FFRF challenges evangelical mentoring at S.C. elementary school

1beaufortcountyThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is strenuously objecting to an evangelical organization mentoring kids at a South Carolina elementary school.

A concerned parent informed FFRF that the Beaufort County School District partners with a religious organization, Real Champions of the Lowcountry, to provide mentors and religious instruction to students at Okatie Elementary School. The school coordinates one-on-one mentoring by Real Champions volunteers during the school day. Students are reportedly regularly removed from classrooms in the morning to participate in Real Champions activities.

Real Champions is an evangelical organization that seeks to proselytize. The Real Champions Statement of Faith includes the following:

We believe that we are called to communicate the Gospel to everyone in our generation and nurture disciples, carrying out The Great Commission that our Lord Jesus Christ commanded.

Real Champions mentors are recruited by Grace Coastal Church. The mission of Real Champions includes empowering youth “spiritually.” The volunteer/mentor application makes clear the evangelical purpose of the organization:

The Christ-Centered Mentor: has accepted Christ as Lord and Savior studies and tries personally to apply GOD’s word; is striving to know GOD intimately and become more like Christ; seek GOD’s will for his/her life; is deeply committed to loving the members of the body of Christ; expresses that Love by allowing the Holy Spirit to work in, as well through him/her; help other become responsible followers of Christ. (emphasis in original).

Okatie Elementary School sent home permission slips seeking student participation in the Real Champions program. Those permission slips say:

Real Champions is a faith based program encouraging your child to excel following the school’s character development platform. Being a faith based mentor program Real Champions will use Bible passages and prayer to encourage your student to achieve success.

The permission slip requests permission for children to participate in a “weekly faith based mentor program” and also for Real Champions to have access to the child’s school records.

The district cannot allow its schools to be used as religious recruiting grounds, FFRF contends.

“It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion,” Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott writes to Beaufort County School District Superintendent Jeffrey Moss. “It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the district to offer religious instructors unique access to its students. The partnership between a religious mentorship program and the Beaufort County School District impermissibly advances religion, communicates a message of school district endorsement of religion, and excessively entangles the school district and religion.” 

It is irrelevant that permission forms were provided to parents, FFRF informs the district. Courts have summarily rejected arguments that voluntariness excuses a constitutional violation.

Given how young and impressionable these students are, this violation of the Constitution is particularly egregious, FFRF declares. The school system must immediately stop this violation to avoid unnecessary and costly legal action.

“We’re shocked that the school district doesn’t realize the inappropriateness of this program,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Religious organizations should never be allowed access to such young public school children.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 29,000 members across the country, including hundreds in South Carolina. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

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