Humanist group threatens to sue Robbinsdale schools over student trips to church

CalvaryLutheranChurch.jpg
Image via Calvary Lutheran Church's Facebook page
Robbinsdale schools is being accused of violating the Establishment Clause by sending students to this church.
-- Update at bottom --

The D.C.-based American Humanist Association is threatening to sue Robbinsdale Area Schools and the district's engineering and arts magnet school over field trips students have taken to the Calvary Lutheran Church in Golden Valley the last two academic years.

SEE ALSO: Hudson school apologizes for making students watch clip of celebs pledging loyalty to Obama

A letter sent yesterday to the district's executive director of academics and the School of Engineering and Arts' principal accuses administrators of dismissing a parent's objection to the trips, which involve students putting together "manna" packages to feed hungry people.

Calvary's website describes the church's mission as "to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ." Likewise, in its "Statement of Beliefs," Feed My Starving Children says, "We believe that there is one God, in three persons: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. He has directed us to help others in need."

"By sending public school children under your authority to a religious environment -- to work with a religious organization that is on a religious mission -- is a violation of the First Amendment principle of church-state separation," says the letter, written by a Humanist Association-affiliated legal center. "In fact, it is such an obvious violation that a parental complaint should not be necessary to bring it to your attention."

"Thus, it is even more egregious that, after the parental complaint was made last year, you did nothing to remedy the problem, but instead suggested that the parent was misguided for complaining," it continues. "We therefore seek immediate assurance that activities such as those complained of herein will cease immediately and not be continued in the future."

A voicemail left for the Robbinsdale Area Schools' spokesperson wasn't returned. (Update -- the district's response is at the bottom of this post.)

The letter from the Humanist Association's legal center acknowledges that trying to feed the hungry is a noble cause, but adds that "such good intentions... can be pursued in innumerable other ways that do not involve immersing the unsuspecting children into a theologically charged environment."

If the district doesn't provide written notification that it plans to cease the trips within two weeks, "The school may be sued in federal court for injunctive, declaratory, and monetary relief," the letter threatens.

:::: UPDATE ::::

The district sent City Pages the following statement this afternoon:
Robbinsdale Area Schools is aware of the concerns raised by the American Humanist Association regarding student participation in an optional service learning activity that was held a church last week. We take these concerns seriously and our administration has reviewed the situation.

We maintain that participating in this service learning activity with Feed My Starving Children does not violate the church-state separation law. The packing activity was located in the back room on the first floor and in the basement of the church and there was absolutely no proselytizing or religious activity involved.

Our district works to provide service learning opportunities to teach our students civic responsibility and provide opportunities for our students to become active, positive contributors to society. We believe that last week's activity upheld these values. We continue our commitment to providing our students with enriching service learning experiences and would never place them in a situation that violates their Constitutional rights.

We are reviewing the request from the American Humanist Association with our legal counsel to determine how we will respond to the letter.
-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at arupar@citypages.com.


Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help
69 comments
mnmike
mnmike

I really hope the district sticks to their guns.  There are many "public" activities that take place in church owned buiildings - graduations, voting, concerts - without any religious overtones.  This was as described by participatnts a completel non-relgious activity that was conveniently located close to the school and provided a valuable volunteer service opportunity.  And yes if it had been a synagogue or mosque or momon temple it would make no difference.   This "humanist" organization appears to be trolling for PR.  Mission accomplished.

henk.tobias0
henk.tobias0 topcommenter

I wonder how many of the school's "defenders" would feel as strongly if it were a Mosque.


Truth_Teller_1
Truth_Teller_1 topcommenter

As a life long atheist, I am disgusted with all these 'Humanist' and 'Atheist' groups that have nothing better to do than to threaten law suits.  In the past I've attended several different atheist meetings - I can tell you they are nuts.  People who have nothing better to do

- except piss other people off.

The US Constitution says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion".  The establishment of religion means a 'state' religion.  England has a state religion: The Church of England.

However mentioning any 'holy book' or prophet isn't an establishment of religion.

Seems like these people are very insecure in their Atheist beliefs, thus the threats.

The people at the church are working to feed hungry people.  I've never seen an Atheist group do anything positive for their fellow man - except bitch, moan, and sue.

akeyboard
akeyboard

If they just went to pack lunches, it's not such a clear violation of the establishment clause. Simply being exposed to religious material itself is not a violation of the establishment clause. Now, if the trip involved proselytizing, or an emphasis that their work was "the work of God" etc. then there would be a solid case. The AHA is overstepping here. You can't just ban a public school from ever taking a field trip to a place where they may see a religious artifact, or set foot on religious property. These things exist, but exposure isn't the same as teaching a belief.

Anna Gonzalez
Anna Gonzalez

What?! You have the old mentality if you think it's okay to involve religion in schools.

Yonder Sunsplash
Yonder Sunsplash

lisa,lisa,lisa.you got secrets,i can tell....sticking out in high school is thee idea these days and who are you and i to say what "should" be and the only reasons kids would bully/act strange is from there stupid parents who are dumb and teach them that behavior ..i wonder who is teaching who here

Yonder Sunsplash
Yonder Sunsplash

you all have OLD mentality when it comes to this....very closed minded

Yonder Sunsplash
Yonder Sunsplash

WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE..THEY ARE HELPING HUNGRY HUMANS , why freaking care...#givingtomuchofashitthatpeoplestarve

David Lloyd
David Lloyd

Not really. We don't suffer the daily dogma of organized religion, we tend to be better educated and we are more empathetic.

Sarah Maske Gauron
Sarah Maske Gauron

There are sooo many other (better) charities that could have been chosen for this trip that don't have a religious affiliation. FMSC is the charity buzz word organization of recent months. If nothing else, this choice wasn't very imaginative.

Anna Gonzalez
Anna Gonzalez

If you go to fmsc website it's literally drenched in Christianity. A school should not be bring students to a church to be involved with a religious organization. Point blank. There's soo many other charities they could be involved with that have absolutely no religious undertones.

Anthony Varela
Anthony Varela

I'm not religious and I have volunteered with FMSC and loved the experience. Nothing was ever forced on me, and I didn't feel as though my beliefs were being comprised. I wanted to help people in need. Why make such a hubbub about it? I think this is all an over-exaggeration.

Jaynessa Carlson
Jaynessa Carlson

So if they used the words "well wishes" over the food would the view be different? Or how about "positive vibes"? "Good aura"?

Karyn Braddock
Karyn Braddock

I think the goal is to teach future generations ABOUT religion and not teach them how to PRACTICE it. It's fine to provide this opportunity, as long as they also have an equal opportunity to take field trips and do charity work with epicenters for other religions. (Native American Refuge, Jewish Mosque, Islamic Temples, etc etc) Options are the lock, and knowledge is the key. Put it in the hands of future generations.

barbermom2
barbermom2

@Melenanana wow. That's pretty sad. As long as there was no proselytizing going on, I don't see what the big deal is.

Juliet Bruneau
Juliet Bruneau

Why do they have to keep out of churches if it was to help with a charity meant to help children. It's not as if they're like join this church or preaching to them. Why is everybody so afraid of churches it's like Christians are lepers and god forbid u mention anything that has to do with faith or no. What a shame that they're teaching the kids that it was so wrong to have anything to do with church to the point where they're willing to sue a school only trying to help starving children to prove they're point and support this bigotry against the church. Shame on them!

Dana Froehlig
Dana Froehlig

So they were packing lunches for poor kids in utah who's lunchpersons threw theirs out for a negative balance?

Katy Gladhill
Katy Gladhill

Michael, you have contributed one of the only intelligent comments on this issue so far, and I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments. I have also volunteered with FMSC in the past, and I never once felt like religion was being forced upon me while there. They really are a fantastic charity that is more concerned with helping others than anything else. A beneficial opportunity for any student involved, regardless of their religious stance.

Michael Kinderman
Michael Kinderman

I am shocked and disgusted by the stance supporters take in such a frivolous suit. I have volunteered at FMSC on more than one occasion. I also would consider myself the closest thing to an atheist. In no way, shape, or form does FMSC force religion upon volunteers. Is God mentioned? Yes. Do they pray over the packaged food? Yes. Do you need to partake in prayer? Absolutely not and there is no pressure to do so. If you cannot handle the mention of God or something you don't believe in, then you are simply continuing the ignorance that exists in this world. The efforts of FMSC and the supporters of this amazing non-profit should be applauded! This organization helps facilitate live changing opportunities for millions of people - mainly children with no means. Oh yeah, and FMSC does it by spending in excess of 90% of every dollar donated directly on feeding the needy. Everyone should be so fortunate to VOLUNTEER with an awesome organization like FMSC - to help others that are in desperate need for the assistance.

Michele Andrews
Michele Andrews

This sort of field trip happens at my children's elementary school in Stillwater. It is wrong. Sad that I have to have my child stay home so that they can continue to force religion in our public school. If I hadn't researched FMSC on my own I wouldn't have known what they push. The school did not warn that this was religious. I should have known just from the name FMSC alone; what a horrible, degrading , and insensitive name for an organization.

CinBlueland
CinBlueland topcommenter

Well I guess the only solution is to have at least one or two school administrators and the teacher taken out back, put against the wall and shot!

Then we can move on to the really important issues of removing meat and gluten from the cafeteria menu. ((Meat is Murder!!))

jpkolb
jpkolb

.@atrupar Of course they didn't. Show me where the "separation of church and state" appears in the First Amendment.

thomas.m.crouse
thomas.m.crouse

I can see how this would be a problem. But, do we really need to sue the schools? Aren't they funded by our taxes? Aren't they hurting for money already?

Fed-up
Fed-up

People all over the world are starving, loosing their lives, being raped, literally cut to pieces or blown apart, and this is the what you worry about, your own selfish little worlds. Get real "someone should go to jail" cannot believe someone actually said that.

henk.tobias0
henk.tobias0 topcommenter

You may have missed the point Anna. There are plenty of opportunities to teach kids to help the under privileged that don't involve violating the Constitution. Its an inconvenient document to be sure, but we must plug along suffering under its restrictions as best we can.

henk.tobias0
henk.tobias0 topcommenter

@Truth_Teller_1 They are humanists, not Atheists. I really don't understand what is so tough to get here. There are quite a few organizations struggling to feed the poor that aren't creating "manna" (As an Athiest you may not know that manna has a particular religious connotation.) baskets or aren't associated with a particular religion. Schools are Governmental organizations, forcing kids to participate in "optional" activities organized by a particular religion is choosing that religion over others. I know its a complex concept that can be difficult to grasp so I can understand you confusion. 

midwestexplorer81
midwestexplorer81 topcommenter

See that's why any religion having anything to do with school is a problem. There are too many religions to please everybody. If you include one or two or three religions then all others can claim discrimination. Kids can read about religion on their own time if they want. Keep religion away from anything to do with public schools!

henk.tobias0
henk.tobias0 topcommenter

@barbermom2 @MelenananaManna Packages. You know what that is right? How is that not proselytizing?

Melenanana
Melenanana

@barbermom2 Frankly, a public school should just go to Second Harvest, which is also in Golden Valley

Melenanana
Melenanana

@barbermom2 "no proselytizing." I'm sure the church tried to make it a secular environment but FMSC is so very evangelical that's kinda hard

Melenanana
Melenanana

@barbermom2 Well considering there's bible verses on the packaging and on the giant semis parked in the lot, it's a stretch to say there was

bowwowmeowmeow
bowwowmeowmeow

Why are you so afraid of punctuation, specifically questions marks?

Onan
Onan

Winner winner, tossed out chicken dinner!

MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

Dumb people like you are why we have the First Amendment.  Obviously you've never gotten that far in reading the Bill of Rights but maybe someday you will see a TV show about it.  

kevinecker
kevinecker

@jpkolb @atrupar Or at all in the Constitution. However, it is based on several well-established SCOTUS decisions.

Truth_Teller_1
Truth_Teller_1 topcommenter

@henk: "forcing kids to participate"  Actually I think government schools are the problem.  They have their own religion:  PC, gay agenda, global warming, the 'enviornment' etc.  The reason government schools are against religion is because it competes with their 'control and authority'.

@henk: "As an Athiest you may not know that manna..."  Wow - talk about talking down.  Yeah, the Jews ate manna for 40 years.  Do I have to believe it? - no. 

@henk: "organized by a particular religion is choosing that religion over others"  As I said, the liberal agenda brainwash is alive and well in most of the government schools.  'They' (the teachers union) have choosen the political agenda to present.

Got my point?

barbermom2
barbermom2

@Melenanana true. But is it really that big of a deal that this other group needs to get involved?

jpkolb
jpkolb

@kevinecker @atrupar The government can't establish a state religion. Nowhere does it say a school can't go on a field trip to a church.

Onan
Onan

@barbermom2 @chronophage @Melenanana  "...accuses administrators of dismissing a parent's objection to the trips..."

Do you know how we can tell you didn't read the article?

Melenanana
Melenanana

@barbermom2 I guess the parents felt they weren't being heard. I'd have to think opting out of the field trip would suffice but eh?

Now Trending

Minnesota Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

Loading...