Earlier this month, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to an Indiana school district concerning a problem at Kouts Middle/High School. They claimed that two pastors from Heartland Christian Church were allowed to proselytize to students during their lunch period as part of a program called “Elevate” that used to occur after school.
FFRF wanted to know why these pastors were given access to students during the school day for the purpose of preaching Christianity.
This week, Superintendent Rod Gardin of the East Porter County School Corporation responded to FFRF with a complete dismissal of all their claims.
“In response to your assertion that the school corporation is allowing religious instruction to occur during the school day at Kouts Middle/High School through the Elevate Students program, I analyzed the curriculum used in the program,” Gardin wrote. “There is no religious content in the curriculum. There are no Bible verses, references to any spiritual deity, or any activities that expose students to any religious concepts.”
Gardin even stressed that he watched several video clips that are shown to students to reinforce the concepts they learn from the program. According to Gardin, “all of them were free from any religious content.”
So, sure, these pastors are given access to students during the school day, but not to preach Christianity. Gardin went on to ask FFRF to retract their press release about the program.
If Gardin has his facts right, he’d have a fair point. Sounds like there’s no proselytizing and FFRF was wrong… right?
Yesterday, FFRF attorney Ryan Jayne responded to him, and it’s clear he’s not yet ready to concede. Jayne explained that what Gardin says contradicts their complainants, and FFRF wants more information.
Principal Stoner told one parent, “Elevate is led by the two youth pastors at Heartland Christian Church. They use a Christian curriculum to teach leadership qualities and principals [sic] to the students. This is in no way a requirement”…
Another District employee, Leana Palmer, told a parent that “‘Elevate’ is a faith-based character and leadership program that is taught during lunch on Wednesdays as an elective and is open to our middle and high school students.”
… one of our complainants informed us that their child has been encouraged by other students to attend the “bible class” during lunch period, and that if they do attend the “can win a gift card.”
There are employees in the District, as well as students, who seem convinced this is a religious program. What do they know that Gardin doesn’t? To that end, FFRF made an open records request for all communications with those District officials, as well as any communications that reference the pastors or their church. Those records will shed more light on the facts.
Either way, both sides agree that religious programs have no place in a public school, so if that’s what’s really going on here, “Elevate” will come to an end.
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