Call to Action: Jesus Flyer

There’s an issue of a school district sending kids home with flyers with the message “Plant the Seeds of Faith in Jesus in Your Child at our Sunday School” which is an ad for a lutheran church. You can read more about it here and here. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking individuals to write to the school district and the school board about this policy.
No organization should benefit from free delivery of their advertisement at the expense of instructional or teacher preparation time.

Please send succinct and to the point e-mails or letters. Be firm but polite. We enjoy seeing your letters and responses, but for maximum effectiveness, write as an individual and send only “blind” copies of your e-mail to FFRF. Please use your name. “Local” taxpayers should identify themselves by mailing address as well. Thanks!

Madison Metropolitan School District Supt. Art Rainwater
Madison Metropolitan School District
545 West Dayton Street
Madison, WI 53703-1995
Voice: (608) 663-1879
Fax: (608) 204-0342

Members of the Madison, Wis. School Board (some are sympathetic).

Arlene Silveira, President

Carol J. Carstensen, Treasurer

Maya Cole

Lucy Mathiak

Lawrie Kobza, Vice President

Beth Moss

Johnny Winston, Jr., Clerk

Joe Carlsmith, Student Representative
c/o MMSD

This is my letter which I sent:

“Propaganda in Backpacks”

To the attention of Madison Metropolitan School District and Members of the Madison, Wis. School Board

I have been following the news about the non school related flyers being distributed to homes via children who are students. I find this practice deeply disturbing on various levels, the worst of which is the exploitation of these children. These children, despite the fine print warnings on these flyers, simply are too young to know the difference between school related material and non school related material. These flyers with religious messages, confusing enough to a child not of that faith, come with the auspices of authority, school authority. Such confusion and influence goes well beyond the possible offense it may have to the parents or any adults at home who receive these flyers plus burdens them with having to address the confusions of the child carrying these loaded messages.

I understand there is an opt out policy for families but I question how well this is known amongst the parents. I also wonder if this opt out is all encompassing, meaning would the family not receive ANY flyers then, including valuable school related flyers? Furthermore, in a time of children’s lives where they are developing critical socialization skills, why would you want to create a situation that could potentially single out and ostracize them by being the ones not taking home flyers. Has it been so long that you’ve forgotten what it means to be different at such young ages?

There’s also an issue of only “appropriate” materials may be sent home with these kids. Who decides what’s “appropriate”? Any lawyer will tell you that having a subjective standard would invite criticism and undue problems. Judging by the media attention, the organizations now involved and the fact that sitting here almost 2,000 miles away I know about this and am forced to write to you expressing my distaste for this policy I think is a testament to the inherent problem with this policy and this arbitrary guideline of what’s “appropriate”.

Lastly, there’s a serious issue on how this policy unduly burdens the teachers and once again hurts the children because time that should be spent educating them is being wasted assembling these flyers, these potentially offensive flyers of propaganda.

So for the sake of the potential harm to the children through confusion, ostracizing, and robbing them of educational time, the potential burden placed on the families and the offense they may experience, and the potential (being realized now) of dealing with criticism and potential lawsuits, I urge you to abandon this policy of using children in the school district to distribute religious material or all non school related flyers.

I thank you for your time and careful consideration of the issue.

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11 Responses to “Call to Action: Jesus Flyer”

  1. Good post.. thanks for the heads-up. I wonder if the Klan can get the school to distribute flyers soliciting recruitment for their little “club” as well. Seperation means seperation.

    Knock knock
    Who’s there?
    Theocracy who?

    Who is not the question but WHEN; if we don’t do something about this insanity.

  2. I know, my first thought was to push for an atheist flyer to be distributed and then cry foul when it would be denied. That can still be done, but it would distract from the issue because then they’d bring up that “appropriate” clause and it would be a battle over theism vs atheism instead of the real issue of violating the separation of church and state and exploiting and damaging children

    I think this is important and I’ve called on bigger, better bloggers to try and coordinate a massive response. For those who don’t trust their writing skills (or might not be able to write something calm and restrained) I figure if there was a network of other letters that one could access, a little copy/pasting wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Anyone is welcome to post their letter here until a better system is set up (I’m assuming one will, but who knows?)

  3. My first email response:

    Thank you for taking the time to write. While I understand your concerns, I also
    believe that we send a material for many legitimate school and community
    organizations home in backpacks and trust the families to read or toss as they
    see fit.


    Lucy Mathiak

  4. Well, the flier is clearly offensive, and I hate that it’s distributed with the implied support of the school. But …

    As a free speech advocate, I’m not sure I have any legal quibble with the school board, as long as its definition of “appropriate” is wide enough to encompass other religions and non-religion.

    So I’d go for the atheist flier as a response. The board’s reaction to that ought to clarify its position and demonstrate whether or not this is an Establishment matter. I wouldn’t be inclined to get involved on this issue until that test had been done.

    Squelching free speech is a very serious matter.

  5. Had to dig around, but I finally found this which is quite on point. After I read into it a bit, I may blog about it and/or send something off.

  6. SI:

    This Wisconsin case is not the same one as the case you cited. I’d wait to see whether or not there’s a link.

    (Yes, of course there is. Duh! But not legally yet.)

  7. Really well reasoned letter, Phillychief. Highly appropriate in every sense.

    I wouldn’t let that response you got get you down. Her response, if sincere (and at first, its always best to assume so) then it goes right to heart of the Exterminator’s comment, which I completely associate myself with.

    If a local legitimate atheist organization were to petition the same school district to send home a flier about an atheist event and they refused, that’s when the battle starts. Until then, it IS indeed a free speech issue and as much as I disagree with encouraging belief in the supernatural, I’d still have to side with the school district if they are equally willing to send home other materials.

  8. @Ex

    Not legally, but it’s the exact same scenario based on the exact same school policy, just a different school district in a different state.

    I sent a cautionary letter via email. I’ll post it over at my place.

  9. Philly, Evo, SI:

    I guess I’m going to have to jump into the fray here. Always glad to create a blogging controversy among people who are 99.9% in agreement. I’ll be posting some time later today, so come on over and join the fun.

  10. As I’ve already said, I think making an attempt to send home atheist literature to test the “appropriate” requirement would erode into an atheism vs theism debate which would obscure the the issue.

    Really, I find anything non school related as being questionable.

    As a compromise, maybe all these flyers should be sent home in sealed envelopes so only the parents can see them. I’m not crazy about this option, but at least it doesn’t corrupt the kids. Of course there’s still the issue of the teachers packing all these flyers up for the kiddies.

  11. It’s been brought to my attention that back in the first year that they implemented this plan, the FFRF was permitted to send home a flyer. The flyer was an invite to a party to learn “You can be good without God”

    I still adhere to my sealing the flyers compromise. I have to respect the fact that theist parents would want to withhold this from their kids, at least until they could discuss it with them first.

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