Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Another Religious Flier Case

Another case where a public school is causing controversy by sending home religious fliers from outside organizations, this time in Wisconsin. This time the Freedom From Religion Foundation is demanding an end to the practice:

A flier sent home this month in the backpacks of 2,000 Madison elementary students carried an unmistakably religious pitch: “Plant the Seeds of Faith in Jesus in Your Child at our Sunday school.”

The Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation on Tuesday called upon the Madison School District to ban distribution of such fliers, saying “the district should not act as a PR machine for nonschool enterprises.”

The school says it allows all outside groups to send home such fliers:

However, schools Superintendent Art Rainwater defended the district’s policy, which permits organizations to send a wide range of fliers home with students.

The School Board, he said, intended to create “a limited public forum” when it devised the policy in the early 1990s and updated it in 2003.

“We believe our policy for distribution of materials is appropriate,” Rainwater said. “And we stand by it.”

Under the district’s policy, parents are allowed to request that no materials be sent home with their children — an option chosen by few parents.

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.

Every document must contain a statement saying that “this is not a school-sponsored activity and the (school district) does not approve, support, or endorse this program/activity.”

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.