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MARCH 26, 2003
3:42 PM
CONTACT:  Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Joe Conn or Rob Boston 202-466-3234
Public Schools Are Not Required To Promote Evangelism, Americans United Tells Appeals Court
Teachers Cannot Be Forced To Distribute Fliers For Religious Outreach, Watchdog Group Advises Three-Judge Panel

WASHINGTON - March 26 - Public schools have no legal obligation to help an evangelical Christian group promote itself to young school children, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has advised a federal appeals court.

Americans United and allied groups filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief March 25 arguing that a New Jersey public school does not have to allow the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) to post signs in schools, participate in a "back-to-school night" and require teachers to distribute its promotional fliers in class.

The brief argues that if these activities are allowed, young children could easily assume that CEF is a school project that is backed by teachers and administrators.

"When they see their teachers give them CEF flyers, when they see the flyers posted on the walls of their school hallways, and when they see CEF representatives at school-sponsored 'Back-to-School Nights,' elementary school children will reasonably conclude that their school endorses CEF’s religious message," asserts the brief. "In addition, the use of teachers and school facilities to invite young children to attend Club meetings will tend to place coercive pressure on the children to submit to evangelical indoctrination."

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2001 upheld the right of CEF and other community groups to use public schools for religious and other types of meetings at the end of the school day. But AU and the other organizations argue that schools are not constitutionally required to promote these organizations to students.

"CEF is asking public schools to help it find recruits for its fundamentalist indoctrination program," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Public schools have no obligation to help this or any other religious group win new converts."

Lynn added that given CEF's aggressive proselytism -- its members believe that children as young as 5 can be converted to fundamentalism -- public schools have good reason for keep the group at arm's length.

"Little children shouldn't be bombarded with ads from hard-sell evangelistic groups in public schools," said Lynn. "Parents don't want that, and the Constitution does not allow it."

Continued Lynn, "Groups like CEF may have the right to rent public schools after hours, but that doesn't mean public schools must help them undertake their missionary activities."

The case, Child Evangelism Fellowship v. Stafford Township School District, is pending before the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. Joining AU on the brief are the Anti-Defamation League, People For the American Way Foundation, the New Jersey Education Association and the Stafford Township Education Association.

The brief was written by Alex J. Luchenitser, Americans United's litigation counsel.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.


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