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churchstateI’m about ready to be done with church-state issues in schools for a while. I’m in the mood to go well off-topic for a bit, to talk about child-eating mermaids and why trying to get the great works of Western civilization through the 19th century intact is like passing the Louvre’s collection of French Impressionism through a preschool on Fingerpaint Day. But since I blogged the Taylor situation last month, y’all keep sending me good on-topic questions. So as long as mine inbox groans under requests for counsel, the kid-noshing merperson will have to wait.

It seems some of you are running into the presence of outside youth evangelizing groups in your public schools, including Young Life and The Good News Club, and wondering you should be concerned. I can’t say “ask NCSE,” since they rightly confine their work to the science classroom. So I’ll weigh in, then give a plug for the folks who DO handle this end of things.

The Good News Club, a group with the stated purpose “to evangelize boys and girls with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ,” has begun meeting in the public school attended by the daughter of one of my readers. Turns out this is another situation on which the courts have weighed in.

Good News Club was the plaintiff in a 2001 Supreme Court case (Good News Club vs. Milford Central School). Even though it allowed other clubs to meet, Milford School had prohibited the Good News Club from meeting in the building after school, thinking it would violate the establishment clause to allow it.

The court ruled 6-3 in favor of Good News Club, the majority stating that Milford Central School was not endorsing a particular religion or even religion in general by allowing them to meet.

Here’s the case doc, a legal commentary on it, and a good article by Wendy Kaminer. And the opinions are nicely summarized and worth reading on the Wikipedia page for the case.

Parenting Beyond Belief contributor and former American Atheists president Ed Buckner once noted in a discussion forum that “Bible clubs and clubs based on religion in other ways are permitted in public schools, though with real limits (not always adhered to): such clubs cannot be endorsed by, or even be given the appearance of endorsement by, the principal, school system, etc.”

The Good News Club meeting in the school after hours is legally kosher, and I for one think it should be, with reasonable restrictions. But the fact that GNC flyers were also coming home in the backpack of this parent’s child is perilously close to endorsement and oversteps the limits Ed referred to. And there’s the rub — that these groups can so often be relied upon to overstep whatever reasonable restrictions they are asked to observe.

I recommended having a chat with the principal, who probably doesn’t know the flyers are going home. And I pointed her to an outstanding source of information.

There are several such resources, and, if necessary, sources of direct assistance in cases like these. PBB contributor Stu Tanquist described receiving quick and effective help from The Freedom from Religion Foundation, run by the brilliant team of Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. There is of course the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization that has earned the labels “un-American” and “traitors” for defending the constitutional rights of American citizens.

Please don’t get me going.

Then there’s an organization with which I’m constantly impressed: Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU). In addition to solid advice and long experience, AU provides a spectacular set of online resources. If you’re running into a church-state issue of any kind in public schools, you can’t do much better than starting on AU’s Public Schools page to get quick, intelligent answers.

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Dale McGowan is chief content officer of OnlySky, author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies, and founder of Foundation Beyond Belief (now GO Humanity). He holds a...