ACLU Asks South Haven Schools to End Religious Proselytizing During School Hours

January 12, 2009

KALAMAZOO, MICH – In a letter today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan asked the superintendent of South Haven Public Schools to put an end to the practice of allowing a local youth minister and lunchroom volunteer to proselytize to students during schools hours and to recruit students for church functions.

“Parents, not the public schools, are responsible for deciding when and whether their children receive religious education," said ACLU lawyer James Rodbard. "Public schools should create an environment where students of all faiths feel comfortable and they should protect children from religious coercion by school volunteers.”

According to the letter, an outside volunteer, who is also a youth minister at the Hope Reform Church in South Haven, was permitted by South Haven Schools to come to the middle and high school during classroom hours and solicit students to participate in religious activities through the Hope Reform Church.

“We are extremely troubled,” read the letter, “not only by the fact that the South Haven Schools are allowing select ministers to proselytize during school hours, but also that some school administrators are actively participating in these unconstitutional activities.”

During one incident, the ACLU has learned that the youth minister and the South Haven High School Assistant Principal forced a student into an isolated room and attempted to pressure the student to pay for a church-based retreat that the student signed up for during school hours, but did not attend. During this ordeal, the student was not permitted to call his parents and in fact, his parents were never notified that he signed up for the church retreat.

In the letter, the ACLU of Michigan urged the superintendent “to assure that all students’ constitutional rights are protected by putting an end to the unlawful practice of permitting and/or encouraging religious leaders to proselytize students at South Haven Schools.”

Furthermore, the ACLU explained, while schools may teach about religion in comparative religion, history or literature classes, government officials such as teachers and school volunteers must take great care not to proselytize and must remain neutral when it comes to matters of religious instruction.

To read the letter, click here.

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