FFRF causes Illinois district to curtail creationist cant

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has extracted a pledge from an Illinois school district to curb creationism-promoting events in its schools.

A concerned district parent had contacted FFRF to report that Effingham Community School Board President Jeff Michael arranged for Christ's Church, where he is a pastor, to give a presentation about dinosaurs to students at Central Grade School in Effingham. Ill., during school hours. Elementary-aged students were handed out flyers promoting a weekend presentation at the school that promised to show students a "mobile museum" of dinosaur fossils. The weekend presentation on Jan. 27 was hosted by the Creation Truth Foundation, a creationist group, which was not disclosed in this flyer. It is FFRF's understanding that the Creation Truth Foundation reportedly promoted biblical creationism at the weekend event

Michael reportedly explained that the religious content of the school presentation was hidden because "we have limited free speech in a public school," and that he thought mentioning the religious content of the school presentation would have been constitutionally problematic. 

It is indeed unconstitutional for a school district to allow outside adults to promote a religious event to a captive student audience during a school-sponsored presentation, FFRF pointed out.

"It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion," FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to Effingham CUSD#40 President Mark Doan. "The Supreme Court has held that 'the preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and a choice committed to the private sphere.'" 

FFRF requested that the district take steps to ensure that future school presentations do not include the promotion of religious events.

The school district recently notified FFRF that it will follow the state/church watchdog's counsel and adhere to the Constitution.

"I want to assure [FFRF] that we have instituted steps to deter anything like this happening again," the superintendent has stated. Doan has promised to implement a new policy making certain that students will not be given flyers advertising religious events during school presentations.

FFRF is satisfied by the guarantee.

"Church representatives were underhandedly spreading unscientific religious nonsense," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We're glad we're putting a stop to children being willfully led astray."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members and 20 chapters across the country, including 1,000-plus in Illinois and a chapter in Chicago. FFRF's purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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