district can only do so if their activities are "consistent with the Districts eductional program."

Is seeking to reach unchurched children (that is children from families that are not church-going) and evanglizing them "consistent with the Districts' educational program"?

I don't like that either.

Having this group in the school gives the impression that the school district as approved their presence and their goals. When one looks at the district's policies that view is reinforced. It is either a "school related activity" or they have a club with actions that are "consistent" with the districts educational policies.

The CEF is either a school related group or it is an outside group that has a use which is consistent with the district's educational program.

I find that this is a state endorsement of a particular religous faith.

The Good News Club case did not address whether parents might be confused by the presence of a group like this on campus. Also, the school in that case was a K-12 and the meetings took place in an area of the school not frequented by elementary students.

Finally, Good News Club case did not (obviously) address the Washington State Constitution's much stricter separation of church and state.

There is a reason why relgious activities should not be allowed in elementary schools. Religion is a personal and family matter. The school district should not be allowing this group to come into the schools. That they are allowing them to come in as a non-rent paying "school-related" activity is unconstitutional.

seattle citizen said...

Right, Jefferson, and CEF should be notified that they must comply with WA constitution and SPS policy, pay rent, and move to an hour less proximate to school hours (I think I read in this thread that rent-paying, non-school related activities must wait until after "after school," in order not to conflict with the interests and operation of school related activities.

Who will send CEF, SPS and the WA Attorney General a certified letter informing all parties of these necessities?

Charlie Mas said...

seattle citizen, before we skip ahead to the nuclear option, how about we just contact the principal and ask him - nicely, politely - why the school isn't charging the Good News Club any rent?

Then, depending on his answer, we take the next step.

I have upheld the club's right to meet and to meet at the school, but I presumed that it would pay the same rent that any other organization would pay. I note the district policy that specifically lists religious organizations among those that must pay rent.

There are others, however, who don't want the club to meet at the school whether they pay rent or not. For them, the key policy is the one that excludes organizations that are not consistent with the District's educational program. To the extent that the Good News Club denies the scientific proof of evolution, they must be excluded from even renting space at a Seattle Public School.

Anonymous said...

Charlie said (regarding policy E54.00): "That same policy specifically lists religious organizations among the Non-School related activity groups (Group II users) who should be charged rent.

It also says that "Only uses which are consistent with the District's educational program will be permitted." That means that if they teach that the approved science curriculum (evolution) is incorrect, then they can't be there at all."

This is a great find, and after reading the entire policy, it seems pretty clear that the building made a mistake allowing The Child Evangelism Fellowship to be granted Group I status. They need to be charged rent, and perhaps even cleaning/damage deposit, etc., although that's less clear in the policy. It looks like that would be more dependent on what the Property Management Dept has worked up.

The fact that the "club's" teaching is inconsistent with district curriculum (evolution) could, and should be determined by parents and/or staff. Given that the group doesn't hide their agenda, it's almost certain to conflict with our curriculum. That should be a deal-breaker.

One more thing: section 3 of policy E54.00 also states:
"Activities which are discriminatory, ..., promote hostility, disorder, ..., attack or demean any individual or group, ..., or reflect poorly on the District's reputation in the community will not be allowed."

From some of the things I've read, and comments from others, some of these could very well be true. Certainly telling small children that some of their friends will go to hell is demeaning a group of individuals, if not outright hostile. Some have commented that the teachings are discriminatory, which could also be determined by having some non-involved parents attend each meeting. Depending on the findings and what the city/community thinks about it, the CEF could reflect poorly on the district's reputation, which is another no-no.

Seems to me that there are several areas in which the group's compliance could be brought into question.

hschinske said...

While I'd certainly object to my kids being taught creationism, I don't think that's the part that would violate district policy. I was thinking of stories like the one about "One of her teachers is trying to convince her that she came from apes; we are teaching her about God and the Bible. She is very confused and asking a lot of tough questions. My heart breaks to hear stories of teachers trying to turn children away from God." If that attitude toward school teachers was made obvious to the children in the Good News Club, *that* would be inconsistent with district policy.

Helen Schinske

Unknown said...

I am the parent of two students at Loyal Heights Elementary. I'm also the Dad that John mentioned who tried to attend a GNC meeting and was told by the group leader that I could not attend. I was interested in observing the program, so that I could judge for myself if the group's activities were just "character-building"(as they claim on the facilities usage agreement) or "religious" (which would require them to pay rent).

I was also interested in finding out first-hand whether their activities "demean any individual or group," which would make the club inconsistent with the District policy on facility use. I had heard from another parent who was initially allowed to attend that their stories contain negative stereotypes of other cultures.

It's true that I did not want to participate, just to observe, and I did not mis-represent my intentions. I was pleasant and cordial. How can anyone decide if the club is violating District policy if they don't allow outside adults to attend?

Based on what I have read in their newsletters, I suspect that the club's activites are religious, not school-related, and that Seattle Public Schools should be charging them rent per their own policy. I think the District policies are reasonable, legal and enforceable.

hschinske said...

"I think the District policies are reasonable, legal and enforceable."

Yes, absolutely.

"Non-school related users include the following:

a. Federal, state and municipal agencies, except for the Seattle Parks Department, which is treated according to a negotiated interagency agreement;
b. Religious organizations;
c. Political organizations;
d. Fraternal organizations;
e. Community club meetings;
f. Class reunions, banquets, concerts, and dances;
g. Privately organized activities for children (such as choral groups, drum and bugle teams, etc.);
h. Organized senior citizen groups affiliated with a building-based program;
i. Adult sports organizations (exclusive of those run through Parks);
j. Commercial activities, e.g., private seminars, theater productions, concerts, dances, banquets;
k. Parking lots other than Memorial Stadium;
l. Other groups deemed appropriate by the Manager of the School District's Property Management Office."

So if a group such as the Northwest Boychoir wanted to hold rehearsal at a Seattle school after hours, they would be charged rent under this policy, no matter how much "character building" being in the choir may provide. Presumably groups like SPICE (Success in Providing
Intergenerational Community Enrichment, which has locations at Whittier, McClure, and Hale), or the Whittier Heights Community Council, pay rent.

Doesn't the Lowell Elementary parking lot get rented out for a local church's parking overflow (for weddings and so on)?

Helen Schinske

Melissa Westbrook said...

Phillip, I would advise you (and I will take my own advice if I am turned away from a GNC meeting), to e-mail Dr. Enfield, the CAO, about this incident with a cc to Michael De Bell and your principal and just for legal reasons, I'd cc Shannon McMinimee (legal counsel). You only have to state what you tried to do and ask how you might be able to sit in on the next meeting which you understand to be a public meeting in a public building.

I'm pretty sure you'll be able to easily observe the next meeting. The law works both ways and the district knows that.

mumbojumbo said...

For those parents interested in working on this rent issue, a meeting of a Loyal Heights parents' group is scheduled for Wednesday, January 6 at 7:30pm at Tully's on Market St. at 22d. Ave. NW. We will be discussing an action plan to bring this issue to the attention of the Seattle School District.

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