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Good News Clubs seek to expand Gospel outreach in Twin Cities public schools

Child Evangelism FellowshipIn July, members of the Child Evangelism Fellowship will gather in the Twin Cities for a two-week event called Good News Across America. Among other things, they will be looking for local churches and parishioners willing to lead weekly Good News Clubs in public schools.

“Capture a city for Christ!” an invitation on CEF’s website explains. “That’s the battle cry of over a hundred workers from across America who join together to ‘jump start’ a Gospel outreach to children in a target city. ...

"CEF workers will gather in the Twin Cities of Minnesota where volunteers from local churches will be trained to reach children in their area for Jesus. These same churches will continue ministry in the fall by sponsoring Good News Clubs in the public elementary schools nearby.

“In recent campaigns in Chicago and Little Rock thousands of children were reached with the Gospel and many clubs were established in the schools. We are trusting God for similar success in the Twin Cities.”

Right now, the clubs meet in seven metro-area school districts, according to CEF’s director for Minnesota, David Tunell. If the summer evangelizing mission is successful, there will be clubs in 37 schools when school resumes next fall.

The clubs’ purpose is undisputed: “As with all CEF ministries, the purpose of Good News Club is to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living.”

Extensive track record here

Surprised? As it happens, the Missouri-based group has quite a track record when it comes to making inroads into schools in Minnesota and elsewhere. Indeed, one of its stated missions is to “take back” the nation’s public schools, according to “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Assault on America’s Children,” a new book by investigative reporter Katherine Stewart.

According to accounts of Stewart’s reporting, many club leaders, often pastors' wives, are urged to volunteer in classrooms where students become familiar with them. This, coupled with the clubs’ in-school setting, is meant to imply official endorsement, critics have charged.

Locally, in addition to planning the July convergence, the group has gone to court to try to force Minneapolis Public Schools to include a Good News Club as a district-sanctioned after-school activity in Jenny Lind Elementary, a north side school.

In September, U.S. District Court Judge John Tunheim denied [PDF] CEF’s request for an order forcing Minneapolis Public Schools to distribute club flyers, provide snacks and bus participants home. An appeal is pending before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

CEF is hardly new. During its first 65 years, the Good Luck Clubs and its other youth missions operated out of churches, tents and private homes.

Went to Supreme Court in 2001

In 1992, schools in Milford, New York, adopted a rule allowing district residents to use school property after hours for community events, provided they are open to the general public. A local couple applied to host a club in one of the schools and was denied. The policy forbade the use of school grounds for religious purposes, it said.

Become a sustaining member today

CEF went to federal court, losing at the district court and appellate levels but finally winning before the Supreme Court in 2001. The majority held that banning the clubs constituted viewpoint discrimination.

Schools can decide to close their doors to outside groups, the justices ruled, but they can’t pick and choose based on the groups’ views. They also rejected arguments that the clubs’ presence in schools would imply endorsement of the proselytizing.

In one of two dissenting opinions (a third, partial dissent was also filed), Justice David Souter wrote, “It is beyond question that Good News intends to use the public school premises not for the mere discussion of a subject from a particular, Christian point of view, but for an evangelical service of worship calling children to commit themselves in an act of Christian conversion.

“The majority avoids this reality only by resorting to the bland and general characterization of Good News's activity as 'teaching of morals and character, from a religious standpoint.' ”

“God has opened the doors of public schools to the Gospel!” CEF’s leaders proclaimed. Since then, the number of clubs created in public schools has risen more than 700 percent, according to the group’s figures.

Jenny Lind an early club

The Jenny Lind club was one of the early ones, according to Judge Tunheim’s findings. In accordance with district policy at the time, the club met after school, and administrators dutifully sent home its fliers.

In approximately 2004, the coordinator of the site’s official, school-financed and -run after-school activities grew frustrated that club members were not being picked up after meetings. So she put the kids on the district’s “activity buses.”

In 2005, she began listing Good News on the official after-school activity choice forms sent home “out of convenience because their meetings lasted all year and this way the students didn’t have to re-register for the meeting over the course of the year.”

That same year, MPS implemented a Community Partner Online process to deal with outside groups and individuals who use schools or interact with students. Details vary according to the applicants’ activities, but in general the district seeks assurance that groups have appropriate insurance, licenses and so forth.

Some of the groups are further certified as afterschool providers, who can contract to provide the district’s afterschool offerings; some are faith-based and provide tutoring and family support services but do not seek to convert or minister to students.

Concerns raised in 2009

In 2009, Jenny Lind got a new afterschool coordinator, who mentioned her concerns about hearing prayer coming from a club meeting to one of her higher-ups. Administrators told CEF it could not provide after-school programming and would no longer be allowed to use district snacks or buses. It could, however, obtain a permit to distribute fliers and continue to use the building.

After some back and forth with MPS, CEF went to court. According to the court order, the group complained that 47 kids attended club meetings each week in the two years before busing was discontinued. In 2009, attendance fell to 10.

“CEF alleges that this decline in attendance constitutes a form of irreparable harm,” Tunheim explained. “CEF also alleges it has suffered financial harm by not being listed with other after-school programs because it had to pay for and print separate invitation fliers to be distributed to students, and provide snacks.”

According to MPS General Counsel Steve Liss, the federal appeals court has yet to schedule arguments. When they occur, they will almost certainly include talk of another local, precedent-setting Good News case.

The Elk river case

The fliers were the subject of a 2009 complaint the group brought against the Elk River Area School District, which had refused to send home Good News Club fliers with students or allow the group at open houses.

Because of Milford, the court ruled, the district had to treat all organizations in the same way.  Elk River responded by announcing it would no longer send home fliers for any outside groups.

The Jenny Lind group is still meeting, according to Tunell, with 10-15 student members. Fliers notwithstanding, there is also a club in Elk River. Other Good News Clubs meet in Worthington, Fulda, Duluth, Silver Bay, Two Harbors, Windom, Monticello, Becker and Ulen.

For July’s Twin Cities event, Tunell said he anticipates welcoming some 200 CEF members from across the country: “They view it as a mission trip,” he explained.

They will spend the first week in team-building exercises, getting to know each other. During the second, they will spread out. Some will hold summer camp-style Five-Day Clubs and some will go into neighborhoods and knock on doors, while others will seek out 30 churches that can work with the anticipated new in-school clubs and minister to their converts.

According to CEF’s website, the group is halfway toward its goal of raising some $94,000 to support the event.

Good News Across America could touch off a revival, he added. “We’re looking for volunteers, we’re looking for churches we can work with, we’re looking for staff we can work with,” he said. “We don’t want to just come in and leave. We want kids to have access to local churches.”

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Comments (25)

Good News is Bad News...

This is pretty scary stuff...call it homegrown terrorism...trying to control the hearts and minds of the young in society within a public school system...even the debate earlier on Black's site and the response of same, on what is Obama's religious choice? Whose d@# business? Separation of church and state has to be taken more seriously, again.

Where are we going next...god is great and god is good; god I wish I understood..preying on the young in a public school system? Enough already.

"preying on the young in a public school system?"

That's rich. Consider this a counterattack. The probem in our governrment schools isn't too much morality.

I shouldn't need to point this out

Religious organizations are not always the most moral bananas in the bunch.

Conservatives learned long ago

that you don't invalidate principles or moral teachings because some individuals fail to live up to the standard.

sexual abuse of kids

Is a different story. Along with the cover-up by the leadership.

"Counterattack" - nice use of the language of warfare

I'm against ALL religious activity in public schools, but Mr. Tester, if you are in favor of this, then you also have to be in favor of an "Islam Club" at public schools, attempting to preach to/indoctrinate our elementary-age children. Again, I want no part of any of it for my (public school-attending) kids, but the amazing thing to me is that this organization is suing because they feel that the district should pay to bus kids home from this activity. How do you feel about public school tax dollars being spent to support an activity that is not sanctioned by the school? Again, if you approve of this one, you have to approve of all legal (but not school-sanctioned) after-school activities being provided additional bus transportation. So much for reducing the size of government - forgetting even the assault on church/state separation.

This doesn't serve the public

No matter whose theology is being promoted, it’s still theology. Next – as I witnessed in Colorado – evangelical congregations will be holding services in schools, which, because they’re public, are being supported financially by everyone, whether they agree with the congregation’s theology or not.

I look forward to the establishment of similar clubs for worshipers of Mithras, Venus, and of course, for atheists. I'll expect the evangelicals to go to court to defend them, too.

Good News is Good News

And Planned Parenthood and GLBT representatives are the Holy Grail of social correctness, allowed free range in the schools without question. Talk about controlling hearts, minds and pocketbooks. Our youth are so messed up with messages of self centeredness, self gratification, disdain for parents and permissiveness of any act that can these clubs are a breath of fresh air.

Remember, Good News clubs are AFTER SCHOOL activities that are VOLUNTARY. If they are not worth someone's time then they will die out. But stamping out a viewpoint just because you don't believe it is un-American. You do know what the Constitution is don't you? There is nothing in it about "separation of church and state."

Indeed

"Congress shall make no law ... prohibiting the free exercise [of religion] thereof."

Good News

If schools adopt the Good News Clubs they will need to also add Atheist Clubs, Muslim Clubs, Hindu Clubs and others. This can be good for all people.

A little digging

The Good News Clubs and their parent organization, the Child Evangelism Fellowship, are no innocuous. They appear to have a singular goal in mind--to s to indoctrinate children with a specific fundamentalist Christian worldview, one in which (as Time Magazine describes) "kids learn that nonbelievers will burn in everlasting fire and that Satan is real" Having many Jewish and Catholic friends in our community, I am not sure I'd want to leave it to these clubs to define what "nonbeliever' means.

Time Magazine's write-up on these clubs notes the fundamental problem of blurring the lines between church and school--kids, especially younger kids, may not be able to clearly delineate between what they hear AT school and what they are taught BY schools. This delineation becomes harder when school staff are allowed to take an active role in these groups. As the Star Tribune describes, in its review of "The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children" by Katherine Stewart, the overlap implies to kids that the Clubs' worldview is supported by the kids' schools.

Quite frankly, if the Moonies were setting up shop to do the same thing, I would think the resulting outrage would be more palpable than the CEF has faced. If this is truly a free country, we are free to expose these "Clubs" for what they really are.

The job of the public schools

is to prepare children for citizenship in a country that keeps religion separate from government, not to allow a particular religion to try to convert children to a religion other than that practiced by their own families.

Senator Mitch McConnell, during the recent floor debate over birth control, made it clear that his religion's position (that of right-wing ultra-conservative Christianity -- by no means including all Christians) was what all Americans should be obeying. In fact, he intimated, America was a "Christian" country and we needed to get back to that vision of ourselves -- as our founders "intended."

Yes. It's dangerous. Watch out, too, for the return this fall of candidates for judgeships who want to "bring God into the courtroom." They are generally endorsed by a group called Justice in Minnesota.

Isn't this why ...

there's Sunday School? At church?

Public education

If this attempt continues to add religion in public schools in any way, the unfortunate result is the end of public education. I will not pay for the indoctrination of children in a particular religion. I have no children, but have paid taxes for schools for many years. That will end when any religion has the power to become involved in schools.

Fuzzy on the First Amendment

Mr. Tester’s grasp of the First Amendment is sometimes tenuous, as is that of Mr. Adams. I’m sure Mr. Tester didn’t *purposely* leave out parts that are inconvenient for his argument, so I’ve provided the full text:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Actually, Mr. Adams, there *is* something in the Constitution about the separation of church and state. That’s what the “establishment clause” in the First Amendment is all about.

As others have pointed out, children, especially younger children, are not likely to have the intellectual sophistication necessary to understand the difference between what’s being taught *after* school and what’s being taught *during* school, especially if the teacher during school is either a sponsor or an active participant in the activity after school. It’s pretty difficult to see a school play host to an organization and *not* conclude that the school is, to some degree, endorsing the organization’s activities.

From what I’ve read here and elsewhere, the agenda of CEF is pretty straightforward, and it’s not about “education,” it’s all about indoctrination – conversion, if you will – in Christian fundamentalism. When conducted in a facility paid for by taxpayers who are not themselves Christian fundamentalists, it amounts to “establishment” of a religion. When conducted in a school – where much of what's generally deemed a proper curriculum is typically rejected by Christian fundamentalists – it's especially ironic.

Meanwhile, Mr. Tester’s suggestion that “conservatives” are somehow the only ones who understand that principles and moral teachings are not invalidated simply because some individuals fail to live up to the standard is simply silly. There are crooks of every political persuasion, and a good many who don’t care about politics at all.

James Blum makes a couple of very relevant points, and I look forward to Mr. Tester’s endorsement of the Mohammed Club, the Atheist Club, and most importantly, the Wiccan Club. He’ll no doubt be happy to see his tax dollars going toward the success of the latter, given the views he’s expressed here.

Well said! I would also

Well said! I would also add, I think we all know if it were a "Muslim group" that wanted to come into our schools for the specific reason of teaching Islam they would not only be denied, they'd likely be accused of much worse than religious indoctrination and run out. The right to "practice" one's faith is NOT a right to "preach" it......period.

The youngsters reading this will be traumatized

When I was growing up in the ghetto of Saint Paul and attending the government schools, every Tuesday was "religious instruction" day. Instead of going to my class at Maxfield School, I would attend the St. James AME church on Dale St. for an hour of religious instruction delivered by the church pastor. Some of my classmates went to the Baptist church or to St Peter Claver Catholic church for their religious instruction, as an arrangement between the school and the parents.

A few years later in junior high and in high school, I sang in the choir. The choir was directed by the music teacher who was also the choir director at her church. Our repertoire consisted of sacred music including cantatas in their original latin and the works of Handel.

I remember a particular Christmas pagaent where we sang the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah and the audience actually knew to stand during the performance of the song. The only song that Americans in those days would stand for other than the national anthem.

That Spring, we went on to finish second in the state high school choir competition singing that song.

It just goes to show you how far the society has devolved since the atheists got their way with the supreme court. Today we would probably all be arrested and the choir director charged with sedition.

I sang in my high school choir, too

And we also did cantatas in their original Latin and the works of Handel (including the Messiah). Of course, we understood that we were presenting these as beautiful works of art, and that the fact that we were singing music with a religious theme no more meant that we had to be Christian to sing them than did singing a song with love as its theme require that we had to be in love with someone in order to sing them. In fact, our classroom discussion while learning these pieces often covered the history of the fact that such pieces were generally commissioned by the Church which was generally the only institution with the financial wherewithal to pay for such things during those periods of history.

I have to say that the current prohibition against performing these beautiful works of art in today's music programs makes me sad. And it astonishes me that apparently no one seems able to deal with them simply as the works of art they are without ascribing deeper motivation (or even recognizing the value of being able to learn that set of critical thinking skills that allows a person to discern the differences).

This (the singing of classical works of art which happen to have religious themes because of the overriding politics of the day in the era in which they were written) does NOT represent anything NEAR the kind of religious indoctrination which is the stated aim of the Good News Club.

To God be the glory

I am surprised by the discussion that is taking place here, although I should not be. It is a sad comment on our society that the process that we use for selecting our government which is in place to protect and serve us, has become the microscope through which we scrutinize everything that takes place in our world.

As the State Director for CEF of Minnesota I will openly say that yes, we do share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as presented in the Bible. We are not trying to indoctrinate children. We are sharing what we believe to be the greatest gift that can be received. If we did otherwise by hiding this great truth, wouldn't that be a true shame. Knowing that there is a solution and not offering it to everyone.

As a school board member myself for 9 years I stood behind the laws which make it possible for the Good News Clubs to be in the schools. These same laws allow the Gay-Straight Alliance and yes, even the Wiccans to have groups in the public schools. Provided they meet the requirements for being in the schools with background screenings, insurance coverage, and other things that are in place to protect our public education system.

So often Christians get labelled as narrow-minded, but the discussion here begs the question about who has the blinders on? In the Good News Clubs we only allow children whose parents have signed a permission slip to attend. We also screen all of our workers to make sure that there is nothing in their background to cause worry for them to work with children. We provide $2M of insurance coverage to protect the school against any injuries. We pay for the use of the schools when required by school district policy. Any group in the schools should have the same requirements. We do teach about God and His love for people, we do teach that sin separates us from God, we do teach that God provided a way for our sins to be forgiving through belief in Jesus Christ and his dying upon the cross for our sins, we do teach that Jesus rose from the dead and is now in Heaven. These things are what I believe we need to share with the world. Our court system has determined that just because someone doesn't agree with our viewpoint that they can treat us differently than any other organization. That is viewpoint discrimination and is not tolerated by the Supreme Court. It is true for other organizations as well.

We are not asking the Minneapolis School District to treat us with partiality, we are asking them to treat us fairly, as they do the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Boy Scouts and any other organization. To do differently is unlawful.

Isn't Sharing Wonderful?

Excuse me whiile I wipe away a tear, Dave. To be persecuted like this when all your organization wants to do is share a little "Good News" with children (especially ages 4-14) must be very upsetting. Sharing is good. As children, we're taught the merits of sharing toys, sharing cookies, sharing love. Despite the fact that your own website clearly states the goal of evangelizing children with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I'm shocked that any concerned parent would confuse that with indoctrination.

I appreciate your website being so open about the goals of the Child Evangelism Fellowship, but I still have a few questions, and I'm hoping you can share some more about your organization to clear a few things up.

Are there specific denominations that qualify a church to become a Good News Club sponsor? What criteria do they have to meet as far as their level of "Bible Believin'" Please share.

Is the message delivered at the Good News Club meetings,solely derived from the Child Evangelism Fellowship, or do the sponsoring churches have any latitude in what's conveyed to these children (especially ages 4-14)? Please share.

If a child in a Good News Club approaches the volunteer and says, " I have two mommies. Will they get to go to heaven?" what will the response be?

If a child says, "My sister doesn't like boys, I think she might be gay", what will the response be?

If a child says, "My uncle tells me the earth is billions of years old, and our ancestors were monkeys", what will the response be? Please share.

Before they sign their kid up for you club, are parents informed of the connection between the sponsoring church and the Child Evangelism Fellowship?

In short, Dave, god (disguised as Clarence Thomas) may have opened the doors to the public schools for you, and the Child Evangelism Fellowship seems to have dotted its i's and crossed its t's legally, but in the interest of openness, I'm sure many concerned Minnesota parents would very much like you to continue sharing,

Please......share.

Gladly Brian

CEF is very non-denominational. The Statement of Faith is also very openly displayed on our website and we do ask that partnering churches are able to sign that they are in agreement with the Statement of Faith. The sponsoring churches have to also use our materials for the instruction, we also have a Doctrinal Protection Policy that they must follow. This keeps the clubs away from things that might be divisive in terms of doctrinal differences.

If a child were to ask about their two mommies, I can assure you that the response would not be concerned with the fact that the parents have chosen a particular lifestyle. Rather, the teacher would say that getting to heaven, according to the Bible, is determined by whether or not someone has received Christ as their Savior. I understand that you are trying to get me to state whether or not their lifestyle is a sin, but who among us has not sinned. Same goes for the sister.

With the uncle, the answer would be that God's word tells us that we are created and not through the evolution that has us coming from monkeys. Should we lie to the children in order to justify what their uncle has said?

Yes, parents are informed about the connection with the partnering church, if there is indeed a church partnership. Sometimes these clubs are just taught by volunteers who have a passion for sharing their faith. All of our teachers are screened and trained. and yes, we take doing things legally very serious. But then, shouldn't we and shouldn't the schools also?

You can blamed Clarence Thomas if you wish, I wouldn't know, but what I do know is that the ruling of the Supreme Court is the law. It's not republican or democrat at that point, it's decided and stands until it is overturned.

Now Mr Sandberg, I hope that I have answered your questions. I know that you probably thought I would not, but having done so, I want you to know that I am praying for you tonight.

Blessings,
Dave Tunell

The Truth

Dave,

Please don't waste your time praying for me, or sending me your blessings, as I don't believe in supernatural beings. Nor do I believe in your version of "the truth" with regards to creation vs evolution, as I find much more credibility in science than Bronz Age myths. What offends me the most, though, is characterizing gay people as having made a "lifestyle choice". I have never met anyone, gay or straight, who made a conscious decision regarding their sexual attraction, and I'm continually baffled at the unwillingness of many "good Christians" to even consider that they are born that way. The only conclusion I can draw, is that since many Biblical literalists view homosexuality as an abomination, the notion that a loving god would have created somebody that way, causes cognitive dissonance. It's been my experience that many believers have defense mechanisms which prevent them from considering any scientifically sound viewpoints which might cause them to doubt their faith.

There's really no point in debating our philosophical differences, and as you've correctly pointed out, the Supreme Court ruled in your favor, and the Child Evangelism Fellowship and the Good News Clubs are within their legal rights....for now.

My concern is with the climate of intolerance that groups such as yours help foster within our public schools. Obviously, the Anoka-Hennepin school district is the most glaring example, and changing the "neutrality policy" is a step in the right direction for creating a safer learning environment for gay kids. Unfortunately, the presence of groups like Exodus International, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays, MN Family Councial, Focus on the Family, Bradlee Dean's crew and others that promote the myths of "lifestyle choices" and "radical homosexual agendas" only helps create cauldrons of hate in our schools. And that distubs and saddens me.

This cult gets curiouser and curiouser...

When "I will pray for you" sounds like a curse, this one just keeps exposing himself . He should stop while he's behind...

Indoctrination

Elsewhere on MinnPost much outrage has been expressed over the presence of Out for Equity groups in area schools. The source of one commenter's outrage centered largely around the fact that the word "advocate" appears in the group's materials and implies indoctrination, so I went to the group's website to see what they had to say about it. And there I found their Mission Statement.

From http://outforequity.spps.org/ :

"Out for Equity believes that every student, staff member, and family deserves a safe, supportive school environment that fosters positive self esteem, respect for others, and academic success."

So what Out for Equity is advocating for includes such things as safety, support, self-esteem and academic success. Nowhere does their website say they're trying to convince any of our non-LGBT youth that they should become LGBT.

Compare that with the stated purpose of CEF from their website at http://www.cefonline.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=7... :

"Child Evangelism Fellowship® is a Bible-centered, worldwide organization composed of born-again believers whose purpose is to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, disciple them in the Word of God and establish them in a Bible believing church for Christian living."

This statement of purpose includes the words "evangelize", "disciple" and "establish". In fact, it goes so far as to include as part of its purpose the desire to "establish them in a Bible believing church for Christian living."

"Establish them in a Bible believing church for Christian living"? That sounds an awful lot like indoctrination to me!

Religious freedoms vs indoctrination

I think there seems to be some confusion on the part of school officials and many in the public as to what "rights" students have with regard to faith. Every single child who has a faith they identify with should absolutely be allowed to "practice" their faith even while at school. Like praying before a meal, fasting during Ramadan, wearing a yamulke or head scarf and so on. But their right to "practice" their faith does not include a right to "preach it", or to judge others for their faith or lack there of. Schools are being manipulated or are willfully misinterpretting the laws of religious freedom when they allow themselves to break the law by "advancing religion in a government institution". I think we all know (Mr Tester) that the same tolerance being given to christian groups would not be afforded to say a "Muslim group" that wanted to specifically target children, or a Jewish, Buddhist or Wiccan group. Even though they ALL have the same "constitutional rights to religious freedom" in equal measure I dare say they would be run out of schools for the very thing this group is trying.