Group protests Bible Clubs in Wood County Schools

PARKERSBURG — A national organization supporting the separation of church and state says there are constitutional violations in Wood County Schools.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation said Thursday it has received reports schools have allowed teachers and outside adults to facilitate religious instruction during the school day in elementary schools.

The foundation in a release said The Warehouse Church in Parkersburg and teachers created Bible clubs. The church created the clubs earlier this year and students were recruited during lunch time, the foundation said.

“The Bible club, ‘Generation NXT,’ has openly admitted that teachers and principals ‘have stepped up to either start or join a NXT Club in their School!!!'” The clubs take place during the school day during lunch period on Tuesday and that “9-to-11-year-olds have reportedly been targeted as participants in the Bible groups,” the foundation said.

“Based on the reports we received, Generation NXT promotional materials and the capacity of elementary school students to create, organize and implement an in-school religious organization, it is apparent that adults have abused their position to proselytize within your schools,” a letter dated Nov. 16 to Wood County Schools Superintendent William Hosaflook from Patrick C. Elliott, senior counsel for the foundation, said.

Hosaflook, who is looking into the claims, said school personnel follow the law. Student-led activities, such as gathering by the flagpole to pray, are permissible, he said.

Also followed is the federal EqualAccess Act concerning activities after school, he said. Groups and clubs can use the facilities after school hours, Hosaflook said.

“They just have to follow some guidelines,” Hosaflook said.

The Equal Access Act allows students to initiate religious organizations in secondary schools, but is not applicable to elementary schools, Elliott said.

“Elementary school students are simply not able to operate a religious organization on their own,” he said.

A comment from the Warehouse Church was not immediately available.

The foundation, which is suing the city of Parkersburg over the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer prior to city council meetings, has litigated other cases around the country, according to Elliott.

“The district cannot allow non-school persons to treat schools as a recruiting ground for their religious mission,” the letter from Elliott said. “It demonstrates an unlawful preference not only for religion over non-religion, but also evangelical Christianity over all other faiths. This practice alienates those non-Christian students and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being endorsed by the school. A school’s assistance in this practice constitutes ‘a utilization of the tax-established and tax-supported public school system to aid religious groups to spread their faith.'”

The foundation told Hosaflook that the district must immediately cease Generation NXT gatherings in elementary schools and requested that he conduct a “comprehensive review of religious groups within all your schools in order to ensure compliance with the law.”

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