Area public schools permit evangelical proselytizing during
Clark Moeller, Dec. 15, 1997 -- Over the last two weeks about
2,000 public school students in our area have attended school sponsored
assemblies where evangelical proselytizing has taken place. The public
Junior and/or Senior High Schools in Northeast Bradford, Athens, and Sayre,
Pennsylvania, and Waverly and Tioga Central, New York, have held assemblies
during class hours for the students which featured either Athletes in
Action (AIA), which is part of Campus Crusade for Christ, or Mr. Bob Holmes,
who advertises himself as a "one-man volleyball team". These programs
were sponsored by some local churches such as the North Rome Wesleyan
Church and Student Venture, "a local Christian development program." Stan
& Barb Janiak of Athens are the contact people listed in its flyer.
The official 1997 brochure of Athletes in Action states its
purpose is "to challenge people to get to know God personally through
a relationship with Jesus Christ." The news release for AIA states, "Athletes
in Action is a Christian basketball team" (Daily Review 11/27/97). The
news release advertizing Bob Holmes's program was headlined, "Evangelist,
one man volleyball team."(Daily Review 12/3//97)
These advertisements alerted local citizens
who had already heard about AIA's reputation for using assembly programs
to engage in Christian evangelical proselytizing, which is a violation of
our Constitutionally protected right of religious liberty. During assemblies,
AIA has also promoted its evening program of Christian evangelical proselytizing,
which is a non-school sponsored event. The local Student Venture flyer describes
this evening program as, "a non-denominational outreach to bring teens to
Jesus Christ," and says, "The Athletes will be giving a clear message of
how Jesus Christ has changed their lives."
There are parents of children in the public schools who do
not want their children exposed to any religious evangelism in school regardless
of which religious message is being preached. And they should be able to
assume that public school Administrators and School Boards will respect
this concern because religious proselytizing in public schools is a violation
of the Pennsylvania, New York, and U.S. Constitutions.
With this concern in mind, members of the Bradford County
Alliance for Democracy (BCAFD), contacted many of the Principals or Superintendents
in person or by phone about their concern. In Towanda, Jeff Gonzalez spoke
with Principal Frank Hoffman and Assistant Principal Steve Gobble. A parent
in Northeast Bradford spoke with Superintendent Nielson. Parents and concerned
citizens spoke with Principal Signorino in Sayre and Principal Hendricks
in Athens. In Sayre and Towanda, the Principals were given the advertising
literature. Principal Hendricks said he was familiar with AIA and said he
would stop the assembly program if any religious language was used.
In response to BCAFD efforts and the obvious evangelical nature
of the advertising literature, Towanda Principal Hoffman and Assistant Principal
Gobble canceled Mr Holmes's assembly program.
However, the assemblies went ahead as planned in Northeast,
Athens, Sayre, Waverly, and Tioga Central . Members of the BCAFD or their
children monitored most of these. In Northeast, Bob Holmes waited until
the very end of his program to make his plug for Jesus Christ. In Athens'
Rowe Jr. H.S., the AIA athletes professed that "how we find inner strength
to overcome the pressures of the outside is through a strong belief in the
God of the universe and a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ."
In Athens H.S. similar language was used at the end of the program and Principal
Hendricks did nothing to interrupt the program and stop the evangelical
talk. Furthermore, the AIA handed out its evangelical literature and met
with students at the end of the assembly.
In Towanda, Mr. Holmes's evening evangelical religious program
was permitted to continue because it was not school sponsored. I attended
his evening program. I can report that Bob Holmes is a superb volleyball
player with a killer serve. He beat several good teams all by himself. Afterwards,
in his evangelical program, he asked the crowd "wouldn't you all like to
see prayer back in the public school?" This question was met with enthusiastic
clapping. I was wondering just how many of these folks would be clapping
if that pitch for school prayer had been made by Rev. Louis Farrakhan, Rev.
Moon, or a David Koresh of the Branch Davidians.
However, as we all know, prayer is allowed in public schools
and has always been allowed. Any kid can pray any time he or she wants so
long as it does not interfere with the school and the prayer is not part
of a school sponsored program. For examples, student prayer clubs are legal
so long as these are not conducted during regularly scheduled class time,
including study halls. What is prohibited are public school sponsored prayer
or religious programs such as Child Evangelical Fellowship because the school
is an agent of the government, has publically elected officials, and receives
tax support. This prohibition prevents the government from dictating religious
practices. This is why we have religious freedom.
No other people in the world enjoy the religious freedom we
do in the United States. The Canadians do not. The British, Australians,
Norwegians, Germans, French do not. The people in most of these countries
see their tax dollars used to support the official state religion regardless
of what their personal beliefs might be.
It is only the people of the United States who are free from
forced government-sponsored religious taxes or religious practices. We have
this freedom because our Founding Fathers added the First Amendment to our
Constitution in 1791.This created the separation of church and state. Today,
every elected school board member in Pennsylvania takes an oath of office
agreeing that he or she will uphold the Constitutions of the United States
and Pennsylvania, which include provisions for the separation of church
One of the most dramatic results of religious freedom in the
United States is that we have the most active and vibrant religious communities
in the world. There are over 1,600 different religions and denominations
in America. Fifty percent of these were formed in just the last 30 years.
Most Americans identify themselves as Christians, but there are so many
differences in belief among people who call themselves Christian that it
is hard to make meaningful generalizations about what these beliefs have
in common. Just among those who identify themselves as Evangelical, there
are 14 different denominational subdivisions, according to the "Handbook
of Denominations in The United States," Abington Press, Nashville, 1995.
The Bradford/Sullivan counties Donnelly Directory shows 35
different denominations in the yellow pages, which together list 127 separate
places of worship. Assuming that of our two-county population of 68,000,
40% attend church, the U.S. average, then there are 214 church attenders
per church on average. But these church members or attenders and those who
do not attend church have deep differences of opinion about religion. That
is why there are many different denominations and perhaps why 60% of the
people do not attend church.
Regardless of parents' religious affiliations, they do not
want their children forced to listen to evangelical proselytizing about
religious beliefs they do not share. This proselytizing is particularly
obnoxious when it happens in public school, where children are a captive
audience. Having control over your children's religious education is a basic
concept of religious liberty. "I do not want church groups controlling the
schools of our country," Eleanor Roosevelt said, "they must remain free."
Yet it is just this religious freedom that some evangelical
religious folks want to distroy so they can force their own religious practice
on the rest of us. Also, unfortunately, there are some locally elected school
board members who seem to have forgotten their oath of office and have permitted
programs like Campus Crusade for Christ, Athletes in Action, and the volleyball
guy to practice their evangelical proselytizing in assemblies sponsored
by public schools, as happened in Athens and Northeast School Districts.
In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court once again upheld the concept
of the separation of church and state. Justice Kennedy wrote, "Religious
beliefs and religious expression are too precious to be either proscribed
or prescribed by the state." In 1990, Justice Stevens wrote, "The government
must pursue a course of complete neutrality toward religion." This neutrality
has been violated, in my opinion, by a number of the administrators in Northeast,
Sayre, Athens, Waverly, and Tioga Central public schools. In 1952, Justice
Jackson wrote, "The day that this country ceases to be free for irreligion,
it will cease to be free for religion - - except for the sect that can win
political power." And political power is just what the Christian Coalition
is working for, as everyone knows who watches the news. And the complimentary
strategy of Campus Crusade For Christ for 1997 and 1998, is to put an Athletes
in Action type evangelical program into every public junior and senior high
schools in the United States.
The incidents we have just experienced in Bradford County
are part of a pattern that has been evident all across the United States.
These threats to religious freedom have become so serious that religious
leaders from across the country have formed The Interfaith Alliance (TIA)
to counter the assault on the First Amendment by religious fundamentalists.
The Interfaith Alliance is a national organization with chapters in most
of our states. The TIA Board of Directors includes representatives from
main line Protestant denominations such as Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians,
Episcopalians, Unitarian Universalists; Roman Catholics; Jewish congregations;
the National and World Council of Churches; and many others. The Statement
of Principles of the TIA follows:
"At a time when Americans fear our values are being undermined,
our communities frayed and the strength of our families and our children's
future are threatened, The Interfaith Alliance offers hope and renewal.
The Interfaith Alliance believes in the dignity of the
individual and the importance of community. These religious principles compel
us to take responsibility for both our own communities and our larger national
As a non-partisan organization, The Interfaith Alliance
offers Americans a mainstream, faith-based agenda committed to the positive
role of religion as a healing and constructive force in public life. The
Interfaith Alliance draws on shared religious principles to challenge those
who manipulate religion to promote an extreme political agenda based on
a false gospel of irresponsible individualism. This false gospel threatens
our families, our values and our future.
We believe we must not only give voice to mainstream
values, but also take action to preserve and express our shared beliefs.
We are committed to supporting families, ensuring opportunity and honoring
In addition, TIA supports the U.S. Constitutional protection
of separation of church and state and the religious liberty it guarantees.
I believe most Americans agree with TIA. There is a time and place for evangelical
proselytizing, but a public school sponsored event is neither the time nor
Member Bradford Alliance for Democracy
P.O. Box 131, Burlington, PA 18814
This article appeared without the endnotes in The Daily Review
in December 1997
Back to the top
- Student Venture flyer, contact person Stan & Barb Janiak - given
to Jenelle Curlin-Taylor.
- Daily Review: 11/27/97 and AIA brochure, 1997
- Daily Review, 12/ 3/97
- Phone conversation between Jeff Gonzalez and Bob Holmes 12/7/97-
see Jeff's notes.
- NYT Magazine, 12/7/97, page 60
- My Day, 7/8/49, compilers theGreat Quatations on Religious Liberty,
Long Beach, CA 1991, p82
- U.S. Supreme Court Judge, Anthony M. Kennedy, according Mark S. Hoffman,
ed, Notatable Quotes, in 1992 the World Almanac & Bood of Facts
1993, NY Pharos Books, 1992,. P32
- John Paul Steves, majority opinion US Supreme Court, Wallace v Jaffree,
7/4/85, from Daniel Baker, ed, Political Quations. Detroit: Gale research,
In 1990 p191
- Justice Robert H. Jackson, dissenting opinion, U.S. Supreme Count,
Zorach v Clausor 4/7/52, from Daniel Baker, ed, Political Quations.
Detroit: Gale research, In 1990 p190
- The Interfaith Alliance's web site: www.tia.org
December 1, 1998 To: Athens Area School District Board
of Directors, Athens, PA
Re: Athletes in Action program
We are a group of parents of Athens Area School district
children and/or tax payers. We are supporters of a strong public school
system in general and specifically want to support our Athens Area School
District teachers and school administrators who work so hard to educate
children. We also appreciate the time you give, as School Directors, which
benefit each of our children.
However, even in a community of people with similar goals,
actions or behaviors can occur which cause deep uneasiness to one party
of another. Certainly, a school administrator or teacher has felt from
time to time that he or she was misunderstood by a child or parents.
Often the opportunity for clarity on the issue seems not to happen for
one reason or another. And then the moment passes and nothing is really
It is in this spirit of finding mutual understanding and
clarity that we bring to you a concern that has greatly troubled us. We
feel we can find agreement and hope you do also.
On December 2, 1997, the school administrators permitted
the Campus Crusade for Christ's Athletes in Action to conduct a so-called
anti-drug program in Athens Area Schools. This was accurately described
in the article by Clark Moeller published in the Daily Review on 12/17/97
(attached). Second, the quality of the program was evaluated by Nell Allen
in her letter to you of December 17, 1997 (attached). Third, we submit
a pamphlet handed out by Athletes in Action at both Rowe Jr. High School
and at the high school. (attached).
This Athletes in Action program was a violation of our and
your Constitutionally protected rights of religious freedom as laid our
in the first Amendment which has been defined and supported by numerous
U.S. Supreme Court cases over the years.
We would like to put this episode behind us, to have closure
on this issue, by having this Board of Directors pass a resolution at
a regular meeting. This resolution would affirm to us and the Athens area
community that the Athens Area School district board will be vigilant
in not allowing a repetition of the Athletes in Acton program or similar
religious evangelical programs in our School District. For our part, we
will consider this issue closed and will not pursue it further.
We suggest the following resolution be adopted by this Board
tonight or within the next two meetings.: "Whereas, we, the School Directors
of the Athens Area School District, Athens, Pennsylvania, are committed
to uphold the Pennsylvania and the U.S. Constitutions, including their
provisions for religious freedom, which each agreed to when we were sworn
into office, and
"Whereas, we understand that the Athletes in Action program
held in our schools could have been seen as a violation of our citizens'
Constitutionally protected rights of religious freedom and was, in fact,
viewed by many of them as such a violation;
"Therefore, be it resolved that as the Directors of this
school District, we will make a good faith effort to make sure that such
programs are not held in our schools again, and shall direct the administrators
of this District to comply with the spirit of this resolution."
Barbara Coyle and Jim Shaw, Marilyn and John Palmer, Jeff Dann, Mary
Nell Allen, Shalamuth Shafer, Penni and Brooks Eldredge-Martin, Sue and
RR 2 Box 177, Ulster, PA 18850
Members of our group have been in contact and conversation
with the professional staff of the Athens School District on this Athletes
In Action issue for over a year, even before AIA appeared in our schools.
In addition to the contacts discussed in the news article
and other attachments,
Back to the top
- Jan. 1998: We spoke to the Superintendent about the issue and he said
the school’s policy already cover the issue. We asked for a copy and
got the building use policy which said nothing about the Constitutional
- Feb/March 1998: Superintendent Boyer and Pat Barrett were given background
information on AIA
- March/April 1998: Sup. Boyer said he was waiting to hear Pat Barrett
- May/June: Pat Barrett said he’d make a recommendation on action to
the Board. To date we have not been informed if anything has been done.
March 8, 1999
Richard Stedge, President
Athens Area School Board
Athens, PA 18810
Dear Mr. Stedge,
Last October parents and taxpayers of the Athens School
District appeared before your Board asking for action on the Athletes
In Action (AIA) event that took place more than a year and a quarter ago,
December 8, 1997. At the Oct. 1998 meeting, we provided the Board a letter,
a suggested resolution, and extensive documentation showing we had been
tried to prevent the AIA problem from occurring before in took place on
12/8/97 with your administrative staff but to no avail. Since then we
made numerous efforts to resolve the issue with Superintendent Boyer during
1998, who eventually gave us a school policy which had nothing to do with
the issue we have raised.
At the October 1998 we asked for the help of the Board and
your Board said the issue would be addressed. We took you at your word.
It is now five months late and we have heard nothing. When our member,
Barb Coyle, called you, you told her that we should contact the Board's
attorney, Attorney Barrett. However, it was 9 months ago, in June 1998,
that Att. Barrett told Jeff Dann of our group that he, Attny Barrett ,would
make a recommendation to the Board and nothing happened. So we don't see
that as a very productive route.
We believe the AIA event was a violation of our First Amendment
rights under the Constitution of the United States. It is time for this
School Board to step up to its responsibilities and address the issue
as it said it would five months ago. We have given you the background,
the documentation, and a reasonable resolution to adopt the can provide
closure to the issue.
We want a formal answer from the Board, not another run around
with your staff. I am sure you would feel the same way, if you were in
our shoes. It is time.
Chair, Bradford County Alliance for Democracy.
Back to the top
Conclusion to AIA
In summary, the Athens Board of Education ignored the requests
of the BCAD. We contacted a lawyer who felt the BCAD probably had a federal
civil rights case. However, to pursue such a case in federal court,
BCAD need to have someone with “standing”. That is, some parents whose child
had been exposed to the evangelical proselytizing of the AIA and these parents
were willing to take the school district to court. Because BCAD had no parents
willing to go to court on the issue, that was the end of the issue.
However, next time when an issue similar to the AIA arose, the BCAD under
took a much more aggressive approach on potential violations of the First
Amendment. See the Power Team project.
Back to the top