Atheists Who Attended a School’s “Good News Club” Meeting Respond to a Volunteer’s Concerns About Their Reporting March 30, 2015

Atheists Who Attended a School’s “Good News Club” Meeting Respond to a Volunteer’s Concerns About Their Reporting

Yesterday, I posted about how some atheists who had started a “Young Skeptics” group had gone to a meeting of a local elementary school’s Good News Club — a Christian group — to find out what exactly was being taught to children.

Referring to the doctrine of eternal torture if you don’t accept Christ in your life, the atheists were concerned that the GNC’s teachings were “intimidating to children, which was a violation of the district’s facilities use policy.” They were also concerned when one of the GNC group’s leaders told them they were not using the (parent organization) Child Evangelism Fellowship’s approved curriculum, which turned out to be inaccurate.

One of the comments underneath that post was made by “Holly,” who wrote:

As a volunteer for the GNC group at this school, I can tell you that this is greatly exaggerated. For instance, [atheists] Dan Courtney or Kevin Davis didn’t mention that the leader of the Young Skeptics Club was told to remain a certain distance from one of the volunteers, because he had gotten overly aggressive. Why were the police called? Because strangers were taking pictures of our kids. If it were any other community club, the men coming in and taking pictures would be met with ire. Imagine if it was your daughter’s ballet class and a group of men came in and just started taking pictures? You might call the police, too.

As for the “lying,” that, too is really exaggerated. The person who was asked if the GNC club used CES curriculum likely didn’t know what CES was, and probably said, “We use our own curriculum” meaning, the Good News Club’s curriculum. There was absolutely no intention to deceive. Actually, it’s quite obvious the GNC uses the CES curriculum — anyone who went to CES’s website and then observed our club would be able to tell. Now, perhaps the GNC leaders should be better apprised of where the teaching sources come from, but since only one or two people are in charge of teaching, not all the volunteers are aware of the connection between CES and GNC.

This video and Kevin Davis’s version of the events that occurred are so over-the-top, my liberal, ACLU atheist friend was appalled. Please read my blog for the other side of the story. Dissenting comments are fine, but hateful comments won’t be published. The link is [here].

I understand the hate for religion runs deep among some atheists, but what’s been written here is simply false.

Hemant, I’m actually a longtime reader of your blog, and will continue reading, but I hope when you receive a one-sided story, you won’t present it as “gospel truth.” No pun intended.

Those are some serious charges, so I asked Kevin Davis for a response.

What about the claim that a leader of the Young Skeptics Club was told to remain a certain distance from one of the volunteers, because he had gotten overly aggressive?

Davis wrote:

The leaders of Young Skeptics are Dan Courtney, myself, and Bill Courtney. None of us have ever been told to remain a certain distance from anyone, nor have we ever been aggressive with anyone from the GNC. The only thing I can think of regarding Holly’s unfounded remark, is that after one of the sessions, when all of the kids and parents had left, one of the visitors (not anyone affiliated with Young Skeptics) asked to speak with one of the presenters of the GNC because he wanted to discuss an assertion she made to the young children attending the meeting.

When introducing the Bible lesson for the day, she prefaced it by asking the kids, “What is different about stories from the Bible?” The kids, showing that this is obviously a routine question asked at every meeting to solidify what’s being conveyed, responded in unison “They’re all true.” Then she said, “That’s right, children. And how do we know they’re all true?” They again responded collectively, “Because God never lies.”

So the observer, being college educated in the field of religious studies, wanted to have a dialogue with the presenter to express his concerns that children were being told that everything in the Bible is absolutely true — an extremely fundamentalist view of the Bible that a very small percentage of Christians agree with — rather than teaching them that this is what the presenter believes to be true, or this is what Christians believe.

It’s quite likely that most of the parents of these kids don’t think 100% of the Bible is true. Teaching 7 year old children that something only a small group of fundamentalists believe is not simply “teaching lessons from the Bible.” It’s teaching fundamentalism, and that’s not only contrary to the science education they’ll receive, it’s dangerous. Despite Holly’s claim, their conversation never got heated or aggressive, and no voices were raised.

Dan Courtney added: “The monitoring of the Good News Club is conducted by community volunteers, and there is no affiliation with the Young Skeptics.”

What about the claim that the police were called because pictures were being taken of the children?

Davis wrote:

No. The police were called by the NY State Director of CEF because the visitors refused to sign the form that is shown in Dan Courtney’s video.

He threatened to call the police as a way to get his form signed. It didn’t work. So he called the police and the police agreed that the meetings are to be open to the public, since they’re on public property and the district policy states just that. And since the visitors WERE NOT being disruptive, there was no reason for the police to remove anyone, much less be called in the first place.

As for pictures being taken, we are not interested in taking pictures of anyone’s kids. Any pictures that were taken were of volunteers giving lessons. If there were kids in the pictures, then most likely it was the backs of their heads and was incidental. In fact, no one ever asked us not to take pictures until the Director showed up with his silly contract (which said we could be kicked out if we even take out a cell phone), which had nothing to do with kids; it said no pictures, video, or audio recording at all.

If photos were really a concern, then the meetings could easily be moved to private property such as a church. There’s an idea — religious instruction in a church, not a public school. Yes, if a bunch of men came into my daughter’s ballet class, I’d call the police, because the class is on private property and not open to the public. Apples and oranges.

For the record, the people who have come to observe have been men AND women, and have not taken many pictures at all, despite Holly painting us to be a bunch of shutter-happy creepy guys trying to get kiddie pics. There have been more pictures taken of us than there have been the other way around.

Courtney added: “The previous month when a single volunteer (a woman from the community) attempted to attend the GNC, she was barred completely. It’s abundantly clear that our mere presence at the club was the issue, and that calling the police was part of the intimidation tactics to keep us out.”

What about the person who didn’t know what curriculum was being used?

I’ll assume she means CEF. Holly starts out her response by saying she’s a volunteer for GNC. While not saying what kind of volunteer, she says in her personal blog that she just recently volunteered to hand out snacks. I assure you that the district superintendent did not call a snack person to ask about curriculum. They called the leadership of the GNC, who by the way must sign CEF’s Doctrinal Protection Policy & Worker’s Compliance Agreement in order to run the club.

Aside from that, it even says on the Good News Club permission slip that they’re run by Child Evangelism Fellowship. So I’m absolutely certain the individuals who were asked about the curriculum know exactly who CEF is and what they were being asked. Holly’s statement regarding this is pure conjecture and again, totally unfounded. I’m fairly certain the CEF/GNC would not want her to act as their spokesperson regarding this incident.

Courtney added:

… the reply relayed to me though the Superintendent’s office was not “we don’t know what ‘CEF’ is”, but rather a flat denial that they were using CEF’s curriculum.

To the claim that even a liberal atheist friend was appalled by Davis’ version of events:

There is nothing in my report or the video that is false or that did not happen. I won’t rehash it. If Holly would like to expound upon what she feels is over the top or inaccurate, she can feel free. If you’d like to see first hand what types of complaints people have about the GNC and CEF, just search “good news club abuse” on YouTube or read Katherine Stewart’s book. I’ve done both.

Holly wrote that “what’s been written here is simply false.” Davis responded:

Again, nothing I wrote was false and Holly hasn’t shown anything to be as such. If Holly was being completely honest in her comment, she would have presented herself as a volunteer to hand out snacks, instead of omitting that part and simply saying “volunteer” which presents her to be some sort of authority on what happened here.

Let’s be clear. Those of us who oppose the GNC (specifically the leaders of Young Skeptics) are not opposed to religious instruction. There are some Bible stories that do a fantastic job of teaching morality, compassion, and humanitarianism. We are opposed specifically to the methods used by CEF through Good News Clubs.

Teaching children, who inherently believe what they’re told by adults inside the walls of a school, that they’re fundamentally flawed, deserving of death, and can never be fixed unless they dedicate their lives to Jesus, is predatory and abusive. Stripping down a child’s self worth in order to build it up again by selling them your version of the cure is, while obviously effective, unethical to anyone who can look at the process objectively and has any empathy for innocent children. Asking a child to commit their lives to a deity when they are still learning basic math skills is vastly inappropriate. Half of them still want to be cowboys and princesses and you’re asking them to say the Prayer of Salvation or suffer the eternal consequences. It’s horrific. How many life choices did you make when you were 7?

Holly, you’re welcome to attend any Young Skeptics meeting you’d like, and you can take as many pictures as you want. We won’t make you sign a contract, and we probably won’t even call the police. And if you miss any, we record them all and post them on our YouTube channel. Unlike the Good News Club, we’re not hiding anything and have no reason to.

On a personal note, I would say that I understand the concern when people you don’t know attend a gathering of children, even for a school club, but I think the atheists are following the policy provided by the district. I also think they’re raising an important concern — that the unwritten goal of these Good News Clubs is to indoctrinate children with a fundamentalist Christian view of the world before they’re old enough to ask critical questions or challenge what they’re being taught.

Why not record meetings and post them online as the Young Skeptics group does?

Why not make the full curriculum public? (Even the lessons that are publicly available are horrific, telling kids who “complain about the meals [their] mom or dad cooks” that they “have earned God’s punishment for sin, which is spiritual death… That means… never going to Heaven.”)

Why not be honest about how children are being taught that the punishment for not accepting Christ’s divinity is torture in the afterlife?

This isn’t about “hate for religion.” It’s about our shared concern for the well-being of children. The atheists here feel like what’s being taught to kids is psychologically damaging, and it’s even more worrisome when the GNC is tied to a public school as opposed to a church.

As the saying goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant. If the GNC believes they’re doing everything right, they have nothing to worry about when accounts of their public meetings are indeed made public.

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