BREA, Calif. — A Bible club at an elementary school in California is no more following a complaint from a prominent professing atheist group that seeks to combat what it believes are violations of the “separation of Church and State.”
Earlier this year, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to the Brea Olinda Unified School District after it was contacted by a parent who expressed concern that their son might feel pressure to join.
According to the correspondence, Club Monarch had been included in the weekly newsletter at Mariposa Elementary School and is listed on the online school calendar. There had been posters on the wall advertising the club as well, and the school’s principal had spoken about the option to parents during a back-to-school night.
“If a school chooses to allow outside groups to host after school programs on its property and an outside group decides to create a religious program, there must be no school involvement in the organization or promotion of that religious program,” FFRF wrote. “That means that the district cannot promote Club Monarch on its website, its school walls, to parents at back-to-school night, and cannot coordinate sign-ups for the club in the school office.”
The organization sent a second letter in March after submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and discovered that Mariposa Elementary School had sent home registration forms for parents and that teachers had helped to plan and coordinate the meetings. Superintendent Brad Mason also spoke at the club on one occasion.
“It is impossible for this club to continue in a constitutional manner. The club and the school are inextricably entangled,” FFRF wrote. “The Brea Olinda USD can no longer allow teachers and other staff to take advantage of their positions and access to children to proselytize and attempt to convert students to Christianity. Club Monarch must be disbanded.”
On Aug. 26, the atheist organization received notice from attorneys for the district that the club has ceased its activities.
“Club Monarch has ceased to operate at Mariposa Elementary School and does not operate at any other district school sites,” wrote Todd Robbins of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud and Romo. “We trust that this resolves the concerns expressed in your organization’s original letter dated March 1, 2016.”
FFRF applauded the move.
“The operation of a religious club at an elementary school with the collusion of school principal and staff was way beyond the pale, and we’re pleased we played a role in putting an end to it,” Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement on Thursday.
As previously reported, in 1647, the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed “The Old Deluder Satan Act,” which required that children be taught to read so they could learn to read the Bible.
“In being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, … and that learning may not be buried in the graves of our forefathers in Church and Commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors, it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof, that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to the number of fifty householders, shall then forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read,” it read in part.
The first textbook used in the American colonies even before the nation’s founding, “The New England Primer,” was largely focused on the Scriptures, and was stated to be popular in public and private schools alike until approximately the early 1900’s. It used mostly the King James Bible as reference, and spoke much about sin, salvation and proper behavior.
“Save me, O God, from evil all this day long, and let me love and serve Thee forever, for the sake of Jesus Christ, Thy Son,” it read.
Many of the Founders’ children learned to read from the primer.