If you only saw the headlines, you might think an atheist group just came from out of nowhere and shut down a Bible club at Altruria Elementary School in Memphis, Tennessee. Because, as we all know, atheists are nasty people who hate God.
The truth, as usual, is more complicated.
Here’s what one local media outlet said about the controversy:
… the atheist organization Freedom From Religion Foundation sent Bartlett City Schools a letter that the club was unconstitutional. BCS closed down the bible club. And now parents are angry.
In response, the Brown family contacted an attorney with the Center for Religious Expression. They are outraged that the club was shut down because their two children were looking forward to participating in the bible club next year. They don’t believe it’s unconstitutional, since the club is elective and held before school.
“The message they are sending these kids is there is something terribly wrong with you wanting to meet and discuss the bible,” says Nate Kellum, an attorney for the Center for Religious Expression.
There’s nothing wrong with kids discussing the Bible. The problem is when staffers at the school coerce them to discuss the Bible, and that’s what was happening here.
This was a before-school club led by two teachers at the school. That’s the first problem. And there was pressure to get students to attend it. Even the permission slip made it sound like this club was an expectation:
IMPORTANT: PLEASE INDICATE YOUR PREFERENCE FOR WHICH QUARTER YOU WOULD LIKE YOUR CHILD TO PARTICIPATE IN THE BIBLE CLUB… PLEASE RETURN THIS FORM BY THURSDAY, AUGUST 25
The form didn’t ask if parents wanted their kids to participate, but when. That’s the second problem.
Those red flags spurred FFRF attorney Rebecca Markert to take action on behalf of a parent and send a warning letter. And — this is important — the District agreed with her.
“Per our understanding, religious clubs at elementary schools must be sponsored by an outside group. To our knowledge, the K-2 Bible Club at Altruria was not. While this club has been postponed, we are working with the school to ensure the proper steps are taken to allow this club in the 2017-2018 school year.”
That’s the right reaction. If the school allows extra-curricular clubs, and an outside group wants to offer and run one about the Bible, that’s fine. (Same with a Satanic club.) But that wasn’t happening before and FFRF was right to call them out on it.
You would think a lawyer from the “Center for Religious Expression” would understand that, too, but admitting it would violate the Christian Persecution Complex. So, instead, Kellum blamed atheists as if they were coming after Christians.
He has it completely wrong. Atheists want kids reading the Bible. It’s the best way to turn them into atheists. It just has to be done in a legally sound way.