SKOWHEGAN — An organization aimed at promoting the separation of church and state says it is concerned about a lack of transparency surrounding a Christian afterschool club at a town elementary school and has scheduled a discussion for parents this week.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation wants “to let parents know what they’re doing at the Good News Club so that they can make an informed decision,” said FFRF Maine Chapter President Tom Waddell. The discussion is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Margaret Chase Smith Elementary School library and is open to the public.

The Good News Club, which is in 67 schools around the state, is run by the Child Evangelism Fellowship, an organization whose goal is to “evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and to establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living,” according to the group’s website.

It has been in place in Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54 “for a number of years,” according to district Superintendent Brent Colbry. The club meets at the Bloomfield Elementary School, though in the past it has met in other SAD 54 elementary schools. The district serves students in Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield.

In October 2014, some parents complained about fliers that were being sent home with students promoting the Good News Club and FFRF has since been working towards holding a community discussion, Waddell said.

The district does not distribute business fliers or advertisements, but does allow promotional material for nonprofit groups or recreation programs that meet at the school to distribute materials to students after the materials are reviewed by school officials.

According to a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Good News Club vs. Milford Central School District, schools may not discriminate against religious groups, which are allowed to have the same access to school property that other outside groups get.

While the Good News Club has a legal right to meet at public schools, Waddell said the group is not being transparent about what goes on at club meetings and that the district could benefit from policies requiring it to be more open.

“Kids read the invitation, which basically says, ‘Come have some fun with your friends and learn a little about the Bible,’ so they say ‘yes,’ but when they get home, they say things to their parents like, ‘We’re all going to hell because we’re worshiping the wrong god,’ and the parents say, ‘Where did you hear that?’ ” Waddell said.

He said the district should update its policies around flier distribution and facility use as well as better enforce anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies as they relate to religion.

Brad Walker, local director of the Central Maine chapter of the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Maine, said he believes the group is transparent. The brochure about the club that gets sent home to students “specifically references our belief in Jesus and the Bible, and says we will be teaching Biblical principles,” Walker said.

He also said that while the club is open to all students in SAD 54, signed parental permission is required for student participation.

“I feel the brochure states what we are doing,” he said. “It tells what the Good News Club is, what will be taught, who sponsors it, where the club is held, so after reading the brochure I feel parents would know we are a Bible club and that we have a Christian view.”


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