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Christians Protest Yoga in Schools -- But Welcome Bible Study

Whether yoga is religious is a less important question than whether we really have separation of church and state in the public schools.

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Abstinence programs also, in many cases, more egregiously fail Test Two. Supplied by overtly religious organizations, they are run from beginning to end by outfits like  Choosing the Best, the curriculum of which was written by a former Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) national director, or the  No Apologies program, produced by Focus on the Family. These groups have received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and state funding to introduce their curriculum to public schools, and their faith-based programs are supported and defended by the ADF and their affiliates. Apparently the separation of church and school is a big deal for the ADF only when it involves the wrong kind of church.

Another example is “Character Education.” Public schools have taken it upon themselves to address issues of ethics and character, but in a world of budget cuts, they often turn to outside providers for the programs. Many of those providers are religious groups whose idea of “character development” is not easily distinguishable from proselytizing. “The Power Team,” “The Strength Team,” “Team Impact,” and thousands of similar faith-based groups send speakers, theater troupes, and even rock bands into public schools ostensibly to teach lessons about drunk driving, bullying, and other valuable topics. But their presentations -- which often culminate with invitations to proselytizing events at evangelical churches—soon make clear that their main aim is to leave with a collection of young religious converts.

And when parents complain? The ADF accuses ACLU-backed school districts that seek to limit religious “character education” of waging a “war on Christianity.”

The ADF and its allies also invest considerable efforts in seeking to overturn some anti-bullying school guidelines on the grounds that such policies persecute the “Christian perspective” on LGBT rights and that demanding tolerance is a front for promoting  “homosexual values.” Finally, let’s consider fundamentalist  Good News Clubs, which are presently in well over 3,000 public elementary schools around the country. Good News Clubs, which are sponsored by an organization called the  Child Evangelism Fellowship, are ostensibly after-school “Bible study” programs that require parental permission to join. But that description is misleading. Good News Clubs are not about “study,” they are about religious indoctrination. Further, the clubs produce the false but unavoidable impression in very young children that they are part of the school; they set up shop in public school classrooms immediately after the bell rings, so as to appear a seamless part of the school day. And finally, Good News Clubs instructors tell kids attending the clubs to recruit their peers at school.

It turns out that Encinitas public elementary schools that sparked the national outcry over yoga stretching are rife with Good News Clubs: all nine public elementary schools in the district have a club, reported Assistant Superintendent Miyashiro. And their presence has been made possible by the legal firepower of the ADF and lawyers like Dean Broyles. When it comes to unhealthy entanglement between church and school, a classroom of first-graders stretching their hands to the sky seems to be, for now, a matter of far less concern than the well-organized conservative Christian proselytism that is already making deep inroads into public education.

Katherine Stewart is the author of "The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children" (PublicAffairs). Visit her Web site or follow her on Twitter @kathsstewart.
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