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Freedom From Religion Foundation helps shut down a Tennessee grade school bible club.

First and second graders at Bartlett City Schools in Tennessee were engaging in a bible club each day before classes began. Altruria Elementary School students took part in sessions that had them discuss Christianity and the Bible in small groups and head for their classes soon after. However, this practice has been cut short after the Freedom From Religion Foundation organization, a group representing the atheist community took action and had Bartlett City Schools shut down the club. The steps taken to halt the club’s running included a letter sent by the FFRF to BCS claiming the group was unconstitutional.

Parents have not taken the closure kindly. The Brown family, for example, responded by contacting an attorney who works with the Center for Religious Expression. Expressing shock and anger, the family explained that their two children were looking forward to engaging in the bible club’s activities during the 2017-2018 school year and its removal had caused them disappointment. In their opinion, the organization is not unconstitutional since its operations are elective and occur before lessons begin.

In a statement to the press, Nate Kellum explained that the removal of the club would waylay children’s Christian belief and give them a negative attitude towards taking part in church activities. He said, “The message they are sending these kids is there is something terribly wrong with you wanting to meet and discuss the bible.” Mr. Kellum is a lawyer working with the Center for Religious Expression. Additionally, he further said the FFRF is wrong in its move to stop the bible Club’s activities since the students have a right to meet and the club is not being endorsed or termed as mandatory for the school’s co-curricular activities. Advocating for the children’s freedom, he said, “Whether it's the cub scouts. Whether it's the chess club, or whether it's a bible club, they should be able to do it.”

However, things might not be as straightforward as most media outlets have put them since the club was started without meeting required standards. In this case, the issue was the organization’s sponsorship. In a statement to the press, Bartlett City Schools explained this as its main reason for having the club shut down. It read, “Per our understanding, religious clubs at elementary schools must be sponsored by an outside group. To our knowledge, the K-2 bible Club at Altruria was not. While this club has been postponed, we are working with the school to ensure the proper steps are taken to allow this club in the 2017-2018 school year.”

Along with this reason, the FFRF raised other concerns about the organization’s functioning. First, the bible Club was led by two teachers at the school. This could qualify as indirect coercion for the students to join the group. Additionally, permission slips sent out to parents by the bible Club did not ask if the parents wanted their children reading the bible. Instead, they inquired as to what time the particular child could be enlisted for their bible discussion. This information on the slip shows parents that the school holds an indirect expectation of their children to join the club.

Following the group’s removal, the FFRF has expressed positive sentiments, commending Bartlett City School’s adherence to the constitution.

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