Middle School Bans Christian Volunteer After Students Say He Insulted Atheism and Promoted His Beliefs

| by Lisa Fogarty

A youth volunteer at Straub Middle School in Salem, Oregon, was told by the principal not to return after students accused him of imposing a Christian agenda on them while chastising one student for being atheist.

Tom Saffeels, a mentor from Salem Heights Church, was reportedly ordered to stay out of the school for the rest of the year by principal Laura Perez after some students told her in a letter that he had breached their trust by promoting his religion. Perez says his responsibilities included making sure students cleaned up after themselves in the cafeteria and that any talk of religion violates the separation of church and state, reports The Statesman Journal.

In a letter, some students claim that on Oct. 23, Saffeels began speaking about Christianity in a way that made them feel uncomfortable.

“He said, 'Imagine this scenario: All of us are in a van and we’re driving somewhere and we get hit by two drunk drivers and we all die,'” said Sarina Keightley, who is in the eighth grade. “'What happens next?'”

Eighth grader Shelby Conway wrote in an email to Perez that Saffeels asked each of the students about their religious beliefs, and that when she told him she was an atheist, he responded that atheism is “wrong,” “bad,” “stupid” and “evil.”

(Shelby Conway, left, 14, and Sarina Keightley, 13 via The Statesman Journal)

“I was very uncomfortable and personally offended with the way he was speaking to both me and other non-Christians around the lunch room,” Conway wrote. “I request that we keep things like this, such as pastors and religious speeches, in places where they are welcomed, such as churches or religious schools.”

Saffeels denies that these conversations took place and says his motive is not to promote Christianity. He admitted that students asked him that day about Jesus and that he answered with his “personal opinion,” but that he wasn’t the one who instigated the conversation.

“None of those things came out of my mouth,” Saffeels said. “I didn’t say any of those things.”

But Mary Paulson, the district’s chief of staff, says that even if Saffeels didn’t insult students, his willingness to respond to their inquiries about religion was a bad judgment call on his part.

“If the student had questions about a topic that isn’t appropriate for a volunteer to talk to kids about, the expectation would be that they would refer to them to somebody who could talk to them about the topic, like their parent or their own church officials,” Paulson said.

Source: The Statesman Journal

Photo Credit: Waiting For The Word/Flickr, Bisayan lady/Flickr