After an atheist group complained about a morning Bible study at a public middle school in Joplin, Missouri, the local school district decided to suspend the program.
In its latest effort to rid the public schools of all things Christian, the American Humanist Association (AHA) targeted a morning Bible study program at North Middle School in mid-December by sending the school district a letter alleging that school staff and Christian clergy members conspired to coax students into ascribing to their religious beliefs.
From donuts to devotion?
According to The Joplin Globe, AHA accused teachers and outside clergy members of leading students in prayer and Scripture readings that took place on certain days in the school auditorium during breakfast.
The atheist organization’s complaint also claimed that employees at the middle school conspired with clergy members to use donuts as a means to lure students to join the group.
AHA Legal Director David Niose announced to the public that faculty were pushing students to engage in the Christian gatherings – even though the meetings were student led and voluntary.
"It is unconstitutional for public school teachers to pressure students into participating in prayer or other religious activities," Niose proclaimed in a press release.
No harm, no foul
After looking into the matter as a follow-up to AHA’s complaint, district officials found that the accusations were misplaced and unsubstantiated.
“The school district dismissed those claims after finding that the program was student-initiated and complied with other requirements and policies set out by the school board,” CBN News reported.
The Missouri school district also determined that those holding the morning Bible study were innocent of any wrongdoing in four other areas, as well.
“They found that participation in the program was voluntary, was not led or promoted by a district employee, did not interfere with educational activities and didn't use public funds,” the report continued.
Pulling the plug anyway
Despite the fact that the middle school Bible study program did not violate any of the charges brought against it, district officials decided to cancel the morning gatherings at North Middle School because of a new policy that was revised last March.
The rule now states that student-initiated groups are not allowed on campus until high school.
"Our staff was unaware of the policy update and its implication for this activity," the district recently announced in a statement it issued on the matter. "As a result, we have suspended the Bible study as it is currently organized."
In a chain reaction that was initiated by AHA’s original complaint, the suspension has been extended to similar Bible study programs that took place at other middle schools in the area, as well.
Norm Ridder, the school district’s interim superintendent, maintained that community groups can choose to sponsor campus activities – including Bible studies and other religious gatherings – if they pay rental fees in compliance to the policy put in place by the district that sets the guidelines for the use of buildings and other properties.
"It happens in a few elementaries [in Joplin]," Ritter pointed out. "There's nothing illegal about that – as long as they're paying the fee."