Kingsport, Tennessee; City schools are reviewing a claim by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that a mentoring program in partnership with a local church is “unconstitutional.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation states that a local community member reported that John Adams Elementary School has entered into an official partnership with Christ Fellowship Church to set up a “mentoring ministry program” for students.
The FFRF claims that the district cannot allow for its schools to become recruiting grounds for Churches. The FFRF is claiming that the school is violating the law, explicitly, that public schools may not advance or endorse a religion.
“The partnership between Christ Fellowship Church and John Adams Elementary School impermissibly advances religion, communicates a message of school district endorsement of religion and is marked by excessive entanglement between the school district and the church,” FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian writes in his letter to the district’s attorney.
Further, the FFRF has asked that the school end the partnership program with the local church; “It is shocking that the school district is allowing such a blatantly inappropriate program to operate in its schools,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor comments. “Religious organizations should never be allowed access to such young public school children.”
The school has responded to the claim, “They’re saying this is a proselytizing situation. This is not,” Assistant Superintendent for Administration Andy True told the Kingsport Times-News. “It’s not anything where religion is being brought into the school.”
Joe Gervais is a mentor from Christ Fellowship Church at Kingsport’s John Adams Elementary School. According to the Times-News, Gervais told a School Board meeting that mentors spend 45 minutes to an hour each week with assigned students, often eating breakfast or lunch with them, as well as playing games or reading to them. Gervais said he asks his student, whom he says does not have a father at home and who reminds him of his grandson, how his day and week have gone, about problems he might be having, about life in general and about what’s going on at home.
The school’s superintendent Jeff Moorhouse responded to the claim as well, and said that churches, as well as other groups, participate in the program, he describes the program as “just having more hands grabbing an oar” to help students in school and life.