Christian nationalists recruiting “child evangelists” in public schools

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CLEVELAND - At a crowded forum Feb. 1 investigative reporter Katherine Stewart presented the results of a three-year study exposing a nationwide effort, operating "under the radar," to turn public schools into a base for indoctrinating children in Christian fundamentalism. The event was sponsored by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Stewart is on a speaking tour about her new book, "The Good News Club," the name given to the afterschool programs of the Child Evangelism Fellowship, a Christian nationalist group.

With a 2001 Supreme Court decision that the free speech rights of children allow use of public schools as venues for religious indoctrination, the Child Evangelism Fellowship has set up a rapidly growing national network of the clubs that recruit and train children, aged 5-12, to bully their peers with threats that they will "go to Hell" unless they accept Jesus.

While the Good News Clubs present themselves as innocuous non-denominational "Bible study groups," they use the appearance of official school sanctioning to direct their recruited "child evangelists" to target children belonging to mainstream Christian religions, as well as non-Christians and non-believers.  

The clubs have created serious tensions and disrupted already besieged public schools in many areas, Stewart charged. She reported that some 3,500 of the clubs have been established, including in major school districts like Boston and Seattle, and their numbers are doubling every two to three years.  

Under the same court ruling nearly one-fifth of the public schools in New York City are being used rent-free as churches after school hours and on weekends. This "church-planting" movement is dominated by evangelicals and seeks to turn all 1,200 of the city schools into church venues.

Another arm of this campaign is the Fellowship for Christian Athletes, that, under the guise of "character building," aims to use school sports to promote fundamentalism.  Nearly 2 million children are now involved in this effort.

At national conventions she attended, Stewart reported, leaders of these movements openly declared their intention to transform public schools into "Christ-centered" institutions and turn the U.S. into a "Christian nation." The Good News Clubs, she said, use their base in the schools for right-wing political campaigns against "the homosexual agenda," reproductive freedom, interfaith marriage, laws against bullying and the teaching of evolution and climate science. They also promote vouchers and undermine support for public education.   

This concerted campaign is supported by right-wing legal groups dedicated to erasing the separation of church and state and financed by extremist foundations such as those connected with Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater.

Photo of Stewart via The Good News Club.

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  • This is just stupid. If you truly believe in freedom of speech and freedom of religion, then you can't condemn others for their religious beliefs. That's the fault in truth being "relevant" - this is illogical and self-defeating! If you truly believe that it is wrong to impose your beliefs on others, then you must realize that you are in fact violating your own belief by declaring another person's actions/beliefs wrong?

    That's foolish.

    If kids voluntarily go to one of these clubs of their own volition, at least they have a choice.

    Just like Jo Jo, all public school kids are being indoctrinated against their will by whomever is teaching them.

    So who is the real victim here?

    Posted by Tanisha, 06/22/2013 10:57pm (2 years ago)

  • Yeah i been in school just like all of yall, but i seen it far differently. I was being indoctrinated by the liberals, and atheists telling me i was stupid for being christian, and we christians were being bullied. Why is it i am forced to hear liberals views in schools and theirs only?

    Posted by jo jo, 08/08/2012 3:46am (2 years ago)

  • This is in full swing here in Minnesota, more specifically in my district the Anoka-Hennepin School District which recently lost a federal lawsuit yet continues to cater to the religious bigotry of fundamentalists. The so-called "Bible Study" operating in our district is actually being run by a man named Daniel Buschow who is financially profitting off the efforts of the kids he's brainwashed into harassing all "non-christian" students because they believe it's their job to save them and lead them to Jesus. They argue that this overt proselytizing is their right under the First Amendment, however they AND the school district seem to forget that the First Amendment applies to ALL americans, of ALL faiths or none equally. Sadly the issue of religious bigotry was expressly excluded from the legal dialog regarding the LGBTQ bullying and harassment despite it being the basis for their argument, so sadly after many suicides and almost two years of litigation that technically resulted in a win for the lawyers, nothing has changed here, the same bullys are still here and almost worse believing now that they are untouchable, and the victim pool has grown to include straight kids of many faiths......very, very sad.

    Posted by Melissa Thompson, 05/21/2012 7:54pm (3 years ago)

  • This is simply frightening. The GOP candidates would love to see women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Do people need any more of a warning to wake up and see the horizon for what it is? We are heading backwards rather than forward.

    It's been warned long ago that Evangelicals were securing positions of power in our government and the most unbelievable thing happened when the voiced their masoganystic views. The American public cheered. Not all of them, as many of us look on in horror and denounce this backwards train of thought, but far too many who suddenly are thinking it is the PC thing to quote scripture on their social networking page and attack anything they deem "innapropriate" or "offensive".

    How does anybody listen to the ignorant rants of these superstitious people and nod in agreement? Why is bigotry and hatred winning out over social tolerance? Why do people think it's a good idea to teach the next generation that science is of no value and the only truth is some book written by Camel herders sitting around in the desert during the Bronze Age???

    Sometimes I don't want to live on this planet any longer.....

    Posted by BlueDogs, 02/08/2012 1:33pm (3 years ago)

  • Christian fanatics would have the U.S. regress back to the Dark Ages. In the name of their totalitarianism, it's amazing how they grossly contradict what the U.S. founders learned from the consequences of church-state power prevelent in Medieval Europe. During the Iraq War, protofascist Donald Rumsfeld called Europe "Old Europe" because of its opposition to the war. Ironically, it's the U.S., namely w/ the attempted regression of the Religious Right, that is looking like the Old Europe more than the Modern Europe ever could.

    Posted by revolution123, 02/07/2012 3:51pm (3 years ago)

  • Karl Marx said it as well as anyone could: religion is the opiate of the people. In spite of the establishment clause in the U.S. constitution, the religious Right has made great strides in building a formidable establishment of their own, a great deal of it at taxpayer expense. It's in the interests of the bosses to keep the schools not only as propaganda institutions to cement their rule, it's also in their interests to keep people ignorant and backward through religion.

    I read a variety of leftist publications, and I never see an article on the machinations of the religious right. If it weren't for Americans United's "Church and State" newsletter, one wouldn't realize the battles that are taking place around the country to fight off these insidious bigots. Information about their attempts to turn the U.S. into a theocracy needs to be disseminated aggressively to working people and their allies. They cannot be dismissed simply as "crackpots."

    Posted by John Lombardo, 02/07/2012 3:22pm (3 years ago)

  • How unfortunate that these evangelicals who want to turn schools in "Christ-centered" institutions reject all the teachings of Jesus Christ and embrace a bunch of unchristian ideas Jesus never spoke of — or which he advocated the opposite of.

    Posted by Anastasia P, 02/06/2012 7:40pm (3 years ago)

  • If that's where the battle of ideas is being fought right now, then perhaps it's time to found a socialist youth league for kids who aren't yet YCL age. I'm sure most kids would prefer talking about rebellion and solidarity to talking about obedience, shame, and eternal torture. I still remember sitting in church as a child, listening to endless sermons about how parents don't beat their kids enough, and wishing that there were some other ideology one could subscribe to.

    Thanks for a great, and chilling, article.

    Posted by Harold Wallace, 02/06/2012 4:42pm (3 years ago)

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