Later tonight, there will be a “Faith on the Field” event at the Community Dreams Football Field in Colesburg, Iowa, part of the Edgewood-Colesburg Community School District. While the Facebook event page said the event is “sponsored by area churches,” the reality is that the school is very heavily involved in this Christian program.
American Atheists heard about this event from a concerned citizen and filed an open records request last week to get more information about who planned it, who’s involved in the program, etc. In theory, the only way this would be legal is if students were running the show. Teachers and administrators shouldn’t have any involvement beyond signing some paperwork and serving in a supervisory role.
In this case, what AA found was that not only were teachers involved, the superintendent was aware of the problem and worked to conceal that information.
Here’s what American Atheists discovered through the public records:
Kristy Mather, a sixth grade teacher, was involved in the planning of the event. She is on the committee running it, she reached out to performers, she planned games for kids to play, she requested school supplies (though she promised to reimburse the costs), and she got the high school athletic director to assist with some equipment. She even posted flyers around school for the event.
Superintendent Rob Busch, who was included in some of these email threads, didn’t tell Mather and others to stop promoting Christianity. Instead, he urged them to do it in a more sneaky way. At one point last week, when Mather suggested sending out an email promoting the event, Busch responded, “l really hate to say this but the school district probably should NOT send this out. Complaints probably won’t come from our community, but there are weird watch groups out there.” Busch also gave permission for Mather (not a student) to post flyers in the school… but, again, not to send out an electronic version with her school email because “weird world.”
Before we knew all that, and American Atheists and the Eastern Iowa Atheists were just working off of complaints they received from people in the district, they explained that all of this violated the Establishment Clause:
This event, if permitted to take place as currently planned, violates the law in a myriad of ways. The involvement of the Ed-Co Jr/Sr High football team, cheerleading team, band, and several members of staff, coupled with the school’s promotion of the event alongside its own Homecoming events and the use of the school’s facilities as a venue in case of inclement weather, indicate that “Faith on the Field” is a school-sponsored activity.
Now they have proof that teachers were involved and the superintendent knew that was wrong.
To put this in perspective, if this were an atheist or Muslim or Satanic group, there’s no way the district would’ve devoted these kinds of resources to organizers. Instead of going through the proper, legal channels to host this event, the district allowed a staffer to take the lead. And despite knowing all of this, all the superintendent did was ask her to stop talking about it using her school email so that outsiders wouldn’t find out.
Well, that backfired.
“Not only have Mather and her colleagues planned every aspect of the event — from speakers to materials, activities, and promotion — but Superintendent Busch even counseled the staff to conceal their involvement,” said [American Atheists’ litigation counsel Geoffrey] Blackwell. “They knew what they were doing violated the constitutional rights of their students.”
“It is disturbing how far government employees have gone in attempting to conceal unconstitutional actions on the taxpayers’ dime,” said Nick Fish, American Atheists’ president. “If any additional members of the Ed-Co CSD community want to challenge this attack on the separation of religion and government, we ask that they contact us.”
The question now is how the district plans to address this tonight and in the future. They’ve been caught. They shouldn’t be allowed to just weasel out of this.