Pull kids from school
This from the Advocate-Messenger:
Freedom of expression took a bitter turn Friday as some Casey County parents kept their children home to protest free books distributed in three elementary schools.
Rumors of prayer circles and other confrontations spread like wildfire Thursday afternoon when parents found out the Tri-State Freethinkers would distribute “Humanism, What’s That? A Book for Curious Kids,” at Liberty, Walnut Hill and Jones Park elementary schools.
Tri-State Humanists Jim G. Helton and Torey Glassmeyer drop off free books.
“We’ve heard rumors about assemblies or people coming to speak to the students and that’s absolutely not true,” Casey County Superintendent Marion Sowders said. “Legal counsel has advised us every step of the way about how to handle it. Students were not told about it in school but we don’t know what their parents have told them.”
Rumors of retaliatory absences may have proven true on Friday, however.
“Our attendance was probably not as good as it normally is,” Liberty Elementary Principal Boyd Harris said. “We feel like there may be some connection there.” Harris could not confirm just how many students missed school. Other school officials would not comment, citing restrictions from Sowders.
A small group of adults and children followed Freethinkers Jim G. Helton and Torey Glassmeyer to Walnut Hill and Jones Park, glowering at them from the parking lot as they delivered the books after 5 p.m. Thursday.
Before they arrived at Jones Park, parents walked into the school and demanded to see the table where the books were going to be displayed. Local media were barred from entering the schools and were politely asked to leave when they entered the building.
“We’re here to defend God and his glory,” said one woman, who declined to be named. A male companion muttered to himself as he scanned the parking lot for their car.
Helton was surprised at the local media’s response to their project but not at the secrecy with which people report religious activity in governmental facilities, which violates the separation of church and state. “We don’t have to look too far, a lot of people come to us anonymously because they fear repercussion or being ostracized. It’s unfortunate that in today’s world that somebody has to be afraid because they don’t hold majority views,” he said.
“With the Gideons it’s like playing ‘Whack a Mole,’ “ Helton said. “They come in and they get shut down. It will be interesting to see what’s the school’s response will be next year. When people complained about the Gideons coming in, they blew it off.”
Schools officials gave them no problems after they petitioned to enter, Helton said on Sunday. “The people we talked to were very polite and professional, there were no issues there whatsoever,” Helton said.
Supporting freedom of expression, the right to learn and religious tolerance were core values for Helton when he founded the Freethinkers, a service-oriented group with members in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. Their meetings are a mix of religious people, deists, agnostics, atheists and others. “We’ve even had a Hindu and a Muslim attend our meetings,” Helton said. “There is no reason why we can’t all just get along. We have no problem with other people’s superstitions, but it shouldn’t be allowed to go into governmental facilities.”
Unable to find civic projects around Louisville that were not church-based, Helton said his wife urged him to found the group. Another inspiration was meeting attorney Edwin Kagin, national legal counsel for the American Atheists. “I thought I was the only atheist in Kentucky and then I found out he lived five minutes away,” Helton said.
Thursday’s event was ironic timing for Helton, since Kagin, of Union, died earlier that day. Kagin had founded Camp Quest, a secular summer camp for children of all beliefs to enjoy activities without dogma.
When the group was allowed to enter the schools, they followed the same rules as the Gideons, leaving five copies of the book after school to avoid talking to students. They were not present Friday during school hours. Glassmeyer, a paralegal, was stumped by the opposition.
“It should be empowering for them to say what they believe in,” Glassmeyer said. “This is a chance for them to talk to their children about their beliefs.”
“No one is coercing them to take them,” Sowders said. “Personally, it’s against my beliefs but my faith in Christianity is very strong. When you allow one to come in you open the door for everyone. It think this is a very strong Christian community and we talk about our Christian values so I don’t know how well it will go over.”
No one had asked the group to remove any leftover books on Sunday, a sign of tolerance and a desire to learn for Helton.
“People are free to believe what they want and that’s what makes this country great,” Helton said.