Students at a Kansas middle school will no longer be able to fill Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes with gifts for poor children overseas after the superintendent caved to an atheist activist group’s litigation threat.
“While it is laudable for a public school to promote student involvement in the community by volunteering and donating to charitable organizations, the school cannot use that goal as an avenue to fund a religious organization with a religious mission,” the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) told Pratt Public Schools Superintendent Tony Helfrich in a Nov. 3 letter, according to Michael Foust, reporting for Christian Headlines.
A mere four days later, Helfrich caved, telling FFRF that he was immediately “discontinuing” the school’s participation in the shoebox campaign because “its mission is more sectarian in nature than we realized.”
Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian charitable group started by evangelist Franklin Graham that provides health, food, construction and other forms of aid to needy people around the world regardless of their religious faith or lack of it.
Millions of the shoeboxes, which are filled by volunteer participants from thousands of American churches, schools and other community groups with gifts for children such as toys, shoes and sox, dental aids, clothing and other needed items have been distributed for more than two decades. The Christmas shoe boxes are sent to children in 160 countries around the world.
HillFaith asked First Liberty Institute Special Counsel Jeremy Dys if a public school participating in Operation Christmas Child is protected by the First Amendment.
“The reality is that Samaritan’s Purse is a social welfare organization. They exist to care for those in need — in the greatest of need across the world. Just because they are religious is no reason to exclude them from public,” Dys told HillFaith Tuesday.
“Excluding an organization just because it is religious is the the very type of religious intolerance the First Amendment abhors.
“FFRF and other Grinches would rather kids be denied the opportunity to care for kids who have nothing at Christmas than put up with the religious mission of Samaritan’s Purse,” he said.
First Liberty is a Plano, Texas-based law firm that specializes in defending religious freedom, and has won multiple significant federal court victories defending the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom and practice.