Nel's New Day

December 6, 2015

‘Good News’ Clubs, Bad News for Kids

Almost a century ago, an evangelical organization started what would become “The Good News Club” to teach children ages 4-14 about its form of fundamentalist Christianity. Now the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) has a 5-year curriculum from the Old and New Testament and trains instructors around the world.  Four years ago, CEF had 3,560 Good News Clubs in U.S. public schools with another 42,000 worldwide, and the number of proselytizing clubs has exponentially grown.

After the Supreme Court declared in Good News Club v. Milford (2001) that its clubs could meet in public schools, CEF launched an “Adopt-A-School” program to recruit evangelical “church partners” to open clubs in public elementary schools and train their volunteers. The goal is to “have a Good News Club in every elementary school in America.”

A major problem of the movement is that its goal of moving religion into schools violates the constitutional mandate for separation of church and state. In a speech given to the Dallas Theological Seminary on February 20, 2007, CEF President Reese Kaufmann touted their win in Milford as the sanction to “pray with [children] in the classroom to receive Christ.” He added that people have the freedom to “go back into the [65,000] schools and take the Word of God and teach the Word of God to children at that early age.”

The basis of this movement is that secular public schools are hostile to religion and that living in a diverse society with a secular form of government is wrong. CEF leadership has said that schools are “acts of war” on the U.S. population; one leader said he sees a “mushroom cloud” over the schools.

Flyers entice children into asking their parents if they can participate, and the benign promises of “interdenominational religion” falsely lull parents into signing the permission slips. CEF promises an hour of fun activities and pizza and good Christian Bible verses. Operating on school campuses gives the program an appearance of school sanction with its cloak of authority and safety, and CEF convinces parents that youth, not adults are running the clubs. Children are given candy and other treats to recruit their friends.

Another serious problem with the program is that its curriculum reinforces a belief in a vengeful god who demands complete obedience. Preschoolers are told that they have “dark” and “sinful” hearts, were born that way, and “deserve to die” and “go to Hell.” According to the trainers of the Good News Club, “any child that doesn’t give their life to Christ is going to be tortured in Hell for eternity. So to respect a parent’s right to keep their child from being saved would simply be immoral on our part.” The Good News Club curriculum has over 5,000 references to sin, over 1,000 references to Hell and punishment, and only one reference to the Golden Rule.

The instructional process of the movement is to teach children that they are intrinsically evil, that God knows how bad they are and will punish them forever for their “sinful nature.” Children who say that they believe in Santa Claus, for example, will be “separated from God forever in a dark place of punishment” unless they believe exactly what the Good News Club tells them to believe. According to one Good News Club lesson:

“Others may think that you are a good person, but God knows what you’re really like on the inside. He knows that deep down you are a sinner – you were born that way.” (Patriarchs, page 33)

Another lesson hang a signs with the word “sin” around the child’s neck and tell them that “all have sinned and deserve God’s punishment for sin, which is death, separation from God forever.” Each lesson uses a black heart to vividly symbolize a child’s inner self, showing children their inner blackness. “You were born with darkness in your heart because of sin,” says one lesson on blind Bartimaeus. “Your heart (the real you) is sinful from the time you are born,” exclaims a lesson on the golden calf.

In another activity, a child as young as five years old is singled out, presented with an envelope, and told that inside is something that they earned. Following discussion, the child opens the envelope and discovers the word DEATH written on a piece of paper. The teacher tells the child, “You have earned death—separation from God forever in a terrible place of punishment.” Children learn that “even the good things you do aren’t good enough. The Bible says those things are like filthy (dirty) rags….”

The CEF procedure controls through fear and abandonment issues, feelings of shame, doubt, and inadequacy that carry on into adulthood. The Good News curriculum teaches through a form of emotional abuse, religious bullying, and intimidation—“incompatible with mental health,” according to a psychologist. The end result is a negative self image, preoccupation with sin, and aversion to critical thinking.

The Good News Club’s sponsor CEF, now centered in Missouri, is not connected to local churches. To gain access to a public school, Good News Clubs claim to be a mainstream, multi denominational Bible study group; however, only fundamentalist churches are permitted to participate. The Clubs pay for training and materials, promise to use only the CEF teaching materials, and sign an agreement with CEF’s 15-point Statement of Faith (with beliefs like Biblical inerrancy, salvation not by good deeds but by faith alone, and the damnation of unbelievers to the Lake of Fire for conscious, eternal torture). Mainstream Christian churches such as Episcopalians and Presbyterians are not welcome. Local churches benefit through recruitment of “unchurched” elementary school children and their parents.

Since Milford, the Good News Clubs have been prevented from meeting during the school day, but some schools believe that the Supreme Court ruling means allowing the clubs after school unless all clubs are banned. School districts are caught between permitting a toxic group to meet or disallowing all enrichment.

Journalist Katherine Stewart has written about this religious movement in The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children (Public Affairs Books). She became interested in the subject when she heard parents talking about the faith-based bullying and the message that Good News Clubs send.

Katherine Stewart wrote:

“I don’t have a problem with kids talking about their religion with their friends at school. But I do have a problem with five- and six-year-old children being deceived into thinking that their school favors a particular religion. I object to parents being misled by a group that uses nonthreatening labels like ‘non-denominational’ and ‘interdenominational’ to recruit their children to a form of religion that the parents may not subscribe to. I object to an adult-led club commandeering the public resources, in the form of taxpayer-subsidized space, in order to spread their sectarian beliefs. And any group that promotes bigotry and hate has no place in public schools.”

Communities—including Seattle, Denver, and Portland (OR)—have organized against the proselytizing of the Good News Club. Stewart explains that parents can oppose the message of this movement through anti-bullying or tolerance programs that include issues of faith-based bigotry. Two groups in Rochester (NY) have started their own after-school programs: a Young Skeptics club featuring science, logic and learning activities, and the Better News club. Both programs follow the assumption that “it’s more important to teach children how to make belief decisions for themselves, rather than accept claims presented to them without thinking critically about those claims.”

Although Good News Clubs can be monitored by members of the public if a school policy requires that all such community groups using school facilities be “open to the general public.” When people attempted to do this in New York, the CEF state leader called the police who came, checked the policy, and then left the monitors undisturbed.

Another method to protect children is a school policy protecting them from psychologically and emotionally harmful after-class activities.  This link gives advice on creating and implementing such a policy.

Extensive information about the Good News Clubs with an overview of public forum, student speech, and other caselaw regarding the ability of schools to deny facilities to organizations that threaten the emotional, psychological, and intellectual well-being of children is available here: file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/Sue/My%20Documents/Downloads/Protecting%20school%20children%20from%20emotional%20&%20psychological%20harm.pdf.

Appendix A provides guidelines for drafting a child-protective facility use policy, including several alternative provisions, and Appendix B has a Model Facility Use Policy.


1 Comment »

  1. Funny about the candy and treats…I remember that when I was growing up in Poland, the Catholic church would do the exact same kind of thing. The kids which went to religion class would get chocolates and butter and other things which would be difficult to find in Polish stores at the time. I was always left wondering why a supposedly spiritual organization needed to bribe its members like that.


    Comment by eurobrat — December 6, 2015 @ 5:08 PM | Reply

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