Lauren Smith has a post at the Americans United blog about a case in South Carolina they’re involved with. AU sent a letter to two school districts there who were allowing a Christian group called Laces 4 Love come in and distribute new shoes to needy kids. No problem there, of course, but they would only give the shoes to the kids if they agreed to undergo a traditional foot washing.
According to program director Mark Owens, Laces 4 Love volunteers wash the children’s feet “like Jesus did his disciples.” He asserts that foot-washing is “a distinctly religious ritual and bears particular significance in Christianity.”
AU points out the obvious:
“Providing poor children with new shoes is a worthy endeavor,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “But the manner in which the church is doing so is blatantly unconstitutional. School officials must ensure that needy children are not coerced into religious activities.”
Laces 4 Love makes no bones about their goal of proselytizing the kids:
In the letters to superintendents and other school officials, Americans United notes that the director of the Laces4Love ministry told North Augusta Today, “We just feel like God’s called us to reach as many children as we can with the Gospel of Christ and a pair of shoes.”
The reply from the religious right is predictably dishonest. The ADF’s press release says:
“It is unconscionable to deny needy schoolchildren new shoes simply because the group sponsoring the program is a religious one,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman. “Instead of honoring acts of human kindness through this program, Americans United has once again used its bully tactics to try to prohibit a very worthwhile effort.”
But AU is not trying to stop them from distributing the shoes. In fact, they’ve applauded those efforts. What they are objecting to is the requirement that the kids participate in a religious ritual in order to receive them. That is clearly unconstitutional under the circumstances. By insisting on requiring that religious ritual, it is Laces 4 Love who will be denying shoes to needy schoolchildren.