Faith-based Bullying Advances in Florida

February 23, 2012  |  permalink

Yesterday the Florida House Judiciary Committee approved a bill allowing K-12 public school students to deliver “inspirational messages,” including prayers, during school events. The bill, CS/CB 98, stipulates that school administrators are prohibited from monitoring the messages, as well as participating in the delivery or creation of them. It says nothing, of course, about the influence of adults outside of school building—pastors and missionaries, for instance—- in instructing children in their youth groups to use this new opportunity to “reach” their “unchurched” peers.

Guess who supported the bill? Groups, such as Liberty Counsel, that view public schools as “mission fields,’ and little children as warriors, to be drafted into the battle for souls and ideology. If the bill passes, will it unleash a flood of lawsuits over hate speech masquerading as “inspirational messages”? Or will it simply unleash a flood of hate?

Heartland “Denialgate” Can’t Obscure Disdain for Education

February 17, 2012  |  permalink

My Sunday piece for the Guardian notes that the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based right-wing think tank promoting climate change skepticism, has something in common with the anti-evolution Discovery Institute: namely, a commitment to defunding public education in the name of “school choice.” This week, the controversy around “leaked” documents revealed the extent of Heartland’s disdain for education. Most disturbing is one document’s revelation that Heartland is actively developing a “Global Warming Curriculum for K-12 Classrooms”:

In spite of “Denialgate”—Heartland’s claims that at least one of the “leaked” documents was a forgery—the evidence is damning.

“Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective,” reads one document whose authenticity has been confirmed. “To counter this we are considering launching an effort to develop alternative materials for K-12 classrooms. We are pursuing a proposal from Dr. David Wojick to produce a global warming curriculum for K-12 schools. Dr. Wojick is a consultant with the Office of Scientific and Technical Information at the U.S. Department of Energy in the area of information and communication science. His effort will focus on providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain - two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science. We tentatively plan to pay Dr. Wojick $100,000 for 20 modules in 2012, with funding pledged by the Anonymous Donor.”

Video: The Religious Right’s Infiltration of Public Schools

February 16, 2012  |  permalink

On February 12, I spoke on a panel at McNally Jackson Books in New York City: “The Religious Right’s Infiltration of America’s Public Schools” with Frank Schaeffer (Sex, Mom & God), Jonathan Zimmerman (Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory), and Kathryn Joyce (Quiverfull). The event was moderated by Mark Crispin Miller and co-sponsored by Truthout.

Video recording below:

Teachers Allowed to Endorse “Student-Led” Prayer?

February 15, 2012  |  permalink

If Tennessee Representative Phillip Johnson has his way, teachers and administrators will be able to participate in, endorse, and promote “student-led” prayers and prayer events such as “See You at the Pole” and “Fields of Faith.” Johnson introduced a bill that is being considered today by the House Education Subcommittee. Johnson alleges school employees have a right to participate in student-led religious gatherings that are held before and after school—which, I guess, will no longer qualify as “student-led” if the bill passes. His is the latest salvo in an ongoing controversy over teachers promoting and endorsing religious activity in the school. The ACLU sued the Cheatham County school district in November 2009, and the the School Board settled the suit in March 2010.

Religion: Special or Just Speech?

February 03, 2012  |  permalink

Is religion special? In its recent decision on Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. E.E.O.C., the Supreme Court indicates that it is. However, this view would seem to contradict the characterization of religion as nothing but speech as per the 2001 ruling on Good News Club v. Milford Central School.  Read my piece in Religion Dispatches for more on this ruling and its implications.


Reviews for The Good News Club

January 23, 2012  |  permalink

From the Boston Globe:

“Reporting from communities nationwide, Stewart chronicles just how divisive the infusion of religion - in the form of proselytizing Good News Clubs, school building rentals to church groups, and axe-grinding school textbook committees - can be. And although many of these activities are represented as emerging from grass-roots community demand, Stewart exposes a much more coordinated effort, much of it springing from national evangelical organizations and affiliated legal strategy networks.”

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
“The author is a great digger for facts and a respectful narrator as she brings to light a group’s efforts to bring fundamental Christianity to U.S. public schools….Stewart has dug deep, interviewing both proponents and detractors of religiously centered education, including school board members, superintendents, local club leaders, students and athletic directors who have “turned [sports programs] into religious recruiting,” according to Stewart….In sum, the book is an important work that reveals a movement little discussed in the mainstream media, one Stewart worries is poised to damage “a society as open and pluralistic as ours.”

From Shelf Awareness:

“Journalist and novelist Katherine Stewart has written a powerful exposé about the innocuously named Good News Club, a ministry of Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) that has nearly 3,500 branches in public K-6 schools around the country. In 2001, the Supreme Court, in Good News Club v. Milford Central School, ruled that an outside organization may proselytize after hours in public schools. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Souter wrote that “it is beyond question that Good News intends to use the public school premises… for an evangelical service of worship calling children to commit themselves in an act of Christian conversion.”

From DCB Reads:

“The reason the world perked up and paid attention to Sinclair’s The Jungle in 1906 is the same reason that the world should now, 105 years later, snap to attention and read Katherine Stewart’s latest nonfiction book, The Good News Club: it awakens us to something we may previously have known nothing about, but which is under our noses every day, is active in our communities nonstop, and is potentially damaging to us all, and well into the future, too, if gone unnoticed. Stewart’s findings can’t afford to be ignored, for the same simple fact that made Sinclair’s expose crucial: whether the book calls you to action or not, you are inarguably worse off not knowing what’s detailed within it.”

Climate Heating Up in the Classroom

January 20, 2012  |  permalink

Remember when chit-chatting about the weather was the safest form of water-cooler talk? Now it’s the latest issue to hit the wall of religious controversy.
According to Michael Mechanic’s coverage at Mother Jones, the Heartland Institute, a Koch-backed conservative group that alleges climate change is a hoax, sends its “educational” materials to public school teachers.

In an interview with Chris Mooney on Point of Inquiry, the Center for Inquiry’s weekly podcast, Eugenie Scott described how a multitude of think tanks and individuals are pushing such materials at the local level.

The National Center for Science Education, which is also monitoring the New Hampshire anti-evolution bills, is ramping up a campaign to respond to these attacks.

Evolution “Just Guessing”? Science Takes a Hit in NH

January 13, 2012  |  permalink

Two anti-evolution bills are currently making their way through the New Hampshire legislature. Though House Bills 1148 and 1457 do not mandate the teaching of “intelligent design” or creationism, they do insist that the state board of education “[r]equire evolution to be taught…as a theory, including the theorists’ political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.”

In an interview with the Concord Monitor, Jerry Bergevin, the New Hampshire legislator responsible for the first bill, said: “I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the ideas to be presented. It’s a worldview and it’s godless…Atheism has been tried in various societies, and they’ve been pretty criminal domestically and internationally. The Soviet Union, Cuba, the Nazis, China today: they don’t respect human rights…Columbine, remember that? They were believers in evolution. That’s evidence right there.”

According to the Concord Monitor, these are the first anti-evolution bills introduced in the state since the late 1990s, and hearings are scheduled for early February.

“Keeping The Faith” in the Pledge of Allegiance

January 12, 2012  |  permalink

Gateways to Better Education, a Christian nonprofit dedicated to “keeping the faith in public schools,” has a campaign devoted to keeping the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. They assert that “some people argue that ‘under God’ was not in the original Pledge and was inserted over 50 years later. But, that only proves it took over 50 years to get it right!”

That’s one way of looking at it. Unfortunately, it’s a heavily embroidered one, and obfuscates the fascinating story of how the words “under God” came to be inserted in the first place. The words were added to the pledge by Congress in 1954 at the peak of anti-communist fervor.

The Pledge is a stepping-off point for discussions of our history and the philosophical beliefs of our Founding Fathers. If Gateways has their way, this teachable moment will be turned into an opportunity for propaganda.

Sex Ed Gets the Boot

January 08, 2012  |  permalink

After complaints by a small group of religious-minded parents in New York’s Shenendehowa school district, visits by certified health educators from Planned Parenthood to the school’s middle and high school health classes have been temporarily halted. A parent involved in the local Corpus Christi Catholic Community, Maureen Silfer, complained to the school board that children were being shown condom demonstrations and being taught that abstinence could include “heavy petting.”

Planned Parenthood has been involved in the local classrooms for several decades, offering supplementary lessons about STD and pregnancy prevention. A subcommittee of the school board is currently reviewing the program with the possibility of reinstating it.

Silfer’s call to action in the Catholic Community’s bulletin read: “…PP targets youth and young adults, and educates them that any and all forms of sexual expression are not only valid but encouraged.”

Sexual health education has long been a target of religious groups, but one of the Planned Parenthood educators, Darren Cosgrove, said that the supplementary guest lectures get “glowing reviews” from teachers, many of whom allow parents to opt out if they don’t want their children to participate.

Ron Paul Welcomes Extremist Endorsement

January 01, 2012  |  permalink

How do we decide what makes a “terrorist”? Rev. Phillip G. Kayser of the Dominion Covenant Church, advocates supplanting American civil law with “Biblical law.” In his view, this includes the death penalty for gay and lesbian Americans, “juvenile delinquents,” and others.

If an influential American imam advocated the murder of millions of Americans for infractions of Islamic law, he’d get an FBI file, and perhaps a free trip to Guantanamo. Instead, Rev. Kayser gets a boast from leading Republican presidential contender Ron Paul, whose Iowa campaign chair praised the “enlightening statements he [Rev. Kayser] makes on how Ron Paul’s approach to government is consistent with Christian beliefs.”

Newt Gingrich Would Arrest Supreme Court Conservatives

December 19, 2011  |  permalink

Was it out-of-touch, “activist” judges that banned school prayer, as Newt Gingrich asserts?

An op-ed by Charles C. Haynes, the Director of the Religious Freedom Education Project, reminds us that children are, in fact, permitted to pray during the school day:
“Visit public schools anywhere in America today and you’re likely to see kids praying around the flagpole, sharing their faith with classmates, reading scriptures in free time, forming religious clubs, and in other ways bringing God with them through the schoolhouse door each day…It’s true that some public school officials still misunderstand (or ignore) the First Amendment by censoring student religious expression that is protected under current law. But when challenged in court, they invariably lose.”

What’s not allowed is “school-sponsored prayer,” where “school officials…impose prayers, or organize prayer events, or turn the school auditorium into the local church for religious celebrations.” In a series of court decisions that climaxed in an six-to-one decision in 1962, both conservative and liberal judges alike have recognized that such prayers would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  The ban on school-sponsored prayer has since been upheld by both liberal and conservative Supreme Courts in at least a half dozen additional cases.

When Newt says he’d have such judges arrested, he’s talking about three of the four conservative Justices sitting on the Warren court in 1962, including John M. Harlan II and Tom C. Clark.

New Reviews of “The Good News Club”

December 18, 2011  |  permalink

Head over to the Reviews page to read reviews of my book, including a nod from Kirkus: “Solid reporting…compelling investigative journalism about an undercovered phenomenon.”

“The Good News Club” will be released on January 24, 2012, and you can pre-order it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

ACLU Files Suit in South Carolina

December 09, 2011  |  permalink

Middle schoolers in a South Carolina school district have been repeatedly encouraged to attend Christian religious services on campus while non-believers are sent to detention or ordered to copy religious texts, according to a recent press release from the ACLU. At New Heights Middle School in Jefferson and at other campuses in the Chesterfield County School District, “students were encouraged to pray and sign a pledge dedicating themselves to Jesus.”

Watch the video (below) of evangelist Christian Chapman and Christian Rapper B-Shoc preparing to run an assembly at the school:

The ACLU is suing the school district on behalf of a student and his father who have been ostracized for their objections. For more information, read the complete press release.

Supreme Court considering Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Ed

December 05, 2011  |  permalink

UPDATE December 5, 12:45 p.m.: Supreme Court refused to review ruling, allowing Second Circuit decision to stand.

The New York City Board of Education has a policy that allows community groups—including religious groups—to make use of school facilities after hours and on weekends but excludes both services of worship and partisan political groups. The constitutionality of this sensible policy was recently upheld by a decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Today the Supreme Court considers whether to revisit this ruling. The decision could create a landmark decision regarding use of public school facilities as houses of worship, and will have an immediate affect the well over 60 houses of worship that currently operate rent-free in New York City’s public schools.

All but a tiny handful of the houses of worship in New York City’s public schools are evangelical churches

At my daughter’s public school on New York’s Upper East Side, a church that is part of the New Apostolic Reformation religious movement, which asserts government, finance, the arts, media, education, and politics should be brought under Christian control, occupies the school rent-free on some Wednesday and Friday nights as well as all day on Sunday. The church does not pay rent.

In my New York Times op ed last June, I describe my first experience visiting the “church” in my daughter’s public school:

“Notice the names of the children on pieces of paper,” the pastor advised his flock. I looked around and saw the posters the kids had made, with their charming snapshots from summer holidays and rambling lists of likes and dislikes. “Pray for them!” the pastor continued. “Pray that the families of this school will come to know Jesus and say, ‘This is a House of God!’ “

The pastor’s daughter, a lively 8-year-old who attends a private Christian school, took me on a brief tour through parts of the school I had not yet seen. “This is my dad’s church!” she enthused.

Read more at The New York Times:

Page 3 of 4 pages  <  1 2 3 4 >

The Book
The Good News Club, by Katherine Stewart

The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children

About the Author
author Katherine Stewart Katherine Stewart has written for The New York Times, the Atlantic, and the Guardian. She lives in New York City. Contact her. More →


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