Some teachers in the Albemarle School District in Virginia are rebelling against their managers’ orders to hand out to students as young as kindergarten a promotion for a summer camp that advocates for “Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists, Brights, or whatever…”
A representative of the teachers talked to WND only on condition that a name and school not be used, and said such advertisements provided by the district to hand out to children violate the teachers’ religious beliefs.
The newest brochure advertises Camp Quest.
A sample of the brochure district told teachers to hand out
“Camp Quest is the first residential summer camp in the history of the United States for the children of Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists, Brights, or whatever other terms might be applied to those who hold to a naturalistic, not supernatural, lifestance. Campers are encouraged to think for themselves and are not required to hold any particular view,” the ad says.
Telephone calls to school officials requesting a comment were not returned. But when WND reported on the “Pagan Christmas,” board chairwoman Sue Friedman told WND such ads are distributed because the school was forced to do so, following a decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Maryland.
The ruling concluded if one community group is allowed to use a distribution program at a school, then all groups must be given the same access. The district then made a policy adjustment in order to accommodate that ruling, Friedman said.
“In order to allow the YMCA to tell you about their soccer league, or the Boy Scouts to tell you about their new troop, we have to allow all nonprofits,” she said. “That’s why we’re seeing this.”
The Albemarle School Board, L to R, front row: Barbara Mouly, Stephen Koleszar, Diantha McKeel; back row: Jon Stokes, Pamela Moynihan, Sue Friedman, Brian Wheeler
However, she noted at that time, “that doesn’t mean that policy will stay. We’ve had some real concerns from parents, who don’t understand why we would [distribute this].”
The teachers’ representative told WND several teachers simply didn’t hand out the latest promotion, and of course now fear retaliation if their supervisors find out.
The representative said the teachers were “disgusted” with the latest addition to the pile of information that they call the “backpack express.”
That encompasses the community-related handouts that are sent home with students, and typically involve “pretty tame” programs such as community events and scouting programs.
“They do put a disclaimer there, that the school doesn’t’ support it,” the representative said. “But we are expected to send this stuff home in childrens’ backpacks. It’s still coming from me and my classroom.”
“I took a stand and did not send it home,” the representative said. “Other teachers did the same thing.”
The school disclaimer says: “The Albemarle County Public Schools neither endorses nor sponsors the organization or activity represented in this material. The distribution or display of this material is provided as a community service and is not printed at taxpayers’ expense.”
The advertisement suggests that children “Take the CAMP QUEST CHALLENGE. Win a god-free $100 bill! Be the first camper in CQ history to disprove the existence of the two invisible unicorns who live at camp!”
“Our counselors are freethinkers from all walks of life: medicine, academia, science, education, law, and business, plus college and graduate students,” the ad boasts.
Daily activities include: Swimming, Archery, Sports, crafts, Challenges, Board games, Famous freethinkers, Biology, Critical thinking.”
It lists prices, dates and access routes to the locations in Ohio and Michigan.
The teachers’ representative said it might work for the students to pick up such ads on their way out of the building, but students and parents perceive that information provided in the teacher’s classroom comes from that teacher.
“I think what frightens me the most … who knows what’s next,” the representative said. “I thought this was pretty offensive and pretty outrageous.”
Earlier handout about the Pagan ritual
The earlier advertisement was from a group called NatureSpirit from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, a Unitarian Universalist congregation that also teaches “Exploring Islam,” “Women Weaving Wisdom,” “Discovering the Healing Power of Dreams” and other religious subjects.
The specific promotion that went from teachers and principals to elementary-age students in the district states:
“Happy Holidays? Have you ever wondered what ‘Holidays’ refers to? Everyone knows about Christmas – but what else are people celebrating in December? Why do we celebrate the way we do?
“Find out!” the brochure continues. “Come to Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church … . We’ll have an educational program for childeren (sic) of all ages (and their adults), where we’ll explore the traditions of December and their origins, followed by a Pagan ritual to celebrate Yule.”
Officials said during 2005-2006, the school handled 97 advertisement distribution requests, ranging from children’s theater and Cub Scouts to summer camps, swimming and softball leagues.
In the appellate opinion from Maryland, Judge Diana Motz said giving school officials “unbridled discretion to deny access to the oft-used forum – for any reason at all, including antipathy to a particular viewpoint – does not ensure the requisite viewpoint neutrality.”
In that case, the school board specifically wanted a policy allowing teachers to hand out ads from groups school officials liked, but that would ban promotions from Christian Evangelism Fellowship.
The court concluded that could not be allowed, but its decision didn’t address the religious rights of employees ordered to distribute material they consider objectionable.
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