This past June, the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to the Douglas County School District in Colorado detailing extensive evidence that officials at Highlands Ranch High School and Cougar Run Elementary School, in their capacities as district employees, were promoting Christianity and raising money for a Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ mission trip.
The FCA made it clear why they were going to Guatemala: “… our group’s primary goal is to share the love and hope of Jesus.” Which is fine. They’re allowed to do that. But make no mistake: This trip, by their own admission, was about proselytizing, first and foremost.
Because this is a trip to preach the Gospel, the schools cannot support or raise money for those groups, even if the students had a secondary, more noble, goal of handing out toiletries and hygiene bags.
That’s why this flyer, which was given to all students and parents at the elementary school, is a big problem:
The flyer makes clear that the trip is sponsored both by the Christian student group (FCA) and the public school sixth grade class. The school made abundantly clear that it was supporting the mission trip in connection with the official sixth grade “Latin American social studies curriculum.”
The AHA also pointed out an email sent by a school official to parents urging them to donate supplies and money, which included a bit about how sales of the school’s news publication would go toward the trip. They also noted a blog post written by another teacher (in that capacity) writing about the purpose of the trip: “The heart of this journey is to share, celebrate, and honor Christ.”
If school officials wanted to donate to charity, there are plenty of non-Christian ways to do it. It’s not like mission trips are the only option. And if individuals working at the school wanted to donate to the mission trip, they were allowed to do that — but only as private citizens, not educators employed by the district.
This should have been an easy problem to solve. The district would just issue a mea culpa, promise to end the illegal promotions of Christianity, and move on.
But they didn’t do that. In fact, they didn’t respond to the AHA at all.
That’s why, yesterday, the AHA filed a federal lawsuit against the district. Not only does the lawsuit document the problems listed above, it also includes details about how the school raised money for a Christian non-profit:
… the school district actively promoted and engaged in a program run by the evangelical Christian organization Samaritan’s Purse. Called Operation Christmas Child, the program uses gift packages with Christian messages to persuade children in developing nations to convert to Christianity. Samaritan’s Purse is led by evangelical minister Franklin Graham.
The AHA is asking a judge to rule that the district violated the Constitution, prevent the district from partnering with Christian groups in the future, and force the district to pay all the court costs and attorneys’ fees.
The district should never have let the matter get this far. Instead of apologizing and mending the mistake, they thought they could just ignore the problem until it went away. They were wrong.
And now they’re going to lose a court battle, not to mention funding that should be spent on the students.
(Large portions of this article were published earlier)