Thursday, May 07, 2009



There is a long and troubling article in the Santa Barbara Independent by Katherine Stewart on the methods of the "Good News Clubs," that openly seek to proselytize very young children in after-school meetings in public schools and to encourage those same children to proselytize theirs schoolmates.

It was during recess at one of Santa Barbara's adorable, sun-spangled elementary schools that Ashley, a sprightly 6-year-old, approached her first-grade classmate Emma near the swing sets and delivered the bad news.

"You can't go to heaven."

Ashley had already determined that Emma, the only Jewish girl in her class, did not believe in Jesus.

Emma protested, but Ashley persisted. "If you don't believe in Jesus, you are going to hell."

Their teacher overheard the increasingly heated exchange. When class resumed, she asked everyone to pay attention. People from different religious backgrounds, she explained, have very different perspectives on certain kinds of issues.

Emma, feeling good that she had stood her ground, seemed content with the result. But Ashley was crushed.

"You mean they lied to me right here in school?!" she began to cry. "Because that's what they taught me here!

How can they lie?"
Of course, it wasn't the school that was teaching that but a private group that was trying its best to confuse the children into thinking that it was part and parcel of the school. Among the techniques the Good News Clubs use are:

~ To target children not old enough to read;
~ To insist on use of the school facility as soon after the end of the school day (including some rather dishonest tricks) to blur the line between official instruction and their proselytizing; and
~ To lure the children with "parties" and balloons and the like.

This is no accident:

The declared mission of the CEF is to produce conversion experiences in very young children, and thus to equip them to “witness” for other children. “I was told that a child at five, if properly instructed, can as truly believe as anyone,” said Mr. J. Irvin Overholtzer, who founded CEF in 1937. “I saw that if there was any truth in this statement, there was a door of opportunity lying open before us.” As of 2008, according to CEF Vice President of U.S.A. Ministries Moises Esteves, there were approximately 3,410 Good News Clubs in public K-6 schools around the country. ...

The group’s focus, indeed, is concentrated on the “un-churched” children more than it is on those already in the fold. “If every public elementary school student in the United Sates could join a Good News Club,” the CEF Web site states, “we could revolutionize our culture in one generation!”
Schools will have a difficult time resisting such clubs because of the Supreme Court's decision in Good News Club et al. v. Milford Central School. There may still be ways to mitigate the effect of these tactics under that decision but it is a legal mine field that most administrators will not want to face, especially in the teeth of the kind of pressure that can still be brought to bear by the Righteous Right:

If the legal juggernaut of militant Evangelism makes the prospect of opposing the Good News Club daunting, the personal politics can be even more troubling for concerned parents. "I earn a living from my business in this community, and there are a lot of religious people here," said the Wisconsin father who objects to the club's activities in his school. "But I know that if I were to go public with my objections, I'd lose a lot of clients and my kids would get targeted." A California mother added: "My kids are going to be in this school system for many years. I don't want them getting blowback from their peers. And I don't want them to be discriminated against by their teachers." Another parent in New York said, "As a member of a religious minority, there is an additional sense of burden. You feel like your behavior is being scrutinized, you are worried about stereotyping. So you don't speak up." Even Emma's parents wished to remain anonymous.
The particular case in Santa Barbara has a happy ... at least temporarily ... ending, in that the initial meeting of the club was a bust. But it's doubtful that they will stop trying and in many places, as the story makes plain, Good News Clubs will succeed. The lesson is that parents must be vigilant and communities must resist such divisive efforts at religious recruitment of the very young and vulnerable.

It sounds to me as if the CEF has taken the Jesuits dictum to heart.

What was it Dawkins said about child abuse?
In this instance, at least, I agree with him.
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