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“There are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by the gradual and silent encroachment of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpation.”     James Madison

November 20, 2013

ACLJ Threatens Lawsuit Against Public School that Supports Muslim Missionary/Charity Efforts

by Stephen Littau

The following, unbelievable story is happening in America of all places!

DEARBORN, MI This past fall, Emily Sanders enrolled her son Adam into Haigh Elementary School in Dearborn. Emily a devout Evangelical Christian is a single mom trying to make ends meet and faces additional challenges as a minority in a majority Muslim community. “I don’t normally let these kinds of [religious] differences bother me,” Emily said. “But when my child brought home a note from the school requesting a donation to a Muslim charity with an agenda to spread their faith with my tax dollars, I had to take a stand.”

The letter Emily is referring to one sent to all the parents from the school’s principal, George Ellis. Part of the letter read: “We are very proud to be part of this charity that provides hope to poor children of Somalia. Please send a care package (shoe boxes work great!) filled with toys, candy, coloring books, crayons, and other such goods along with a $7 check (to cover shipping) made out to Crescent Hope. We will be collecting these donations, Friday, December 5th during Eid al-Adha.”

Emily, being unaware of the Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha and the charity Crescent Hope at first shrugged it off. “Sending toys and candy to poor children sounds like a great thing at first glance but when I saw that there was more to this charity than this, the alarm bells started going off.”

The alarm bells were triggered primarily from a key section of text on Crescent Hope’s home page: “We provide spiritual and physical aid to the children of Somalia with the purpose of sharing the Prophet Muhammad’s message of hope and peace.” Further down on the home page reads: “[T]he children receive the packages, each complete with a pledge they are encouraged to sign that states that they agree to the statement: ‘There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.’”

Upon reading this, Emily decided to take action by contacting the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a religious rights advocacy organization which primarily files lawsuits on behalf of Christians who have been victims of religious discrimination. The very next day, Emily was contacted by the ACLJ’s Chief Council Jay Sekulow. After about an hour long conversation with Emily, Sekulow promised to take action against the school.

On Wednesday, November 20th, Sekulow made good on this promise sending the school’s principal a cease and desist letter. After mulling over his options, Principal Ellis announced to the school children that the packages would be returned to the students and no other donations would be accepted adding: “It’s disappointing some meaningful efforts of our students were misinterpreted.”

Manahil Al-Asmari, mother of three students who attend Haigh Elementary had a typical response of many of the parents: “I don’t understand why the ACLJ wants to deny these gifts to these poor children. I mean the school wasn’t forcing any of the students to participate who didn’t want to participate.” Another mother who didn’t want to be named said: “This is discrimination against Muslims pure and simple! If this was for a Christmas toy drive, no one would bat an eye.” Her son agreed adding “This is the definition of bullying.”

Others such as the Dearborn Chapter President of CAIR, Aahil Muhammad is organizing a protest against the school’s decision. “Whether the Christians like it or not, this is a majority Muslim community and they are the minority. We shouldn’t be denied our religious freedom because the minority is offended by our beliefs. I should also point out that it was the student body who decided to support Crescent Hope and the administration supported that decision – at least until ACLJ came along.”

Outrageous isn’t it? The idea taxpayer funded government schools can be used as a vehicle to promote a religious agenda different than your own? Before you continue reading, think about what you are feeling at this moment. Is this right or should Emily have just respected the will of her community?

Now before you start contacting Haigh Elementary School in Dearborn (please don’t), it’s time for me to come clean: this story is mostly true but I changed a few key details (the real story here and here).

Haigh Elementary School in Dearborn = Skyview Academy in Colorado and South Carolina Charter School District

Emily Sanders = Concerned parents from both of these schools/districts

The Muslim charity Crescent Hope (doesn’t exist…as far as I know) = Christian charities “Samaritan’s Purse” and “Operation Christmas Child”

The Christian ACLJ = The American Humanist Association (AHA), a *gasp* atheist group that defends the separation of church and state

Jay Sekulow = Monica Miller, William Burgess, and Kimberly Saviano

The impoverished children of Somalia = impoverished children around the world

All other names and organizations are fictional or used without any connection to true events.

Now that you know that the charity is a Christian charity and that these boxes contain Christian materials complete with a quid pro quo for the recipients to pledge to accept Jesus as their lord and savior, are you still upset by this? (Or maybe its church/state separation only applies whenever it’s a different belief from your own?)

Maybe it’s time to take the establishment clause of the First Amendment more seriously instead of the knee jerk “them atheists are waging a War on Christmas” response every December. ‘Tis the season.

***CLARIFICATION/CORRECTION***
TerryP challenged my point that the receiving of the gifts is contingent on each child signing a conversion pledge. This was a conclusion I arrived at when reading the letter from the AHA to the South Carolina School district. I re-read this section of the letter and will share it here:

The evangelical booklet delivered with the toys includes a conversion pledge for the child to sign.

As its founder has admitted, Operation Christmas Child “is about introducing children and their families to God’s greatest gift – His Son, Jesus Christ” and that “evangelism is the focus” of the program.

He has boasted that the program has converted “tens of thousands of children and their families,” citing an example where “one shoebox prepared the way for nearly two dozen people to come to faith in Jesus Christ.” The shoebox gifts are used to “support pastors and churches overseas who are committed to sharing the Gospel with children in their communities.”

The boxes of toys are essentially a bribe, expressly used to pressure desperately poor children living in developing countries to convert to Christianity, and are delivered with prayers, sermons, evangelical tracts and pressure to convert. While a private religious group is free to pursue such a goal, even through such questionable means, a public school cannot affiliate itself with, endorse, promote or support such a group’s program without violating the Establishment Clause.

Maybe “quid pro quo” is too strong of a statement; I haven’t found any evidence that children are or have been denied the gifts for failing to sign the pledge. That said we are talking about impressionable children here. Here’s some additional information I found about the “pledge.” I’ll leave it to the readers to decide if this is a bribe or simply a religious organization doing a good deed.

Still, I imagine that if this were a government school partnering with a Muslim organization and behaved in exactly the same manner, the very same people who are angry at the AHA for stopping the schools from partnering with Samaritan’s Purse would be outraged (Can anyone honestly argue with that?).

Most importantly, I believe the AHA is correct that this violates the establishment clause based on Supreme Court precedence and common sense.

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4 Comments

  1. I went to the Samaritan’s Purse website and I did not find the place where it said that getting a shoebox is conditional upon signing the statement you said. I did find where it said that the boxes were given unconditionally, however. They did in some places offer a Christian program to recipients, but it wasn’t mandatory from what I can find and is not offered in every place.

    Maybe you could point me to the spot on the website where you found that receiving the package was conditional upon the child signing that statement.

    Comment by TerryP — November 21, 2013 @ 1:29 pm
  2. Forget the hoopla over what religion did or did not require gift recipients to acknowledge some god. Here’s my beef: Why do public schools waste time on non-school functions? I’m responsible for teaching my kids about charity and religion (or lack thereof). Those are not public school duties. I’ll tell my kids about how their schools are funded by various taxes. Schools should not pretend that they are providing an educational experience when they conduct fund-raising activities that require thousands of kid-, parent-, and teacher hours to bring in an amount equal to one-one thousandth of the annual school budget. A budding salesperson might find this educational. A budding account or productivity expert would be appalled at the waste.

    Far too many grade school students have difficulties with reading and arithmetic. Packing stocking-stuffers into shoe boxes or learning how to sell stale, overpriced candy to neighbors are not activities that will help students get up to snuff.

    Comment by MingoV — November 21, 2013 @ 3:43 pm
  3. @ TerryP

    Thanks for your question. See above.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — November 21, 2013 @ 10:21 pm
  4. I agree MingoV. If we had a separation of education and state, many of these issues would become moot.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — November 21, 2013 @ 10:47 pm

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