Legal Group Pushes Back After School District Stops Student Attendance of Off-Site Voluntary Bible Class

FREMONT, Mich. — A legal group representing a church in Michigan is pushing back after a school district recently decided to no longer allow students to leave school during lunchtime for off-site voluntary religious instruction.

The law office of Rickard, Denney, Garno & Associates, which is allied with the religious liberties organization Alliance Defending Freedom, sent a letter on Friday to the superintendent of Fremont Public Schools in hopes that he will reverse the decision.

“[W]e believe the school’s decision is unlawful and we respectfully request it to be reversed immediately,” the correspondence stated.

According to reports, the Fremont Wesleyan Church has been offering the Bible Release Time program for Daisy Brook Elementary School students, a 45-minute class that is optional and only for those whose parents have signed a written permission form.

The program, led by John Perkins, is held once a month during the lunch period, and the church transports students to and from the study. An estimated 100 children attend.

“Bible Release Time is a program permitted by Michigan law, whereby children are released from school classes during school hours to attend religious instruction at a nearby location,” read a flyer sent home to parents with the permission slip.

However, the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists (MACRA) recently contacted the district to assert that the school’s role in offering the program to students unlawfully promotes Christianity and thus violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

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“Without the school’s direct assistance, Pastor Perkins would not have access to recruit students. Handing out Pastor Perkins’ form from the school office is a violation,” the group explained on social media on Thursday. “[T]he school is involved in facilitating the Bible classes by announcing the class and herding the kids to the exits and bus—this is also a violation.”

“Third, the superintendent and principal both refer to the ‘Bible Release Time’ as ‘our program,’ which is another violation. No public school is allowed to have any program that involves religion. Period,” it said.

Last week, parents were sent a letter advising that students would no longer be permitted to attend the lunchtime Bible class. Superintendent Ken Haggart said that the decision was made under the counsel of school district attorneys.

“There is some concern, brought forward by a civil rights group, which by allowing your child to leave the school campus during the school day Daisy Brook Elementary and Fremont Public Schools could be viewed as promoting religion,” the notice read.

Haggart said that the discontinuance is only for 2017 and that he hopes that the program will be restored.

“Superintendent Ken Haggart just doesn’t get it. White Christian privilege is ingrained in his DNA,” MACRA shot back on social media. “The ‘Bible Release’ program is cancelled for now, but in the fall, MACRA will place Daisy Brook on its list of schools for special monitoring to assure continued compliance with the law and Constitution.”

Some parents have now expressed disappointment in the district decision and state that their children don’t understand why they can’t participate anymore.

“I don’t agree with it because I don’t believe it is a violation of the First Amendment. It’s not on school property. Parents have to sign their kids. It’s completely optional,” Britney TarVeer told reporters. “Just because other religions don’t offer this kind of thing at school, it is unfair to take it away from the Christian religion.”

Rickard, Denney, Garno & Associates, which is representing Perkins, outlined pertinent case law in urging Haggart to rethink the matter.

“[O]ver fifty years ago, the United State Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of religious released time classes just like these that Bible Release Time conducts,” attorney Timothy Denney wrote, citing the 1952 case of Zorach v. Clauson, which said that to disallow such arrangements for religious students would wrongfully prefer “those who believe in no religion over those who believe.”

The legal group also noted that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and numerous other secular groups have signed a statement upholding the right of students to attend release time offerings.

“Schools have the discretion to dismiss students to off-premises religious instruction, provided that schools do not encourage or discourage participation or penalize those who do not attend,” the joint statement reads.

Haggart is therefore being urged to immediately reinstate the option of attending the lunchtime program.

“Fremont Public School’s decision to shut down the release of students to the Bible Released Time class violated federal and state law,” Denney asserted in his correspondence. “Release for future classes should be reinstated immediately.”


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  • bowie1

    It seems to me that what students do over lunch time is none of the school’s business. Those who oppose this are nothing but a bunch of heathen hate mongers who think they have a right to dictate what students can or cannot do even off school hours.

    • james blue

      I would like to assume the parents had to sign a release form removing all physical and financial liability from the school from the moment they exit the building doors to the moment they return, however IMO the simplest solution would be to have the class after school.

    • Michael C

      Those who oppose this are nothing but a bunch of heathen hate mongers who think they have a right to dictate what students can or cannot do even off school hours.

      Well,… in a school, the lunch hour isn’t “off school hours.” The lunch period is very much still a part of the school day. Elementary students don’t just get to leave school grounds and ride their bikes down to McDonald’s. None of the schools I attended growing up had an open campus during the lunch hour. Not even in high school. A closed campus is not against the law.

      That being said, I think that parents should be able to pull their kids out of school for religious purposes.

      • bowie1

        Yes. Ironically a school in a village north of where I live has a McDonald’s right next to it! It was a high school but now has been transferred to the elementary level students. When I was still a student in the 1960’s I recall walking home to my parents to have a bite to eat.

    • Colin Rafferty

      The school agrees with you, which is why it is no longer actively supporting this. They realized that they should not be involved in the religious activities of their students, so have stopped organizing this.

  • Michael C

    If parents want to pull their kids out of school once a month to go to a bible study, they should be able to do so (especially if it’s over lunch).

    The school, however, should have absolutely nothing to do with the promotion of the religious event. No information about it should be disseminated to the children or their parents by the school. If the church wishes to promote this event to their congregation or beyond on their own (not on school property), that’s just fine. It should be up to the event coordinators to figure out all of the logistics and legalities.

    • Jason Todd

      And once again, you are suggesting people check their faith at the door.

      No.

      • Michael C

        And once again, you are suggesting people check their faith at the door. No.

        Huh?

        How on earth?

        • Jason Todd

          What? You said the school should have nothing to do with it at all. Why? Why should anyone check their faith at the school door?

          • Michael C

            You said the school should have nothing to do with it at all. Why?

            …because it’s not a school event. A public elementary school should not be promoting private religious events.

            Why should anyone check their faith at the school door?

            I never said that anyone should be required to “check their faith at the door.” Where on earth you’re getting that from.

      • Cady555

        No. That is not true. Children can practice their own religion. But adults do not get to use schools to push their religious beliefs on other people’s kids.

        • Jason Todd

          But it’s perfectly okay to force the LGBTQW agenda, global warming, atheism, etc into other people’s kids?

          I don’t think so.

          • Cady555

            Atheism is not pushed on school kids. Good teachers make no statements for or against religion.

            Schools do teach subjects supported by evidence. The fact that evangelicals and oil companies bought the same politicians does not make global warming a religious issue. Global warming is happening and supported by evidence.

            Schools also acknowledge that people exist and all desetve to be treated with kindness and respect. If you cant handle existing in the same world as gays, that is your problem. Gay people exist and do not need the permission of fundygelicals to exist.

          • Jason Todd

            Atheism is not pushed on school kids.

            Lie #1.

            Schools do teach subjects supported by evidence.

            Lie #2.

            Global warming is happening and supported by evidence.

            Lie #3.

            Gay people exist and do not need the permission of fundygelicals to exist.

            Keep your behavior in the bedroom (where it belongs) and between consenting adults, and keep your fleeping hands off of our kids. Then you won’t hear a peep out of us.

          • Ambulance Chaser

            Didn’t you know? Making statements that Jason Todd disagrees with is “lying.”

          • Ambulance Chaser

            There is no Establishment of Homosexuality Clause. Teaching religion is unconstitutional. Teaching tolerance for LGBT people is not.

    • Sharon_at_home

      The school has to be involved as the students have to be allowed off the property because the principal would need to approve of them.
      I don’t see why the church has to try to catch people on the way in or out of the school to reach them. Is the school not able to say that they are not endorsing it, but are distributing it for them? I mean it is about the school endorsing the religion, and making it clear that they are not endorsing the religion. That’s how most people get around something like that…

      • Michael C

        Is the school not able to say that they are not endorsing it, but are distributing it for them?*

        The very fact that the school is passing out permission slips equates to endorsement. For the school to distribute this outside group’s literature is, at its core, a recommendation.

        The only way to prevent it from being an endorsement or recommendation would be to maintain the policy to distribute flyers for whatever outside organization that wants access to school children (and that doesn’t seem like a very smart policy).

        If the church wishes to promote this event on their own, that’s great. It shouldn’t need the school’s help. There’s no reason to involve the public school in any way other than to get them to wrangle up the participating children.

        *edit* wrong quote

        • Sharon_at_home

          The odds of reaching as many children by standing outside the school to distribute the information about the offer of a course is very low. By giving it to the school it reaches everyone that hears about it rather than the people that might have been interested for their child.
          If the government approves of these off school property ‘courses’ then what is the point of not letting people know about it from the school? As long as it is made clear that it is not intended as an endorsement, how is it making it appear the school is endorsing it? That is the whole point of saying that you don’t endorse it is the way you avoid legal problems. They do it all the time with authors of articles on websites, and magazines all the time (and I’m sure other places too). So how come it won’t work in this case?
          So the only way they could actually reach the people who would want to have their child enrolled, is to put flyers out everywhere; in every mail box, on every corner that allows posters to be shown. It would have to be everywhere to accomplish it. At least this way there are fewer people than it being put up everywhere that would not be interested.
          Do schools not ever put out flyers for other’s events, like church fairs and whatever public event even the Muslim population do? Or is it that they aren’t considered religious events and giving out those things are “promoting” a religion but rather the event?
          I’m sorry – I can’t understand why anyone would think the school was
          endorsing something by issuing something that blatantly says it doesn’t
          endorse the religion involved in the course. It’s not about wrangling
          the kids because the Parents have to sign to allow them to attend. It
          would be more about wrangling the parents, wouldn’t it?
          Thanks Michael for helping me understand better.

  • james blue

    A simple solution would be to do it after school

    • Cady555

      Maybe churches could offer religious instruction outside of school hours.

      Maybe every week.

      Maybe on Sundays.

      Maybe they could call it Sunday School.

      The only reasons to do this during the school day are 1. To get access to other people’s kids who don’t attend that church or 2. To imply to kids that this religion is good and right because school authorities approve.

      Both of those goals are illegal.

  • Guest✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    Talk about over-reach by the school district!

    • johndoe

      The school districts in my area of Texas are closed campuses. No one leaves until school is out. No over-reach at all. Just have it after school like they do where I live.

      • Guest✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

        This school does not have closed campus policies. The children are free to come and go during lunch hour, and their parents have given them permission to attend.

        • Michael C

          This school opens their doors at lunch time and allows six year olds to just walk out?

          They just let little kids come and go as they please?

          • Guest✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            I don’t see where the article mentions that the children are 6 years old, but yeah, didn’t you ever have permission to leave the school during lunch time? They’re not on lockdown!

          • Michael C

            I don’t see where the article mentions that the children are 6 years old,…

            I don’t know how schools are set up in your country but here in the U.S., elementary school is for children ranging from around 6 to 12. I would doubt that any elementary school in the country allows 6 to 12 year olds “come and go during lunch hour” as they please.

            …didn’t you ever have permission to leave the school during lunch time? They’re not on lockdown!

            No. Not even in my high school was I allowed to leave the building during lunch period. Yes, they often are on lockdown. While the school is responsible for the safety of children, they are often not permitted to come and go as they please.

            As I’ve already said on this thread, parents should be permitted to check their children out of school for religious purposes, especially if it doesn’t interfere with instructional time. There is a process for this, however, and it doesn’t require the school to promote private religious practices.

          • Guest✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            Were you in a bad neighborhood perhaps? Here (Canada), students are allowed to come and go during lunch hour, but not recess. My spouse was educated in the US and had the same policy as well. Also, it does not specify that the children who attended were 6 year olds. They could have been older. Who knows? It wouldn’t make much difference since parents signed them out.

          • Michael C

            Were you in a bad neighborhood perhaps?

            no.

            It wouldn’t make much difference since parents signed them out.

            I agree that parents should be permitted to sign their children out of school for religious purposes but children (ages 6 to 12) usually can’t come and go from school as they please during lunch hours. They don’t have that right. Keeping a closed campus throughout the school day is not illegal.

            As I’ve said several times now, I don’t believe that this school has the ability to refuse to allow parents to remove their children from school for religious purposes but they also don’t have the ability to promote this private religious event. No advertising it to students or parents, no distributing flyers with information about it, no sending home permission slips to attend the monthly event like it’s some sort of instructional field trip.

            -edit- I’m sure the school with get their ducks in a row and this program will continue. This public elementary school just seems to need a minute to figure out it’s role in this matter.

          • Guest✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            I have never heard that it is standard policy to not allow students to leave the school during lunch time. How do students go home for lunch should they choose?

          • johndoe

            Where I live, they don’t leave campus to eat lunch. They’re not allowed unless parents check them out.

          • Guest✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            That sounds awful, actually. I don’t like the control schools have over kids (speaking as a former kid myself. 🙂 )

          • Michael C

            Students can only leave school grounds if they are signed out by a parent or guardian.

            Most schools (especially elementary school) don’t allow children to choose to go home or anywhere else over the lunch hour. This is the vast majority of schools in the U.S.

          • Guest✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            Wow, that’s a shocker. I would have hated that as a kid.

          • Cady555

            They don’t. They bring lunch or buy it. The lunch period is too short to walk home, eat and come back.

          • Guest✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            How isn’t it long enough? We used to get 45 minutes.

          • Sharon_at_home

            Actually Michael, the article said that the children (roughly 100 of them) were bused back and forth to the church with the church paying for the bus. So, no the children did not walk out of the school on their own.
            Have a great day, Michael!

          • Michael C

            So, no the children did not walk out of the school on their own.

            Hi Sharon, I was questioning “Guest’s” assertion that children are free to come and go during lunch hour, not anything from the article itself.

          • Sharon_at_home

            sorry Michael!

      • james blue

        What grade are you in?

  • Becky

    “I don’t agree with it because I don’t believe it is a violation of the First Amendment. It’s not on school property. Parents have to sign their kids. It’s completely optional,” Britney TarVeer told reporters. “Just because other religions don’t offer this kind of thing at school, it is unfair to take it away from the Christian religion.”

    I agree. Unfortunately, the public education system has been infiltrated and saturated by some very nefarious individuals. For example, Kevin Jennings, he’s the former assistant deputy secretary of the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Jennings is the founder of a notorious, anti-Christian, homosexual activist group (GLSEN) that has done tremendous harm to the public education system…all at the expense of US taxpayer dollars to boot. Their goal? Indoctrinate every student about the so-called goodness and normality of homosexuality. Kindergartners aren’t spared from this obscenity either…GLSEN referred to it as a “saturation period”…poor innocents. As a result, the schools have developed an automatic militant scheme whenever Christianity is anywhere mentioned, clearly, even off-campus.

    • Chris

      “Their goal? Indoctrinate every student about the so-called goodness and normality of homosexuality”

      Oh no. They are teaching kids that it’s ok to be themselves and that they shouldn’t be bullied for it? Oh the humanity.

      • Sharon_at_home

        They also teach them tolerance for someone who is different. That covers a lot more than just homosexuals too, as it includes the disabled and the immigrants. Tolerance is an important lesson in the world that exists today especially.

        • Chris

          Exactly so. Well said.

        • Texas Belle

          Yeah, sure is, as evidenced by the riots lead by the Leftist thugs who smash buildings, attack people who disagree with them, issue death threats, hate, hate, hate Trump and all those who voted for him. Tolerance for homosexuals is fine, tolerance for LGBTs is fine, if there is also tolerance for those who have different opinions.

          • Chris

            “Tolerance for homosexuals is fine, tolerance for LGBTs is fine, if there
            is also tolerance for those who have different opinions.”

            Just a couple of points.
            1) Even if some gays and lesbians did the things you mention not all of the did. So why can’t those who’ve displayed tolerance be shown it?
            2) I wasn’t aware that Christian morality required the actions of the perpetrator. Turn the other cheek, love your enemies, etc. It doesn’t say love your enemies but only if they love you first.
            Just a thought.

  • robinked

    Lets be Real, if muslims wanted to ‘pray’ school officials would bend over Backward, provide an On Campus room & let them pray 5 times a day…..

    • Estoban

      That is troubling but true. Even worse, any that object are called Islamophobic. These dimwits roll out their PC name calling, even as children in Manchester, England are picking bits of their friends out of their hair.

    • Cady555

      No. If a school organized Muslim religious proselytizing and invited all kids to attend, Christians would be up in arms, and rightly so.

      The same rules apply to everyone. Kids can practice their religion, including prayer at school, reading religious texts, discussions with friends, etc. But school employees cannot direct students toward religious prayer or instruction, and they cannot promote one particular religious viewpoint.

      • robinked

        Riiight…

        • Ambulance Chaser

          Your personal incredulity is not a citation.

  • Estoban

    Sue the school, including massive monetary damages for denying basic first amendment rights.

    • Ambulance Chaser

      Under what cause of action?

  • Texas Belle

    Sue the school for kidnapping students during lunch. Students should be able to do as they please during free time.

  • Cady555

    The lunch period at schools near me is about 25 minutes long and staggered. The schools wuld have to disrupt the entire schedule to accomodate all students having an hour long lunch at the same time.

    What happened to Sunday school? Parents can send their kids to any religious instruction they want outside of school hours. The only point of release time is to get the kids to think the school affirms theor religious choice.