The Delta County School District (DCSD) has approved the distribution of atheistic, secular and Satanic literature to middle and high school students throughout Delta County on April 1, 2016, and will carry out the literature distribution on behalf of the groups who have applied to do it.
A locally-produced brochure about atheism called “It’s Okay to Not Believe in God” (pdf), the Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities and other literature critical of the Bible and Christianity will be distributed to Delta Middle School (DMS) students if the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) gets their way.
Three groups — the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers and the Satanic Temple — have all submitted literature to Delta public schools for approval for distribution in an effort to get Delta County Schools to stop distributing Gideon Bibles to students during class time.
This video was posted to YouTube and Facebook on March 3, 2016 by Gavin Newsom, the current Lieutanant Governor of California, to warn people about the leading Republican candidate for U.S. President, Donald J. Trump and the danger he poses to the country. Newsom wrote,
“I hope you’ll share this video as it illustrates exactly who Donald J. Trump is: a racist, insane man who uses threats and intimidation to get his way. We are better than this. We are so much better than this.”
Accordingly, I am sharing the video with readers.
Two intelligent, hard-working and civic-minded citizens, Mel Mulder and Dave Edwards, today announced they are entering the 2016 race for County Commissioner to replace incumbents in District 1 and District 3, respectively. Mulder is challenging District 1 incumbent John Justman and Edwards intends to replace incumbent Rose Pugliese.
In a jaw-dropping political turnabout at Monday’s (2/8/16) Mesa County Commissioner meeting, the county’s farthest ultra-right wing nuts out-right winged the regular right wing nuts, resulting in arch conservative Commissioner Scott Mcinnis strongly defending — yes, defending — all the good the federal government does for Mesa County citizens and our quality of life.
The fireworks started with a discussion of whether Mesa County should accept a $2.1 million grant to build a detention pond in Bosley Wash at the bottom of the Bookcliffs. The wash has been the site of several flash floods in recent years resulting one person getting killed, several private properties being repeatedly covered in mud and silt and massive mudflows pouring over I-70. Bosley Wash endangers a total of 200 properties near the base of the Bookcliffs between Clifton and Palisade.
The Daily Sentinel reported on January 28, 2016 that our western slope State Senator Ray Scott is considering running for governor of Colorado in two years. He’s considering the governorship in lieu of running for a national office like senator, because, he says, he “feels he can do more if he stays within the state.”
The notion is either side-splittingly funny or utterly tragic. Or maybe both.
The tragic part is that by mulling over his lofty ideas to the Sentinel, Scott is putting his narcissism on display for all to see. The funny part is that he’s been the worst legislator imaginable and has consistently acted to the detriment of most of his constituents, if you can call that funny. Maybe it’s the tragic part.
But tragicomedy is nothing new to the western slope Republican political crowd.
A teacher reported to Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF) that she accidentally stumbled into a Bible study group being held at Grand Junction High School on Tuesday, January 12 during lunchtime in an Advanced Placement (AP) English classroom. The teacher who walked in on the group was looking for a microwave oven to heat up lunch.
According to the teacher who walked in on the prayer group, the English teacher whose room it was in was present at the study session and sat, without interacting, while a younger man was talking. The identity of the younger man who was speaking was unclear, and it is unknown if he was a teacher, an older student, or from off campus. The Bible study session was being held in a room in the northern-most block of classrooms to the east of the main building, in the part of school that holds language arts and some science class rooms.
Teachers Cannot Lead, Organize, or Participate in Prayer with Students
The U.S. Department of Education Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, states that under the law, teachers cannot lead or organize prayers, or participate with students in prayers on school grounds during school time.
“As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. Luke 7:38.”
An attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a national organization that acts to protect the principal of separation of church and state, sent a letter (pdf) January 6, 2016 to Delta County School Superintendent Caryn Gibson and Delta County School Board President Pete Blair warning of the potential legal consequences of continuing to ignore the ongoing proselytizing and harassment of students over religion in Delta County schools.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote that the on-campus Gideon Bible giveaway a student documented in Delta Middle School’s library during class hours on December 18, 2015 violates the U.S. Constitution. School Superintendent Caryn Gibson has tried to defend the giveaway by saying the district’s “open forum” policy for non-curricular literature distribution permits the bible giveaways.
But Seidel lists three reasons why the District’s policy doesn’t provide legal cover for the bible distribution.
In-School Proselytizing is Not Permissible
“First,” Seidel writes, “[I]t is unconstitutional for public school districts to permit the Gideons International to distribute bibles as part of the public school day. Courts have held that the distribution of bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited.” Seidel cites two significant U.S. court rulings that have upheld this principle.
“Second, even when distribution of religious materials is done passively — from a table of some other fixed location — courts have ruled that distribution may be unconstitutional,” he writes, citing 2009 8th Circuit Court case Roark v. South Iron R-1 School District.
“Third,” Seidel writes,
“…if Delta Schools maintains this passive distribution policy and continues to assert that it allows the Gideons to prey on other people’s children, we [will] formally request permission to distribute FFRF literature in March. We will also contact other potentially interested organizations, including the Satanic Temple, to alert them to this unique opportunity. We already have local volunteers willing to set up the distribution.” [Italicized emphasis appears in the original letter.]
Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers, a western slope secular advocacy and church-state watchdog group, is among those ready to distribute literature to Delta Middle School students. The group recently created a colorful, new age-appropriate brochure about atheism titled “Its Okay to Not Believe in God!” (pdf) which they are eager to deploy in schools with open forum policies, like Delta County’s.
FFRF Sued Over Same Issue in Florida, and Won
FFRF has confronted these kids of in-school bible giveaways and “open forum” policies before, and won.
On June 12, 2013, FFRF sued the Orange County, Florida school district over a very similar “open forum” policy the district cited in response to protests over an in-school bible giveaway similar to the one at Delta Middle School. When FFRF asked to distribute its own literature at the same school, and the Satanic Temple asked to distribute their childrens’ coloring book and fact sheets, the school district refused to distribute their literature. FFRF then sued the district. The Orange County school district spent two years and $86,000 trying to contest the lawsuit before finally giving up and voting in February, 2015 to ban distribution of religious materials of any kind in District schools — the very remedy FFRF had originally asked for.
Seidel lists other religious violations reported at Delta Middle School, including the school making all students watch a religious play about the baby Jesus (even students who protested it), and a teacher named Mrs. Charlesworth, who in December, 2014, reportedly told her students she was Christian and that “people who aren’t Christians are the bombers.” When a student protested the statement, Mrs. Charlesworth said she felt “it was her duty to teach the class about Christianity” and then harassed and ridiculed the student in front of the entire class. When the student’s parent contacted the school about the incident, the school “investigated” and concluded Mrs. Charlesworth didn’t do anything wrong, but immediately moved the student to a different class. The student reported that other teachers at the school have continued to harass her, including a drama teacher, Mr. Dunham, who according to Seidel’s letter “runs or ran the ‘Children’s Ministry’ at the Thunder Mountain Church of Christ in Delta.”
Two DMS teachers also reportedly lead students in prayer in one of the school’s classrooms every Wednesday morning, offering free doughnuts to lure kids to attend the sessions. Mr. Dunham is also one of the teachers who regularly leads the on-campus student prayer sessions.
Next Move is on Delta County School District
FFRF told Delta County School officials that if true, all of these allegations amount to constitutional violations, and asked for a prompt reply about how they intend to correct the violations and prevent them in the future. WCAF has also written to the district superintendent and the Delta County School Board notifying them of the problems with proselytizing, religious harassment and peer bullying occurring at DMS as a result of their apparent endorsement of Christianity on campus, and warning that these are violations of separation of church and state, but have only gotten a canned response from the superintendent saying district policy allows Gideon Bible giveaways.
After being informed that a Gideon Bible hand-out in Delta Middle School library during class time on December 18, 2015 violated U.S. laws guaranteeing separation of church and state, violated the School District’s policy governing the distribution of non-curricular literature in multiple ways and caused students who did not take bibles to be bullied and harassed, Delta County School District Superintendent Caryn Gibson responded by saying:
Thank you for your concern and email. Delta County School District honors the separation of Church and State. The Gideon Bibles were left on a table and optional for 6th grade students to take. No staff members distributed the non-curricular materials at anytime. Attached is the Delta County School District policy on non-curricular material.
Delta County Public Schools 50J
That was it.
No acknowledgement that the school district’s own policy was violated, no acknowledgement that constitutional law was violated.
Clear Violations of School Policy, No Acknowledgement by District
It is unconstitutional for public school districts to allow bibles to be distributed in classrooms during the school day. American courts have uniformly held that distributing bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited, and school officials like teachers and administrators cannot facilitate the bible handouts. At Delta Middle School, social studies teacher Michael Long took his class to the library during their regular class period, told the students there were bibles on a table by the library door, and they could take one if they wanted. The event gave the appearance that the school endorses Christianity above other religions.
Under the law, Gideons can only distribute religious literature off campus, on municipally-owned public sidewalks well off school grounds.
In addition, the DMS bible giveaway violated the District’s own literature distribution policy in not one, but in four different ways.
1. District policy states (pdf) that any “printed non-curricular material” cannot be distributed in “any classroom of any building when being occupied by a regularly-scheduled class.” The reporting student’s class was held in the school library on 12/18 so the class could do research. The library was the students’ classroom that day, during regularly-scheduled class time. Moreover, this wasn’t the only class held in the library that day, or the only class in which bibles were foisted upon the students.
2. District policy states “Distribution [of non-curricular materials, like bibles] may be made 1/2 hour before school and/or during regularly scheduled lunch periods…..Any other times during the school day are considered to be disruptive of normal school activities.” [Italicized emphasis added.] This student’s social studies class was held in the library at 9:40 a.m., as was previously pointed out to the superintendent, during normal school hours. More than one teacher brought their class to the library during school hours that same day.
3. Delta School District policy also states “Students may not be used as the agents for distribution of such materials without the written consent of the student’s parents.” Mr. Long’s social studies students became agents for the Gideons’ distribution when they started pressuring other students to take a bible. No written consent was solicited from the parents of these students regarding solicitation of bibles.
4. District Policy states “No student may in any way be compelled or coerced to accept any materials being distributed by any person distributing such materials or any school official.” Both Mr. Long and some of his social studies students pressured the reporting student to take a bible. Another element of the policy states teachers can not endorse the literature. Mr. Long endorsed the bible distribution when he told students “There’s bibles and they are free if you want one.”
How can the Delta School District ignore these violations of their own policy, and even more importantly, why are they failing to acknowledge and remedy them?
Update – 3/23/16 – The Delta County School District only finally acknowledged that the Gideon Bible giveaway in the Delta Middle School library violated of their own policy (pdf) after the school district’s attorney was contacted by a staff attorney from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) based in Madison, Wisconsin. When FFRF asked that the Gideons be banned from further literature distribution in accordance with school policy (which permits revoking literature distribution privileges for policy violators), the school district attorney, Aaron Clay, refused, blaming the violations of policy on school personnel rather than on the Gideons.
The parent of a Delta County, Colorado middle school student is reporting some of the most overt violations of separation of church and state yet discovered to be occurring in western slope public schools.
The parent’s child attends Delta Middle School (DMS) and reported to her mom on Friday, December 18, that her social studies class went to the school library with their teacher, Mr. Michael Long (email@example.com). Once in the library, Mr. Long “announced to the class that there were free bibles available” and students “could pick one up off of a table located in the doorway of the library and take it home.” A student who noted this was a violation of separation of church and state in a public school, took a photo of the bibles on the table and sent it via text to her mother, pointing out that the table was located where students had to walk around it to enter and exit the library.
The student who did not take a bible was confronted by her classmates about why she didn’t take one, and they started shaming her for not conforming to Christian beliefs.
After finding out bibles were being distributed during school time with the endorsement of a social studies teacher, an outraged parent contacted DMS Principal Jennifer Lohrberg (firstname.lastname@example.org) to protest the overt endorsement of Christianity on school property and during school hours. Principal Lohrberg insisted the bible giveaway was all in accordance with school policy, and sent the upset parent a copy of Delta County School District’s policy governing posting and distribution of non-curricular literature. (pdf)
DMS Violates Its Own Literature Distribution Policy, Multiple Times — And Denies It
One must only read the Delta County School District’s policy, though, to see DMS bible giveaway violated the District’s own literature distribution policy four different ways.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent a letter to Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster urging him to end the practice of allowing Gideons International to hand out bibles to students at on-campus graduation ceremonies.
A group of students who are about to graduate from CMU’s nursing program have protested an administration plan to have Gideon Bibles offered to students at their December 11 pinning ceremony at Moss Auditorium. Program instructors indicated to the nursing students that the bible giveaway was a non-negotiable part of the ceremony. Later, under pressure, program staff held a mandatory vote on it by email only, a method that would allow them to identify the dissenting students.
Students about to graduate from Colorado Mesa University’s RN/BSN nursing program are fighting a school-sponsored plan to hand out Gideon Bibles to nursing graduates after they step down from the dais at their pinning ceremony. The December 11 pinning ceremony is a symbolic welcoming of newly-graduated nurses into the nursing profession, and is the nursing students’ official, school-sponsored graduation ceremony.
Students Given No Choice
RN/BSN Nursing program administrators let students vote on many details of their own graduation ceremony, like the location and photographer, but made it clear to students that the Bible give-away was a non-negotiable part of the ceremony.
The Bibles are to be distributed by a local volunteer for Gideons International, a Christian evangelical organization that works to convert people to Christianity. According to their website, Gideons International is “dedicated to telling people about Jesus through sharing personally and by providing Bibles and New Testaments.” The Gideons are primarily known for putting Bibles in hotel and motel night stands, but they also distribute Bibles to elementary schools starting in the 5th grade, and to colleges, prisons, jails, hospitals and medical offices.
CMU nursing students who aren’t Christian and some who aren’t religious were appalled that they would be forced to either accept or reject a Christian Bible in front of the entire audience at their graduation ceremony. The students protested the Bible give-away to CMU president Tim Foster, but nursing program faculty attempted to ridicule the complaint and told students it is simply “what we do,” and they should just accept the Bible as a gift.
The disaffected students then contacted Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF), a group that advocates for the separation of church and state. WCAF wrote a letter (pdf) to CMU President Foster and Diana Bailey, the head of CMU’s RN/BSN program, on the students’ behalf explaining that many students in CMU’s 2015 nursing class who aren’t Christians find the Bible give-away offensive and improper. Under the law, WCAF said, the Gideons can give away Bibles, but only if they stand on city-owned sidewalk, well off school property, while they do it.
CMU Focuses Exclusively on Christianity
“It’s a blatant disregard of other peoples’ religion,” said one student, who wished to remain anonymous, to WCAF members. Another student wondered why just one religion would be represented at the ceremony. To be fair, the students said, CMU needs to distribute texts from other religions as well, like Books of Mormon, Korans and Talmuds.
The students have a point.
Public schools can’t do anything that gives the appearance of endorsing a single religion.
The Supreme Court, ruling (pdf) in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe (June 19, 2000), explained that,
“[S]chool sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are nonadherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community and accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.’”
Publicly-funded institutions like CMU have to stay neutral in matters of religion, and cannot do anything a reasonable person might construe as an endorsement of a particular religion.
And that’s exactly how the nursing students see the Bible give-away: as an improper endorsement of one and only one religion: Christianity.
The nursing students have three main goals:
- They want to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution and the potential for compromising their future careers locally,
- They want their entire class to be able to vote on the Bible give-away, and if a majority of the class approves of it, the students want other religious texts, as well as information on atheism, to be included in the give-away.
- The want CMU to acknowledge that the Bible give-away violates the law, and they want to keep future nursing classes from having to grapple with this same issue over again in future years.
One thing that’s working in the nurses’ favor is Gideons’ own internal policy governing the distribution of Bibles in schools. Gideon International’s Form 115 policy on school scripture distribution (in Section 4-1, under “Reaching the Hearts of our Young People”) says,
“If any method of distribution [at a school] has the potential to create media publicity, the distribution must be cancelled or postponed.”
If CMU refuses to work with the nursing students to change or eliminate the Bible give-away, WCAF has vowed to contact the local media, protest at the pinning ceremony and, if necessary, contact the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) for legal help fighting it.
A fringe right-wing Mesa County group that planned an open-carry protest October 10 in front of a Grand Junction mosque was forced to back down after a counter protest that was quickly organized via social media at the same place and time drew far more participants than the Muslim-hater event.
The larger (national) anti-Islamic group “Global Rally for Humanity,” which organized the protest at the mosque, was formed by a combination of the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters*, two radical, militaristic pro-gun, fringe right-wing groups that Mother Jones magazine calls “the Tea Party’s military wing.”
Few people are aware of the extent of the fundamentalist Christian programs now going on in the U.S. Military aimed at turning our country’s Military into a global Christian mission for Jesus Christ.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), based in Albuquerque, New Mexico has working for years to draw attention to this situation. Mikey Weinstein, the head of MRFF, says these religious efforts constitute a “systematic program of indoctrination sanctioned, coordinated, and carried out by fundamentalist Christians within the U. S. military.” He writes that Christian programs in the military “[represent] a bona fide national security crisis” that is ongoing “throughout the entirety of the United States Air Force in particular, and the U.S. Armed Forces as a whole, whereby unchecked evangelizing activity is carried out on Uncle Sam’s time and the taxpayer’s dime.”
A shocking YouTube compilation of clips contains clips of videos created by the many parachurch groups that operate freely within the U.S. military shows military chaplains and fundamentalist preachers stating openly that they consider the military a hunting ground to recruit followers for Jesus Christ. They refer to military recruits as a “ripe harvest field,” and say the military offers them a “unique opportunity for a gateway ministry.”
Major General (Ret.) Bob Dees, Executive Dire actor of the Campus Crusade for Christ International’s Military Ministry, states, “The first strategic objective is to evangelize and disciple the enlisted members of the enlisted Air Force.”
Footage taken by AlJazeera shows Lt. Colonel Gary Hensley, the Army Command Chaplain in Afghanistan (the chief of all of the Army chaplains in Afghanistan) telling members of the military that they need to go on a recruiting drive for Christ. “Hunt ’em down and get ’em in the Kingdom, that’s what we do, that’s our business,” Hensley says.
A representative of the military branch of Campus Crusade for Christ states,
“Our purpose for Campus Crusade for Christ at the Air Force Academy is to make Jesus Christ the issue at the Air Force Academy and around the world, and I think that we’re seeing God do that. We’re seeing kids come to Christ, being built up in their faith and being sent out to reach the world. They’re government-paid missionaries when they leave here.”
All activities shown in the video are currently ongoing in the U.S. Military and are open violations of U.S. law. The rules regulating Air Force culture, Air Force Instruction 1-1 (pdf), state that “Every Airman is free to practice the religion of their choice or subscribe to no religious belief at all.” The regulations mandate that
…Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for their own free exercise of religion, including individual expressions of religious beliefs, and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. They must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief.
The activities shown in the video are shocking and need to be seen to be believed. You can support the efforts of MRFF here, or write to your own elected officials and express your opinion about this blatant violation of service members’ rights, Air Force rules and the U.S. Constitution.
Kevin Jones, formerly the Utah State Archaeologist and a published novelist, is publishing his latest work, “A Quick Trip to Moab,” as a serial on Medium.com
The story is about an anti-wilderness protest by off-road enthusiasts that has gotten out of hand. The protesters, fighting closure of an off-road travel area, manage to take over a significant portion of Utah’s San Rafael Swell and find their efforts further fueled by unsavory characters who flock to the area, drawn by the excitement of facing down the government. Federal agencies back away from the confrontation, leaving a vast, lawless area loosely controlled by the protesters, known as the “Recapture Brigade.” Ordinary travelers passing through the area get entangled in the violence, and must use every tool and resource available to them to survive.
The novel raises questions about how citizens protest governmental land-use decisions and whether there is really much difference between environmentalists “monkey wrenching” and ATV enthusiasts “taking back” the land.
A QUICK TRIP TO MOAB is a fast-moving adventure that invites consideration of the complex issues facing wild areas of the west.
If you find the story and the issues it raises interesting, you can read the first installments of the novel at https://medium.com/@kevinjones_4399. Join in a discussion of the issues on Kevin’s blog at UtahJones.com
Paul Liebe is the owner of NiteLife Billiards at 2882 North Ave. in Grand Junction. “Liebe” means “love” in German, but unfortunately Mr. Liebe does not project a loving front to many area citizens. His business’ slogan is “We Deliver Family Fun,” but Mr. Liebe is far from family-friendly. R-rated is more like it, at a minimum.
Liebe, a gun proponent who bills himself as a “public figure” on his Facebook page, recently made headlines for selling “open carry” T-shirts printed with a realistic-looking handgun in a holster. The shirts come with a dire warning letting people know that actually wearing the shirt can lead to death if the wearer encounters police and they mistakenly think you are wearing a real gun. In short, don’t put these shirts on your kids — they aren’t family-friendly, or friendly in any way at all.
Liebe’s personal attitudes are far from family-friendly, too, and so is his language. On February 13 he posted on his publicly-accessible Facebook page: “If you don’t like what I post, get the FUCK OFF MY PAGES,” and “…I don’t give a shit if your FEELINGS get hurt.”