In order to celebrate their hard work preparing for and taking the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) tests, the eighth-graders at North Middle School in Joplin will be going to a sports complex with a climbing wall and video games this Thursday.
That form is a little misleading, though, because the name of the place they’re going to isn’t “Victory Sports Complex.”
It’s Victory Ministry & Sports Complex. Which, believe it or not, is a ministry.
But maybe that’s okay. As long as the staffers stick to watching the children as they play, and there’s no attempt to proselytize, there shouldn’t be a problem. It’s really no different from the way churches sometimes host public school graduation ceremonies when they’re the largest venue in town — there’s usually no legal consequence as long as everything is kept secular.
But when you read the liability form provided by the ministry, which a concerned parent sent to me, it’s clear that the employees there have every intention of converting these children while their parents aren’t around (click image below to enlarge):
We (I) understand that the officers, officials, agents, other participants and employees of Victory Ministry and Sports Complex may be inviting me or (my) our students to Bible studies and local churches of the Christian faith. While at any Victory Ministry and Sports Complex location or event (my) our student(s) has permission to participate in worship services, Bible studies or any other activities that may pertain to the Christian faith.
Wow… Way to sneak that into the middle of the form.
Turns out the biggest threat to students at this sports complex are the staffers.
The parent told me:
My daughter was upset, but [understood] that I could not give permission for her to attend this trip. We currently have a date to celebrate on our own this weekend, but she won’t be with all her friends… [I know that] fact is disappointing for her.
I’ve asked administrators at the school why they felt this was okay. I know the parent has also reached out to church/state separation groups.
Either way, this seems like a pretty blatant violation of the law. It’s hard to believe there are no other ways for kids to celebrate their hard work than to be preached at by strangers. They couldn’t do a pizza party? They couldn’t go to a local park? (It took me all of a few seconds to find a Laser Tag location in Joplin. They couldn’t go there?)
I wish it didn’t take an atheist parent to point out the obvious problem, but we’ve come to expect Christian parents to remain silent when it’s their faith being promoted by a public school. Here’s hoping the District does the right thing, cancels this event, and finds a more appropriate way to honor these students.
***Update***: Apparently, going to Victory is something many public schools in the area do, according to their Facebook page. Here are some posts from just the past week:
Thanks to reader Ian for pointing that out.
***Update 2***: Jason Cravens, the Executive Director of Secondary Education for Joplin Schools, sent me this response to my questions:
Thank you for your email to Dr. Huff and Dr. Eggleston regarding your concerns over the field trip to Victory Gym. The trip is a celebration for the hard work the students did this year. The students voted for this location. The activities and approaches are completely secular in nature. The permission slip was the standard waiver of Victory Gym. We have not had any parents contact us about concerns, but if they do, we will assure them the secular nature of the trip. Your email brings a good point for us to review the waivers of locations better so our communication can be clearer. I believe removing the language you quote in the email or having it crossed out on the waiver would have created more clarity and removed the confusion for the parents regarding the nature of the trip. Definately something for us to be diligent towards in the future. Thank you, again.
Even if the school says the trip is secular in nature, there’s no reason we should trust Victory to pause their proselytizing when students visit. Unless they explicitly state they will not bring up Christianity during field trips, I still anticipate legal problems for the District.