ACTIVISM ALERT: Indiana School Principal Working Hard to Protect the Good News Club

This week, an elementary school principal in Indiana has been feverishly deleting negative comments about the Good News Club on his school’s official Facebook page.  Is this a violation of church/state separation? It’s at least a violation of the criteria set forth by the Good News Club v. Milford Central Schools decision handed down by the US Supreme Court.

Here’s what happened.

As many of our readers are aware, I routinely scan social media sites for references to the Good News Club, in order to ensure that schools are playing by the rules, and that no favoritism is being shown toward this abhorrent religious organization over any other independent afterschool program.  I frequently find small violations such as official school accounts promoting the Good News Club or announcing its activities but not the activities of anyone else.  When I do find mentions of the Good News Club on school pages, I comment with the following boilerplate statement warning parents:

NOTICE TO PARENTS: Be advised that the Good News Club will attempt to scare your kids into pledging their lives to Jesus, by teaching them they’re inherently flawed, have sinful hearts, and are deserving of death and eternal separation from everyone they love. The Good News Club is predatory and psychologically abusive. If you want to teach religion to your kids, do it at home or in your churches. Don’t let these fundamentalists do it for you. If you’re ok with a stranger tearing down your child’s self-esteem, then by all means, sign them up.

Sure, it’s half-sarcasm, half-warning, with a sprinkle of “fuck off” — but it’s fairly effective.  I’d venture a guess that about 70-75% delete the post after I comment on it. The remaining 25-30% of schools will delete this comment, but not go so far as to block me.  In these cases, I repost the comment with the following added:

Deletion of comments warning parents about the dangers of the Good News Club is equivalent to school support of the GNC, thus showing religious preference, and is illegal. Public schools may not endorse or show preference to the Good News Club, as they are an outside agency not affiliated with the school. Giving preferential treatment to the GNC is a violation of the Constitutionally-protected separation of church and state.

After seeing this, most delete the Good News Club post entirely — a victory for the separation of church and state.  But this week, one school in Indiana has been defiant and needs to be called out.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Marrs Elementary School in Mt. Vernon, Indiana posted a Good News Club permission slip (another issue altogether) on their Facebook page with the message, “We are sending these home with students soon. Good news club will start after Spring Break!”  Upon coming across the post, I added my notice to parents.  Within minutes, it was deleted and I was blocked from commenting further.  Of course, I took a screenshot before it was deleted, so my next step was to post the screenshot on my personal Facebook page and the SecularVoices page to encourage others to repost the warning and add the second paragraph. A handful of people did, and they were immediately deleted and blocked as well.

At that point, I sent a request to the Freedom From Religion Foundation to investigate. I have also filed a report with Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

One friend and secular activist, Justin Scott, called the school and spoke to the receptionist there. She informed Justin that the school’s principal, Greg DeWeese, was the administrator of the school’s Facebook page and would be the person with the ability to delete comments.  Justin was not given access to Mr. Deweese but he left his name and phone number. He received no call back.

Last night, presumably after school hours and when Deweese was not sitting at his PC acting as his school’s Facebook police, 8 more people came by and added comments, including links to anti-GNC videos and a news story about a police department who was sued for deleting Facebook comments.

As of 10am ET today, all have been deleted.

CALL TO ACTION:  Replace these comments. Send a message that censoring speech and favoring the GNC will not be tolerated. Better yet, add your comments as a review on their Facebook page. Reviews cannot be deleted as simply as comments. A page owner must appeal the review to Facebook in order to get it deleted.  And as many of us know, dealing with Facebook is a pain in the ass.

We MUST protect children from the abuses of the Good News Club. We will NOT be silenced!  Act now!

UPDATE:  After receiving about a dozen 1-star reviews with comments about illegally supporting a religious after-school program, the school has removed the ability to leave reviews on their Facebook page! Wow, this principal will do anything he can to silence dissenters and promote the Good News Club.  Keep leaving comments on the GNC post here, and let’s keep sending the message that his bias will not be tolerated.

UPDATE 2:  I sent the following message to the principal through an unblocked Facebook account.  I also emailed the school district superintendent. If you’d like to contact the superintendent, here’s the info.

Messenger-Marrs

 

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Kevin Davis

Kevin Davis is the head writer and editor for SecularVoices, co-founder of Young Skeptics, and author of Understanding an Atheist. He is known for local and national secular activism and has spoken at conferences and events such as Reason Rally 2016 and the Ark Encounter Protest and Rally.

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20 thoughts on “ACTIVISM ALERT: Indiana School Principal Working Hard to Protect the Good News Club

  1. Minor suggestion: your first “notice to parents” should contain a link to a larger news article or other information backing up your allegations about what GNCs teach kids. It won’t make your comment delete-proof, of course, but it would make it sound more credible to Christian parents who might not want their kids to be treated that way.

          1. I think we need ASSC. We need YS. And most of all we need the facebook method.

            GNC is not going to be fought successfully with one tactic. We need a variety of tactics.

            Your facebook method didn’t get rid of any GNCs. Nor, unfortunately, ASSC and YS. I think we need to use multiple methods to combat schools becoming wings of Evangelical churches.

            What I think will eventually break GNC is the decline of religion and the rise of the Nones. When every school endorsing the GNC gets a ton of negative comments, as will happen as nontheism grows- church/state violations will become rare.

            Untiil then, we need to use every method we can to stop them from brainwashing children.

  2. I would gather that the Good news clubs provide an antidote to the secular religion of naturalism promoted unabashedly throughout the school systems. here’s a quote from an honest atheist:
    “When it comes to the origin of life on earth, there are only 2 possibilities: creation or spontaneous generation. There is no third way. Spontaneous generation was disproved 100 years ago, but that leads us to only one other conclusion: that of supernatural creation. We cannot accept that on philosophical grounds; therefore, we choose to believe the impossible: that life arose by chance.” George Wald

    1. Isn’t it amazing that some people think that since nobody really knows how life actually came about that the best possible explanation has to be an anthology of ancient middle eastern oral lore?

    2. Even if the quote was true, why should anyone care for the opinion of a zoologist specializing in the eye about cosmology?

  3. I see this article was four days ago and I’ve seen several suggestions under Indiana law that may help with the issue. Any updates?

  4. I understand that one problem, among many and in addition to the obvious, is the fact that parents cannot review the materials or observe the meetings.

    Schools cannot block a religious club, but can’t they establish rules that apply equally to all clubs?

    Has anybody put together a set of sample guidelines for schools, such as:

    1. The meetings must be open. Parents must be able to observe meetings both before enrolling their child and when their child attends.

    2. Outside community members must be allowed to observe, with appropriate background checks and limits of number of outside observers per meeting.

    3. All materials used must be available for inspection by parents and community members without charge. This includes both materials students see and teacher/leader guides. If the material is not available on line, a complete set must remain available in the school office.

    4. No religious club will be promoted by school personnel, with school resources or during school hours.

    5. Permission slips must specifically state where materials can be reviewed and that parents are welcome to observe at any time.

    This at least would address the secrecy aspect. Girls scouts, chess clubs and the like would have no problems complying.

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