A public school in Kansas has ceased participating in Operation Christmas Child after an atheist legal group lodged a complaint, alleging that supporting the annual charity program “violates basic constitutional principles.” Liberty Middle School, a state-funded public school, cancelled its participation in the program after the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) wrote to them, demanding that they “cease participation in Operation Christmas Child or taking any other actions promoting Christianity like including religious references over morning announcements,” claiming that these activities are “egregious constitutional violations.” In response, the school immediately ceased its involvement in the program.
If you are not familiar with Operation Christmas Child, it is an international charity program that sends millions of shoe boxes filled with Christmas gifts to impoverished children in third world nations every Christmas season. Schools, churches and community groups are encouraged to fill shoe boxes with small toys, coloured pencils and simple gifts which the charity then sends to needy children around the world. For many of the children who receive these gifts, it is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to them.
So what are the atheists complaining about? The problem (for the atheists) is that Operation Christmas Child is run by a Christian charity, Samaritans Purse, who place a small booklet explaining the Christmas story about Jesus in every shoe box. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) calls Samaritan’s Purse “a pervasively sectarian religious organization” and argues that the use of “school staff and resources to convert people to Christianity violates basic constitutional principles.”
There are a couple of points to be made in response.
Firstly, the inclusion of a small Christmas pamphlet in a toy box hardly warrants such an extreme rection. A child who is not interested in the Christmas story can simply ignore the pamphlet. These boxes of toys bring untold joy to millions of children around the world every year. Are these atheists really so hard-line that they would prefer that these needy children receive no gifts at all? Apparently so.
Secondly, participating in Operation Christmas Child does not consume school staff and resources, as claimed. Having been a part of a school that has participated in the annual charity, I can say categorically that the collection of gifts and the filling of the shoe boxes generally takes place in the home, not at school. The school merely acts as a collection point for the gift-filled boxes which are then sent on for disbursal via the charity. Students and their families who participate in this program derive a great deal of joy in sending a special gift to a needy child elsewhere in the world.
Thirdly, the inflammatory description of Samaritan’s Purse as “a pervasively sectarian religious organization” unnecessarily muddies the waters. Yes, Samaritan’s Purse is a Christian-based charity with Christian beliefs. But almost every charity and organisation with a particular cause and a distinctive set of philosophies and beliefs could equally be labelled as “pervasively sectarian”. By holding to a set of beliefs that set them apart from other beliefs, many organisations are effectively sectarian. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) themselves are “pervasively sectarian” because of their strong atheistic beliefs and their aggressive opposition to people of faith. In fact, I would argue that FFRF are much more aggressively and pervasively sectarian than Samaritan’s Purse, who have historically displayed a gracious willingness to collaborate with charities of other faiths.
There is actually an ugly hypocrisy at work here. Aggressive atheist organisations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) want to outlaw all public expressions of faith, claiming that people of faith don’t have the right to force their views on everyone else, but they fail to see that they are doing exactly the same thing themselves. They are effectively saying, “Because I don’t believe in God, no one around me is allowed to pray. Because I don’t believe in God, there must be no mention of God in school announcements.” This was clear in FFRF’s demand to Liberty Middle School that there be no “religious references over morning announcements.” Are atheists really so insecure in their unbelief that they can’t tolerate even hearing expressions of faith from others?
There is a basic right that is quickly being eroded within the Western World: the right to freedom of religious expression. The justification of this erosion of rights centres around the concept of “offense”. Apparently by praying in public or mentioning a Christmas Chapel service in school announcements, we are “offending” atheists and people of other faiths, and therefore we must stop. What utter nonsense! The current push within Western society to avoid giving “offense” is a nefarious piece of political correctness that is used to justify the imposition of an aggressive secular agenda. The drivers of this agenda aren’t really concerned with people’s feelings; they simply want to aggressively stamp out all religion.
Furthermore, the giving of offense apparently doesn’t work both ways. Atheists are free to sprout forth their godless views and their liberal morality with impunity, whereas as soon as a Christian voices a faith-based viewpoint on morality, they are apparently giving “offense” and are aggressively set upon.
I am not offended when people voice opinions that differ from mine, and that includes people with an atheistic viewpoint. In fact, I respect their right to express their different viewpoint. That’s how a mature, free, democratic society ought to operate. People who get “offended” by expressions of belief that differ from their own need to put their big boy / girl pants on and stop acting like children.
And trying to stop state public schools from participating in a charity program that brings untold joy to millions of impoverished children around the world is just plain spiteful and mean. Shame on you, FFRF! You don’t have to celebrate Christmas if you don’t want to, but you don’t have the right to stop children from experiencing the joy of giving and receiving.