October 2, 2007

Time To Send Atheist Fliers Home With School Children

Approximately 2,000 elementary school children in Madison, WI, brought home religious fliers distributed at their public schools. The fliers encouraged families to "Plant the Seeds of Faith in Jesus in Your Child at our Sunday school." Not surprisingly, the atheist blogosphere is buzzing about this one, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking the Madison School District to prevent future distribution of religious fliers in public schools. This is certainly an understandable response, but there might be a better option.

Superintendent Art Rainwater defended the district's policy of allowing organizations to send a variety of fliers home with students. It sounds like the idea is to let just about anything to be sent home with the children, avoiding the appearance of religious privilege. This sounds fine except for two things.

First, the distribution of religious material in public schools is probably not something most of us want to encourage. Second, there is a sort of review process by which school officials decide what material goes home with children and what does not.
The materials must be bundled for each class. They are reviewed by staff members in Rainwater's office, and are passed along to schools for distribution if the programs serve children, don't violate the law, are deemed "appropriate," and don't recruit students to attend activities outside their schools during the school day.
The position of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is that public schools have no business distributing religious materials and that children "are apt to confuse official school notices with religious propaganda."

FFRF's Annie Laurie Gaylor says, "Looking at this 'Jesus flier,' how can the superintendent not realize this is offensive? And if you can do it with 'Jesus fliers,' how about 'Satanist fliers'?" An excellent suggestion. We need organizations to step up and start sending Madison children home with Satanist fliers.

Actually, Dispatches From the Culture Wars has an even better idea: send the kids home with atheist fliers.
The FFRF is taking the wrong approach on this. They should start sending home fliers of their own. The school has admitted that it has a limited open forum, which means they can't refuse to distribute them. But I bet few, if any, skeptical or freethinking groups have ever taken advantage of that and tested whether it's true. I suspect they will quickly find out, as happened in Virginia, that the open forum only lasts as long as no non-religious groups use the process; once they do, support for that open forum will disappear rapidly as parents complain about the "offensive" flier being sent home.
If nobody objects, it would be a great opportunity for the parents to learn about rational alternatives to religion. If they do object, then at least the religious fliers will have to stop too and the community could learn a valuable lesson that religious tolerance is not limited to tolerance of evangelical Christianity.

If you would like to contact the Madison School District, you may do so here.

H/Ts to You Made Me Say It and Spanish Inquisitor

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