Giving Religious Pamphlets to Minors July 6, 2008

Giving Religious Pamphlets to Minors

Over the Fourth of July weekend, a guy named Chris who lives not all that far from me attended a parade in downtown Aurora, IL.

At one point, he noticed his five-year-old son holding a small booklet…

… It was at this time that I noticed Caden holding a little booklet. It had an eagle on the front, and American flags. I figured it was some politician’s handout, or some informational thing from the city, that someone had given him on their way up the street while I was busy with other things.

He looked at it for a few minutes. He can read quite well, so I knew he was reading it. Then he asked me, a little nervously, “Dad, what is this?”

I came over by the wall where he was standing and stood next to him so I could see what he was reading. Ah, I see. It was a tract from Cornerstone Church. It was many pages long, mostly text, mostly talking about how the reader is sinful and must repent.

This led to an awkward conversation Chris wasn’t ready to have — though he handled it well, I think.

I asked him if he wanted me to put it away, and he said no, he liked the pictures. I wasn’t going to take it away from him against his will. Better that he check it out a little bit with some parental guidance than have it enter the realm of “you can’t have that.”

Back home, though, he was upset with the church:

It wasn’t until we’d gotten home after the fireworks last night that I had more time to think about this incident. What had happened while neither me nor my wife were looking? Someone came along and handed my five year old son a Christian religious tract without permission from anyone.

Suddenly, I wondered how that person would feel if I’d handed their kid a pamphlet outlining all the inconsistencies and horrors of the Bible. Or about Vishnu. Or Thor. Or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I was a little pissed.

And how sneaky was this thing? A giant eagle and flying flags on the cover and the back. A little sticker on the back from the church and its address. No indication apart from that that inside would be descriptions of how people are innately bad, and need the grace of an invisible spirit to overcome that.

Hand it out to adults, fine. Adults are responsible for themselves. You’ve got no business handing that stuff out to minors without their parents’ permission. And kids who aren’t even in kindergarten yet? You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Personally, I like the way he handled the situation.

Would you have done anything differently?

Do you think the church being purposely sneaky by preying on the child, or were they simply going about their normal business?

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Amber

    I believe the church knew what the were doing by handing their pamphlets out to kids. No five year old I know would say “No thanks, I’m not interested” when faced with something with pretty pictures.
    Something similar happened to me as a kid; some people came to my door and have me a few fliers advertising their church. I asked them if they wanted to see my mother, but they just babbled on to me for a while. When they left, I went to my mom and cried because they had told me that we needed to attend church to know Jesus. For the next year at least, I nagged my mother because I thought we were going to hell. We never ended up going to their church, but it proved that preying on people’s kids in order to persuade their parents really has some power to it.

    Churches know they have to start young if they want people to grow up to be confused, scared religious nuts. It can really mess with a kid’s head, and I think threatening a kid with Hell should be illegal.

  • Wet Mogwai

    They probably weren’t being sneaky at all. They probably assumed the parents would be grateful for exposing their child to this crap.

    Of course there was a reason they used to use cartoons to advertise cigarettes.

  • cipher

    It can really mess with a kid’s head, and I think threatening a kid with Hell should be illegal.

    Absolutely. I would love to see a test case – but everyone is so scared to death of the evangelicals now that they’d probably win.

    They will never concede that they don’t the right, as well as the obligation, to evangelize your children, and will continue to insist that doesn’t give you the right to attempt to indoctrinate their kids – because they have THE TRUTH™, and they believe they’re saving the child’s soul.

  • Lenny

    This is their normal business, for sure. They are told that they have to convert everyone to Christianity, period (end of story).

    The poisoning of young minds early is part of the tactic .. it’s much harder to CONvince someone who’s older that a big invisible Thing out there created/controls everything, when there’s no evidence besides a book compiled by 4th century zealots, eager to control a population.

    At young ages, the youth are still being told that Santa and the Easter Bunny and The Devil are real, so they (more) easily buy into this Load Of Crap about whatever religion the adult (parents, usually) is peddling.

  • BK

    IANAL, but I would think this would be a great test case – IIRC the supreme court has already decided that speech is not protected in the same way when children are present or could reasonably be present (this is why South Park isn’t on Saturday morning, when I would really want to watch it). I’d imagine one could make a pretty good case that evangelizing to children without parental consent is not protected and would be limited by a decision.

    The best way to do this is probably to generate a bunch of tracts on FSM, the Invisible Teapot, accurate criticisms of the Biblical record, and inconsistencies between faith and reason – and then start handing them out to children at evangelical events and the creation “museum” – the batsh*t crazy types there will be sure to sue, and find themselves cutting the nose to spite the face.

    Now, to find a godless lawyer (aren’t they all? LOL, kidding) and a godless organization with enough money to deal with the fight.

  • llewelly

    Matthew, 19:14:

    But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.


    Do you think the church being purposely sneaky by preying on the child, or were they simply going about their normal business?

    Yes. To many Christians – and certainly to the mainstream Mormons I grew up among – proselytizing to children is normal, natural, expected, and respected. They do not think of it as ‘sneaky’. But it is nonetheless a ‘sneaky’ strategy in the sense that children often have weaker defenses, and that they feel no compunction about approaching children when the children’s guardians are not present.

  • My son and I were in DQ last week when he noticed a poster that had kids in lab coats and beakers. In big bold letters, the words on the poster were “Power Lab.”

    My son is 8 and loves science. “Oh, dad! Cool! Can I go?”

    I quickly glanced to see where the event was taking place. Location, “The Wesleyan Church.” “Yeah, they are not trying to teach you any science there” I told my 8 year old son.

    “But they have science coats and stuff.”

    I told him to read the second line.

    “Discover the miraculous powers of Jesus.” He read.

    “There, does it say anything about science?” I asked.

    “No! Stupid church! Church sucks!” He yells out in a crowded DQ.

    I think my 8 year old handled it quite well.

  • Kate

    “No! Stupid church! Church sucks!” He yells out in a crowded DQ.

    Congratulations. You’ve successfully brainwashed your kid the OTHER way. Genius.

  • Or the 5-year-old picked the pamphlet off the ground where someone threw it.

  • Or the 5-year-old picked the pamphlet off the ground where someone threw it.

    Chris mentioned on his posting that his son said someone had handed it to him.

  • Kate, my sons reaction was justified. He likes science. The poster made it look like it was a science camp. On finding out that it was church related, he doesn’t hold back his emotions like most adults would. So, he was honest.

    Look, I know a lot of atheists say things like, I will let my child decide when they are old enough, yada yada yada. But I grew up Greek Orthodox and there is no way I am going to let religion ruin his life. I was fortunate that the priests in my community didn’t sexually assault the alter boys, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t get the good old shit kicking now and then. So, why would I want him around any BSing clergy man?

  • Jen

    When I was, oh, junior high age, I think, I went to a park with my friend sans parents. We had an old (ie: my age now) woman come up to us and hand us Chick Tracts, and invite us to her church’s softball game, while telling us about hell. My friend glanced through it, and threw it away. I was shocked, because you can’t throw away religious stuff adults give you! I didn’t go to softball, and I have no idea what I did with the tract, other than not throw it out that day, but looking back, that woman was really preying on us.

  • The Thinking Theist

    Well, from the perspective of someone who was raised in a hell-fearing, God-prostrating church, I totally agree that threatening anyone (especially young kids) with hell-fire if they don’t believe in God and become committed to something they don’t even understand, is wrong.

    I’ve had countless experiences of being threatened with eternal punishment and torture up until the age of 13 that it has nagged and ate away at me in my thoughts for many years. Plus, for those who are interested, the concept of “hell” wasn’t introduced until around the time of Jesus…until then, the Hebrews believed that everyone went to Sheol after they died. Sheol is just a place where the dead abode without any specific purpose.

  • Do you think the church being purposely sneaky by preying on the child, or were they simply going about their normal business?


  • geru

    I can only imagine that if a couple of Muslims in robes handed out Islam pamphlets to little children in an average American mall, they would probably be killed right on the spot.

    Or how about atheists handing out Free Thinking pamphlets…

  • bernarda

    Evangelism towards minors is child abuse. Evangelists in general are hung up sexual perverts.

  • Kapture

    I think the church is being sneaky. Those pamphlets are made to get in under your radar.

    Sneaky or not, it’s a free speech issue. Even if everybody were perfectly polite, you couldn’t protect your kid from every crazy influence on the street. So robust conversation is the best answer.

    We have neighbors who’s kid is very good friends with ours. I don’t hide the Pazuzu statue or D&D books, but our aesthetic is very tongue in cheek Toscano pagan. Neither do I proselytize to any of the neighborhood kids. I think it’s rude, and I won’t do it.

    That said, after they took our daughter to a easter egg hunt (no services, they said), I didn’t censor my opinions when our kid asked us if Jesus was real. She was very impressed with that point, which meant they obviously got it across. I said: nobody really knows, but I’m pretty sure not.

    Also, when she lost interest in the tacky little red plastic cross, I wrapped the cord around it and dropped it in the bottom of one of her toy boxes, where it has since languished with the rest of the tacky plastic toys.

  • A couple of years ago, I attended a church service with my grandmother to celebrate the refurbishing of a century-old church building. It was very important to her, and she is very important to me.

    Anyway, they had a guest pastor. This pastor was the first woman pastor of their church from a number of years ago who had now ascended to some higher church rank. Her sermon’s point was that the church was facing a decline in power and influence, and it was important to get the kids while they’re young.

    So, my vote is “just going about their business.”

  • Alex

    I think that the main problem with church literature like this is that it forces atheists to have a conversation with their kids about religions earlier than they planned. I equate church literature to porn. If that pamphlet had a naked girl in there, the five year old would have some questions as well, but that’s not a conversation a parent wants to have at such an early age.

  • Sorry Friendly but I’ve re-read the entire post and there is nothing in there that says that the kid was handed the pamphlet. The father *thought* or *probably* but nothing from the kid about “somebody gave this to me”.

    In fact, his post mentions the lack of any street cleaning prior to the parade which lends itself even further to the “a 5-year-old picked it up off the floor” theory.

    Not that I’m saying fundies are above giving this stuff directly to kids in fact, I vote both, “just going about their business” and they are sneaky. I’m just saying there is more than one interpretation of this specific event.

  • Skeptigator — Read the comments on his page.

  • Siamang

    I’m a parent of a five year old. She’ll be starting Kindergarten soon, and I expect it’s possible that a playmate might start bringing up Jesus.

    5 is not too early to start discussing your family’s beliefs and the question of how to treat people who believe differently.

  • Good parenting FTW. This will help the kid approach other things he reads with a critical mindset and be cautious about accepting idealistic propaganda wholesale.

    This is the approach I hope to take with my future kids about controversial stuff like religion, drugs and sex (though hopefully that’s a few years off still!!).

  • SJ

    Know how they got me to go to church? I loved to read (still do) and I was told that if I read a Bible verse, memorized it, and recited it, I would receive candy. So basically, it went like this:

    Going to church + believing in Jesus = getting candy and going to Heaven!

    Not going to church + not believing in Jesus = no candy, and an eternity screaming in pain in the fires of hell!

    Give me a break, I was seven! Candy was very important. At that time I still believed in just about everything adults told me, and their descriptions of Hell scared the piss out of me, and I wanted to do everything I could to avoid going there.

    Re: Jack Chick tracts, my nonreligious father took one away from me once. I thought it was just another comic book, but he explained that sick people give those out to scare children.

  • I think it’s about time to go in front of the church with atheist tracts when service is letting out.

  • Siamang

    There’s a dude on the IIDB that used to do that. Apostate Abe had his “atheventures”

  • absent sway

    I spent a lot of time in Sunday School as a kid and helping out with their programs as a young adult–targeting children is definitely deliberate but it’s considered to be sharing the “good news.” Chris handled this well. Also, Siamang makes a good point: five is not too early to begin preparing a child for hearing these things (obviously it’s better not to be forced into it such as in this tract situation). When I was five I was already inviting friends to my little fundamentalist Baptist church and praying for them to be saved.

  • Thanks for the reads and the comments. I did send a letter to the church, a fair amount of which is rewritten from the blog post. It’s up at Reddit.

  • Karen

    Yes. To many Christians – and certainly to the mainstream Mormons I grew up among – proselytizing to children is normal, natural, expected, and respected. They do not think of it as ’sneaky’. But it is nonetheless a ’sneaky’ strategy in the sense that children often have weaker defenses, and that they feel no compunction about approaching children when the children’s guardians are not present.

    It’s a long-established evangelical technique to get Sunday school kids to invite their friends along to fun things like beach trips, picnics, sports days, summer camp and vacation bible school. (Entire organizations are devoted to this goal.) The idea is that the parents will be told it’s a social event, which it primarily is. But they’re usually not told that there’ll be witnessing and maybe even “do you know what happens after you die?” conversations later in the day – around the bonfire or over dessert.

    The purpose of the entire event is to convert the kids and turn them into lifelong believers, as well as perhaps get their parents interested in religion, too. I agree that it’s sneaky because that underlying purpose is not disclosed when the events are advertised.

  • David D.G.

    Do you think the church being purposely sneaky by preying on the child, or were they simply going about their normal business?

    There’s a difference between what the church does and what individual members of the church do. Without evidence that the church’s leadership actually directs the pamphleteers to target children in such a fashion, I’d say the buck stops with the pamphleteer — especially since the person has the final say in whether he will target young kids or not.

    Even so, however, it may not be deliberate sneakiness, or at least not done in a spirit of evil intent; from their perspective, the fundies are desperately trying to help people. The fact that they go about their acts of “good” in all sorts of evil ways (lying, for instance, being big on their list of tactics) just shows how bankrupt their philsophy really is when they try to put it into practice.

    ~David D.G

  • I think the church was being purposefully sneaky in their packaging of their product – with the only indication that it might be religious being the address sticker. Now that I think of it, I’d guess that this church ordered the tracts from a publishing house, rather than designing and printing them independently.

    It’s possible that this church has a stated policy about inducting minors, and that the person who handed this pamphlet over was acting outside the bounds of that policy. I’d love to get a reply from them, and see what they have to say about it.

    I doubt there is a policy forbidding dissemination of literature to minors without getting parental permission. I equally doubt that there is a policy encouraging it. If that very likely scenario is the case, then the church views non-member minors exactly the same as non-member adults. The instruction then being, “Hand these out to whoever will take them,” and the subtext being, “Regardless of whether they are minors.”

    It’s not active sneakiness. It’s passive sneakiness. It’s the kind of sneakiness that survives because those being snuck upon are so used to it that they don’t notice anymore. I just happened to notice, that’s all.

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