Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Here We Go Again: The "Camp Quest" Flyer Flap

A reporter from the Charlottesville weekly The Hook called yesterday to get my reaction to the latest flap over the Albemarle County school policy of allowing any non-profit to send home flyers in children’s backpacks. I was oblivious to it till she called.

WorldNetDaily had an article on May 25 titled "Teachers rebel over atheist promotion." The flyer promotes "Camp Quest" as "the first residential summer camp in the history of the United States for the children of Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists, Brights, or whatever other terms might be applied to those who hold to a naturalistic, not supernatural, lifestance. Campers are encouraged to think for themselves and are not required to hold any particular view." The promotional brochure entices potential campers: "Take the CAMP QUEST CHALLENGE. Win a god-free $100 bill! Be the first camper in CQ history to disprove the existence of the two invisible unicorns who live at camp!"

The camps are located in Ohio and Michigan, and it is unclear what local group presented the flyers for distribution, though my guess would be the humanist subgroup at Thomas Jefferson Unitarian-Universalist emboldened by the success of NatureSpirit’s November 2006 holiday flyer (see my previous post "Happy Holidays? Pagan Evangelism and the many comments).

Here are a few reflections:

1. This episode once again illustrates the absurdity of the policy of allowing any group to send home promotional materials through the schools.

2. It also is a warning reminder to Christian parents of the mind-numbing secularity of the public school administrators with regard to religion. Just consider what this "all is one" philosophy does to the quality of children’s academic education, not to mention the development of their character. As Al Mohler sagely noted back in 2005, the time is now for a responsible "exit strategy" from public schools for committed Christians (and anyone else, for that matter, who might have any serious convictional beliefs).

I would offer a modest suggestion to the Albemarle County School Board:

Please consider changing your policy and do not allow any non-profits to send home promotional flyers (whether Humanist, Baptist, Boy Scout, or Little League).

Or, adopt a reasonable guideline to weed out flyers like the one above. It might include some of the following limits:

1. Promotional flyers must be for events and activities that take place in the local area (Charlottesville-Albemarle).

2. Groups allowed to send out promotional materials must meet some basic criteria as a local, viable, accountable, public, non-profit organization. These might include:

  • A verifiable minimum number of participants in the organization who are residents of the local area;

  • Proof of the existence of a functioning board of directors or trustees which has oversight of the organization;

  • The organization’s proof of ownership or rental of property within the local area from which its organization operates.

The School Board could easily create an application process for any group that desires to send home such flyers and applicants could then be approved in public meetings, allowing for citizen feedback.

My guess is that if the County would implement such a policy this would quickly eliminate such frivolous, agenda-driven, promotional materials.

Veritas, JTR


Tree hugging said...

As far as I know, no one at the UU Church was involved in this latest flyer. There is at least one other Humanist group in Charlottesville, but don't know yet if they had any part in it or not.

I actually now agree that the schools should eliminate this policy but perhaps for different reasons... As to the other suggested policy changes, I'm not sure they'd be able to hold up against a legal suit. Also, in our case TJMC does have a board of directors, and a large number of people. There's a different process for speaking "as a church" versus "as a group within the church"; however it is a process we could probably use if we felt it was worthwhile. Likewise, I know of several pagan organizations in the area that might still meet your requirements as well...

Besides, what about all the other religious organizations that have used the flyers? You may not like it, but your religious freedom is bound up with ours. You can't simply make rules that say only religious groups that you agree with should be able to use a system like this, and still have anything remotely resembling freedom of religion.

Jerry (bless his heart), opened this door, and revealed that indeed certain religious non-profits were already getting special treatment under the law. The case law is very clear. All or none. True, other people might use it who have ideas that I find offensive, and that we would rather protect our children from (like White Supremists). If we are concerned about that, then it seems far wiser to not have this kind of a public forum in the school at all. I guess the question here is whether we prefer secularism, pluralism, or theocracy.

Of course, then too, these flyers are only paper. We can always just recycle them if we disagree, and simply not send our children to those events inconsistent with out beliefs.

Anonymous said...

If the good pastor had spent more time doing his research instead of inventing inanities, he would have discovered that each of the Camp Quests in question are real organizations, legally incorporated in their respective states, each with a real board of directors. The Ohio camp is a tax-exempt 501(c)3 educational organization, and the Michigan camp is incorprated under the state's non-profit corporation act, and is waiting on an IRS determination for its tax-exempt status. All SIX Camp Quests have had campers from all over the world, and will even take campers from Virginia.


Anonymous said...

The criteria you suggest would eliminate the majority of nonprofits offering youth activities, I would think. Athletic leagues, community theater, etc. are unlikely to own property; many are volunteer groups that lack formal structure, and so on. As for this particular camp, did you go to their web site? They don't look at all "frivolous" to me -- quite the opposite. Why should Christian parents feel threatened if their children discover that not everyone agrees with their concept of God or the universe?

Anonymous said...

In response to the two "anonymous" comments (not sure if they are by the same anonymous or not), what "inanities" did Pastor Jeff "invent"? He admitted to no claims about the status of the organization in question. In fact, he said he was oblivious to its existence prior to the reporter's raising the issue. The more important point to be discussed, however, is to the relevance of promoting any organization within our public school system. The "frivolity" of these camps is that they offer an environment of "free thinking," a place for children thinkers from humanists to atheists. First, my experience in a University setting gives me clear evidence that any group claiming free thinking is certainly free, free from any streams of thought that disagree with their liberal humanism or whatever one may call it. What does it mean to be a free thinker anyway? Isn't the purpose of free thought to realize fundamental convictions? In order to realize fundamental convictions you have to think freely about these other sets of convictions. The best place I've found for that is Church! I affirm, however, the right of these groups to exist and function freely in our society. But, why should they be advertising in our public school system? What that advertising amounts to is the imposition of an agenda upon impressionable children. Suffice it to say, we are far from the healthy system of public education that I would like to see, but at the least, we should discourage the involvement of outside organizations in the school system. When non-profits or any other legally founded organization begins to seek recruits within our school system then our children's setting for education becomes a battleground for their intellectual, and from a Christian perspective, spiritual commitments. Shouldn't this activity take place at home under the supervision of parents? In other words, send the flyers to the homes. The school is not the place to push one's political or intellectual agenda. Another piece of food for thought, what is the difference between promoting what amounts to a secular religion (humanism, free thought) as opposed to teaching the Gospel of Christ? In the end, the goal is to convince young impressionable minds of a truth that the older, hopefully more responsible and mature adults hopes the child will commit themselves to as a system of thought or worldview that will guide their decision making. Oh, and Christians do not fear that their children will "discover" that others hold views contrary to that of Biblical Christianity. I will not speak for other Christians, but what I fear (and I am a Christian), and I say this simply as a caring adult, is that CHILDREN should not be exposed to the agendas of adults. CHILDREN are at school to learn facts and to think critically, neither of which require the presence or teaching of any agenda.

Anonymous said...

All too typical of radical
"christian" fundamentalists. They want to use the law to force their beliefs on captive audiances but then are the first to whine when someone else wants to use the same law to present their beliefs.

Marc Andrews

Anonymous said...

I know for a fact that Camp Quest meets ALL of your requirements. So just because you dont agree wiht it, it's "agenda driven?"

I'm an atheist and I feel the same way about Boy Scout and Kiwanis flyers being sent home wiht my kids. I dont cry about it, I just trash them if my kid doesnt want to attend.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Well, at the least, the camps (located out of state) do not meet my first proposed requirement:

"Promotional flyers must be for events and activities that take place in the local area (Charlottesville-Albemarle)."

Since I do not know what group sent the flyers home, I can't speak to whether or not they meet the others.

My proposal just suggests a basic level of accountability. What's wrong with that?


Anonymous said...

It was the frantic 'Christian' group that pushed and proded this door open; not being content with keeping their religion to their own private lives, they demanded equal access to other people's children and they get fuss when other people take advantage of that same access.

What is good for the goose is good for the gander, the entire ideal of a democracy is that everyone has the same rights to their beliefs, whether your you think they are idiotic or not.

Religion should be kept out of public schools and in the church and home where they belong. as my grandmother use to say, People should look after their own houses before rearranging the furniture in someone else's.

Tree hugging said...


No problem here with accountability. In general, I think it is a good thing. I also agree that this policy could be greatly approved on.

Personally, I'm not sure how I feel about out of town organizations being able to send things or not. It'd be interesting to see the full range of things already sent that currently meet that criteria (including boy scout camps, soccer camps and such). I'd also wonder how the county would deal with it, if a local group sponsored an event that isn't?

Where I'd be opposed to refinements to the policy is if the intent was merely exclusion of groups that represent minority viewpoints. There's a difference in my mind between making sure that a given group is legitimate and that the event isn't frivolous, and trying to eliminate viewpoints that we disagree with.

I do agree with you that there are some viewpoints that our children may not be ready to hear yet. If it is decided that this is one of those circumstances, then we need to reconsider the entire existance of the policy as a "public forum" per se, and limit it to informatin directly from the schools.

I've suggested elsewhere that perhaps there are better ways of parents getting access to information from non-profits and such than the backpack flyers. For that matter, perhaps there could be a system by which parents "opt in" to some kind of mailing list instead?

Anonymous said...

Mr Belcher asked: what is the difference between promoting what amounts to a secular religion as opposed to the Gospel?

There is a great difference between having a naturalistic point of view and having religion. The first is based on knowledge of things revealed by one's senses and the latter is based on faith in things revealed by scripture.

Also, thanks for affirming my right to exist and function freely in our society. It was not always so. Giordano Bruno was burned alive by the church for teaching the heretical notion that the sun went 'round the earth.


Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone would deny that these worldviews are quite different; in fact, they are diametrically opposed. My point was that there is no difference in regards to their purpose, which is to convince others of their being the right worldview. The question is whether either worldview should have a place in the public schoolroom or should kids in public schools be learning objective view points?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how old these posts are, but as I am dealing with this very issue right now in my own child's school let me relate our situation and see if the Christians here might get a better understanding of what Camp Quest or like-minded organization trully represent.

My 5-year-old attends school in a very multi-cultural neighborhood in Michigan. In fact we moved to this particular school district because it has a reputation for inclusivness of both diverse religious beliefs and ethnicity.

Just this week a speaker representing our local Boy Scouts invited members of my son's class to join the Scouts. He was so excited. Initially my wife refused, knowing that the Scouts have a history of discrimination against homosexuals and atheists. But I thought, "hey wait a minute, everyone knows that our neighborhood his home to my city's Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu communities-this Scout troop must be more inclusive than the national organization." Boy was I ever wrong. Two local representatives of the BSA have assured me that they have every right to exclude atheists and still operate in my child's school. I even went so far as to ask if my son could just take an oath to nature-to no avail.

I have been in contact with my son's principal and central administration, and everyone with whom I speak has the same reaction, "I had no idea the scouts discriminated like that, this is not what our community is about."

At this point I'm not entirely sure what the next step should be. I really believe what I say, I'm an atheist, but I want my children to be exposed to many different religious and cultural belief systems, even Conservative Christians. The irony being that those who claim to be such good representatives of Christ's message are trying to exclude my child from their organization. So should I be pushing my school district to remove the BSA from my child's school? Or should I gather my resources, put together our own atheist scout troop, seeking affiliation with Camp Quest, and demand equal access to school resources (class time and classroom space).

I'd also like to mention that we pay some rather high property taxes, so my position on this is that whatever treatment the religious organizations recieve from the School District should extend to atheists like myself as well. But I really am curious to see a response to this. What do you all think? Religious and non-religious scouts in the same school? Or no scouts in school?