Image courtesy ceffm.org
If you’ve heard of the Good News Club, a fundamentalist Christian evangelical club for elementary school kids, you’re most likely securely planted on one side of the fence or the other. You either think the GNC is great for kids, or you realize its tactics are vile and damaging to the self-esteem of children and want them removed from public schools.
Public schools you say? That’s right. In 2001, Child Evangelism Fellowship, the parent company of the GNC, won a Supreme Court case allowing them to operate their Christian clubs in public schools, citing free speech and equal access to public facilities.If you haven’t heard of the Good News Club, I encourage you to read Katherine Stewart’s exposé called The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children. Alternatively, you can find quite a few videos on YouTube that highlight their psychologically abusive tactics.
One such GNC operates in my hometown of Churchville, NY — a quiet, mostly conservative (hence the name) village in upstate NY, consisting of chunks of suburban housing surrounded by seemingly endless cornstalks. When a fellow local activist, Dan Courtney, caught wind of the GNC and discovered there was a local group operating, he pulled a few of us together to brainstorm over what we could do to protect the children of our community from this organization that tells young children they’re inherent sinners worthy of death. Not exactly a self-esteem builder.
About a year later, we founded Young Skeptics, an after-school program for elementary school kids that focuses on critical thinking, discovery, the scientific method, and promoting self worth through empowerment. (Full disclosure, I now serve as its Communications Director, while Dan is the Executive Director.)
We had created an alternative club for kids to attend where they could discover and learn in a fun, engaging way without having dogma crammed down their throats (in GNC meetings, kids are forced to memorize Bible passages and not encouraged to ask questions about what they’re learning). But we didn’t stop there. What about the kids who are still attending GNC meetings — whose parents may not be aware of the group’s tactics? Since the GNC presents themselves to parents as a group for kids to get together and have fun, games, and Bible lessons (sounds pretty benign, right?), we figure most parents aren’t aware of what’s really happening. As community residents and parents, we wanted to protect these trusting, impressionable children.
In the meantime, Dan had contacted the school superintendent and expresses our concerns. He noted that the conduct of the GNC is intimidating to children, which was a violation of the district’s facilities use policy. The superintendent contacted the local GNC leaders who replied, stating that they are not using the CEF’s GNC curriculum, despite the requirement of the CEF that they must use it. This told us two things. One, that the local leaders recognized the CEF curriculum was over the top and bad for kids, and two, the local group was going rogue in the eyes of the CEF. We wanted to verify this for ourselves, and since all meetings had the district requirement that they be open to the public, we decided to attend and observe.
In short, the GNC did not take kindly to our presence. In the video below, Dan outlines his (and our) experience with the GNC and how they attempted to intimidate us, make us feel unwelcome, and in some cases, prohibited us from attending. But since we knew the policies and had done our due diligence, we did not back down. Despite the GNC’s repeated attempts to intimidate us, we continue to attend and observe. It’s our assumption that our attendance has forced them to adjust their language and avoid certain messaging, so we believe our presence is working.
As Dan mentions in his video, the GNC has attempted the following methods of intimidation and exclusion: