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Texas Atheist Group Demands Christian Group Shut Down

Two years since it first complained about a staff-run Christian group at a Texas elementary school, a nontheist group is again appealing to the district to shut the club down.

The school and staff are "heavily involved" in promoting the "Hawks for Christ" student group, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote to Shannon Holmes, superintendent of the Hardin-Jefferson Independent School District.

While the FFRF wrote to Holmes on behalf of parents of children in the district, Hardin-Jefferson has come under fire from other atheists for promoting religion.

"Seriously, how many church/state violations can one school have?" wrote Patheos columnist Hemant Mehta, who blogs under the name Friendly Atheist.

In his column, Mehta included half a dozen screenshots from China Elementary School's social media accounts promoting the Hawks for Christ club. One post mentioned an adult sponsor visiting a district school to recruit more students, while another promoted t-shirts featuring the logos of the Hawks for Christ and the elementary school. Several other posts promoted individual meetings of the religious club, while one encouraged students to participate in "Duck Dynasty Day," in which students were asked to show up in "camo/hunting clothes."

Hawks for Christ meets on school property, and teachers at the district organize and promote the club, the FFRF alleges. While student-led groups are legal, the law forbids teachers or staff from organizing religious clubs because it could create the impression that a school is endorsing a particular religion.

"The problem with this is these are elementary school students...They aren't capable of organizing and running a club. It just doesn't happen," said Sam Grover, a staff attorney with the FFRF.

Glover told the Beaumont Enterprise, a local paper, that the club still meets in "largely the same format" the FFRF initially complained about in 2014.

After the FFRF's initial letter and the Patheos mentions, the Hardin-Jefferson Independent School District deleted a Facebook page endorsing the club, as well as posts about the group on the school's social media accounts.

The district's website only lists meeting times for the group, and includes this text: "Disclaimer: The content of this organization and its events are the private expression of the students and does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position, or expression of HJISD."

On Feb. 22, Holmes released a statement in response to the FFRF's most recent letter.

"The district will continue to ensure that we act in accordance with federal and state law," the superintendent wrote. "In addition, we will provide an environment that protects the rights of all who work and learn at HJISD."

Sources: Beaumont Enterprise, Patheos, Hardin-Jefferson Independent School District / Photo credit: Patheos

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