‘Bully Organization’: FFRF Forces Florida Elementary School to Disband Christian Club

Over the last several years, former President Donald Trump has voiced his disapproval of how people of faith have been treated in America. In late December, he posted a video on his social media platform, Truth Social, with the caption, “Stopping the Persecution of Christians!”

“Americans of faith are being persecuted like nothing this nation has ever seen before,” he said in the video. “Catholics in particular are being targeted, and evangelicals are surely on the watchlist as well.”

Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist group founded in 1976, has had a history of targeting Christians. Some of FFRF’s past projects include suing a Tennessee elementary school on behalf of The Satanic Temple, suing New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way for forcing public office candidates to swear a religious oath, and ensuring that a Latin cross was taken down at Chino Valley Adult School in California.

While FFRF’s eyes are currently set on demanding that the Birmingham Police Department “end coercive staff prayer,” the group is celebrating another win in their book. An elementary school in rural Florida was forced to disband its Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) club after being accused of indoctrinating children into religion by FFRF. The FCA chapter included a small group of fifth grade students.

On March 29, FFRF legal fellow Samantha Lawrence wrote a letter to the District Superintendent Dorothy Lee Wetherington-Zamor “regarding a constitutional violation” at Hamilton County Elementary School. The sole elementary school in the small town of Jasper was accused of “alienating” and “excluding” non-religious families, as well as violating “students’ First Amendment rights by organizing, leading, and promoting a religious club.”

Lawrence defended FFRF’s stance by pointing out that the Equal Access Act allows students to form religious clubs in secondary schools, but not elementary schools. To further her point, she wrote, “Elementary students are too young to truly run a club entirely on their own initiative with no input from school staff or outside adults,” insinuating that “adults are the ones truly behind the club.”

“Hamilton Elementary should strive to be welcoming and inclusive of all students, not just those who subscribe to a particular brand of Christianity,” Lawrence continued. “The District must immediately investigate this matter and ensure that the FCA club at Hamilton Elementary is disbanded.”

Joseph Backholm, senior fellow at Family Research Council, responded to FFRF’s complaints in a comment to The Washington Stand.

“In general, the FFRF is a bully organization that leverages people’s ignorance of their freedoms against them,” he said. “This is far from the first time someone has tried to force a religious organization out of a school, but the First Amendment has, does, and hopefully always will be acknowledged as protecting those rights.”

After receiving the FFRF’s accusations, a local law firm representing the Hamilton County School District responded with a letter relaying their compliance.

“In an effort to avoid any perception that such a gathering on the campus of Hamilton Elementary is being organized, promoted or endorsed by the District or its employees, the club has been dispersed.” The letter also stated that the participating students would be starting sixth grade in a few months and would “be eligible to participate in FCA on the campus of Hamilton County High School.”

Ultimately, the elementary school caved to FFRF’s demands, a decision the First Liberty Institute — a nonprofit defending religious freedom — disagrees with.

“Banning students from having a religious club at a school while permitting other, secular clubs is a travesty that teaches children their faith is unwelcome and must be hidden,” First Liberty Institute Deputy General Counsel Justin Butterfield told The Christian Post.

While FFRF exists to lessen religious influence in America, organizations like First Liberty fight to preserve religious freedoms. Their mission heavily contrasts with FFRF’s, as they have set out to defend “religious liberty for all Americans.”

Meanwhile, FFRF has begun celebrating their victory in shutting down the FCA chapter at Hamilton Elementary.

“It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism towards or coerce belief or participation in religion. It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for an elementary school to organize, lead, or encourage student participation in a religious club like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes,” the press release following the disbandment read. “Thankfully, the district was willing to listen to reason and obey the law.”

While some leaders raise the alarm and organizations fight against religious persecution occurring on American soil, Backholm assures Christians ought not to fear.

“The last thing Christians should ever be is afraid,” he said. “There have always been sectarian conflicts in the U.S., but fortunately they have been less serious than in most other parts of the world because respecting the conscience of others has long been an American value. Yes, it’s being threatened by a dogmatic and highly intolerant form of secularism, but relatively speaking we have much to be grateful for.”

Backholm also warned that Christians live “on a spiritual battlefield.” He encouraged those with a faith to stand firm, as “any public testimony to the gospel will illicit some kind of response,” but it is a “reality Christians needs to be comfortable with.”

AUTHOR

Abigail Olsson

EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2024 Family Research Council.


The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.

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