By Sandhya Bathija
Public school principal Steve Comparato in Polk County, Fla., said his prayers were answered when a local church agreed to “adopt” his school and pay for $5,000 worth of supplies.
“If they want to come in and help, who am I to say no?” he told The Wall Street Journal, which today details a new trend in public schools that could become a serious church-state concern.
According to the report, public schools that are short of funds have been seeking charitable sponsors to help with the financial burden. In most cases, these sponsors are corporations, which in exchange for a generous donation, receive marketing access to the students.
In Combee Elementary School’s case, First Baptist Church at the Mall has received special access to students – and is proselytizing them and their families. Since last fall, the church has delivered supplies, catered spaghetti dinners and sent in tutors.
“We have inroads into public schools that we had not had before,” Pastor Dave McClamma boasted to the Journal. “By befriending the students, we have the opportunity to visit homes to talk to parents about Jesus Christ.”
The church first got involved after a school staffer who worships at the church told the pastors about the school’s financial worries – funding for basic school supplies was down 33 percent, according to Principal Comparato.
That’s when McClamma, the church’s senior associate pastor of evangelism and missions, offered to help.
“I said, ‘Amen,’” Comparato told the newspaper. “This was like a prayer answered.”
According to the report, last Christmas, the school connected the church with parents who said they wouldn’t mind being visited at home by First Baptist volunteers, who “brought gifts, food and the gospel” to 30 families in December.
“The purpose is to show them the church cares, and that there is hope, and hope is found in Jesus Christ,” McClamma said.
This “purpose” is exactly the problem and what should keep the school on guard.
“I have great concerns about churches who see public schools as, well, what shall I say, church membership,” the Rev. Harry Parrott, a retired Baptist minister who sits on Americans United’s National Advisory Council and leads a local Florida chapter.
Unfortunately, Principal Comparato doesn’t seem to think it’s his job, nor concern, to stop church officials from evangelizing to students. Instead, he hopes that “through this [the students will] know Jesus and they’ll get saved.” Comparato has even prayed on school property with two pastors from the church.
The entire situation is outrageous and shows why it’s so important that the government fully and adequately fund our public schools. Students from all different faith backgrounds attend public schools and need to feel welcome. While the church’s help may make things a bit easier financially, Comparato’s actions are blasting away at the religious liberty rights of all students, not to mention violating church-state separation.
It’s not Comparato’s business whether students and their families “get saved,” and no public school anywhere should be helping a church fill up its membership roll. Officials at Combee Elementary need to discontinue this arrangement now – before a federal court makes them.