A Kansas middle school has discontinued its participation in the popular Operation Christmas Child project following allegations from an atheist group that involvement is unconstitutional.
Liberty Middle School in Pratt, Kan., previously participated in Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse that involves volunteers around the world packing shoeboxes filled with toys, school supplies, and hygiene items for children in need. Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian ministry, hopes to impact 11 million children during this year’s Operation Christmas Child.
Earlier this month the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote the local superintendent, urging him to take action and halt the middle school’s involvement. The group said a concerned staff member had complained.
In a Nov. 7 letter, Superintendent Tony Helfrich replied to the organization, saying the district was “discontinuing” participation in Operation Christmas Child “upon learning that its mission is more sectarian in nature than we realized.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is an association that represents atheists, agnostics and skeptics.
“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,” FFRF wrote in a Nov. 3 letter. “Certainly, there are other secular non-profit organizations that offer charitable opportunities.”
FFRF also alleged that the school’s vice principal promoted Christianity and invited students to participate in See You at the Pole.
“We request that the District investigate these serious violations and take immediate action to ensure that all of its staff understand and respect their constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion while acting in their official capacity,” FFRF said.
The mission of Operation Christmas Child, according to its website, is to “provide God’s love in a tangible way to children in need around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.” Since the project launched in 1993, 178 million children have received shoeboxes.