Friday, February 12, 2010

Update on the URGENT ALERT About Religious Extremism In NW PA Public Schools

Thanks to the vigilance of a few concerned Venango County residents, the Ground Zero Master's Commission event known as "Explicit Truth" that was scheduled to take place during a Feb. 8 Rocky Grove Jr-Sr High School assembly (discussed in an Urgent Alert post here on Jan. 28) was canceled by Principal Matt Laverde upon the advice of the Valley Grove School District solicitor.

It was reported that the solicitor based his decision on the fact that the assembly was sponsored/paid for by religious groups and that local churches had described the assemblies as having religious content/motivation.

General information from legal advocates about these sorts of assemblies advise that:

- Schools should be extremely cautious about allowing such assemblies because they (the schools) will be held responsible if the assembly includes any religious content. The groups that offer these programs are often designed as vehicles for proselytization, so even if the group performing at the assembly claims that the content of its program is not religious, it may introduce or encourage religious views in subtle, but still unconstitutional ways. There is an additional concern that some of these groups promote their religious views, which may be homophobic or otherwise not inclusive.

- There are two common tactics that these groups use to convert a presentation into a religious message:

First, the presenters, in introducing themselves and perhaps explaining how they come to be doing this work, may talk about their religious backgrounds. That sets the stage for the entire presentation to be couched as a religious message.

Second, these groups will often use the school assembly as an opportunity to invite the students to "continue the conversation" at a pizza party or other local event off campus, which turns out to be religious in nature. It is unconstitutional for schools to provide an outside group with this type of opportunity to invite students to a religious event.

- Because the school will ultimately be held responsible for anything that an outside group says when the school invites the group to give a presentation to students, it is important for school officials to know exactly what will be included in the presentation before allowing a church-sponsored group to give an assembly to students.

This incident demonstrates the importance of being aware of what is taking place in local public schools and the effectiveness of asking questions when something doesn't seem right.

Congratulations and Thanks to those who understand the Constitution and who seek to uphold the principle of the separation of church and state for the benefit of all.


Please Call To Express Concern About Religious Proselytization In Public Schools:

Cranberry High School - Cranberry Area School District
Superintendent - Nicholas Bodnar
Phone: 814-676-5628 x509

Complaints Can Also Be Made To The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission via

Ann M. Van Dyke
Education/Community Services Division
Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission
P.O. Box 3145, Harrisburg, PA 17105
P: 717/783-8438


S.S. Booker said...

Sounds like the schools did the right thing. Although I mentioned (in a comment towards the original post concerning this issue) that if the group didn't identify itself as being Christian and witheld all religious persuasion from their presentation that it might be acceptable, I knew even then that this was unlikely to be possible. I just hope people are able to see that this would have been a clear violation of the constitution. You just simply can't allow religion into the public school system.

However, in my senior civics class at OCHS we did talk about religion. We briefly touched on the major issues in Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism. We didn't get into details, we kept things factual (as much as is possible with religion), and we mostly talked about the similarities between them. It was an excellent way to teach 17-18 year old students about some of the major religions without "preaching" about anything at all. I hope that they are still doing things like this in schools. It really opened my eyes to the world of religion, as opposed to the EXTREMELY narrow views that you typically find in Venango County.

Stephen Albert said...

I just wanted to commend you on the blog and the work that you do; it's refreshing to see someone out there standing up for what they think is right...even when it's not necessarily the popular thing to do.

Keep fighting the good fight.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for openly expressing your views. But I have to ask if all of your information is right? In the other blogs you have written you seem to have a chip on your shoulder towards any religion? I have to ask if this has affected your views on a postive message from anyone of faith or not.

Anonymous said...

As someone who was at the school assembly today, I have to say you have your "facts" completely wrong. There was no mention of religion or church or God. They talked about how to build your self-esteem by being yourself, to stand up to bullying, and pursue your dreams. Just good advice that all of us could benefit from. There was no announcement given to any other presentations that GZMC may be involved in. Please make sure you have all your facts straight and give an informed opinion, instead of just going on a rampage about what you may think it is about.

S.S. Booker said...

I'm glad to hear that the presentation went well. It would have been quite embarassing for local school districts had it contained a religious message. And not because religion is embarassing -it isn't. I just hope that you would be equally supportive of a non-Christian religious group coming and preaching the same message, in precisely the same manner.

Anonymous said...

Any group that comes in no matter what background they come from are bound by a series of rules and standards put out by the state the terming is that you can talk on society accepted morals. these do not include sexual prefrences or preaching a specific religion every group that comes in has to follow these regardless.........

End Bigotry in Venango County said...

It's great to hear reports that the "Explicit Truth" presentations at today's assemblies at Cranberry High School were carried out professionally and did not involve overt religious proselytization, as sinisterly predicted on "Looking Through The Community Window," the WAWN radio program that interviewed some of those involved in planning and carrying out these events.

A vigilant community helps to keep the public institutions that serve it accountable. Thanks to all who raised questions and concerns and reported honestly on their observations.

Anonymous said...

Before posting your "urgent alert", it would have been wise to contact those in charge of the assembly personally, instead of basing your opinion on things you may have heard about it. Sadly, Rocky Grove High School missed out on a positive and inspiring assembly because of the half-truths and suggestions you put out there. It would be nice for you to post a retraction or apology for your misinformed opinions.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree whether or not you like the afa and those associated with it, rocky grove has missed out on a positive motivational assembly because of your post. As I also understand it a letter was written to the school board that was rather concerning and intimidating. People on all ends of this have wronged and the ones who have had to pay the price are the youth of rocky grove.

End Bigotry in Venango County said...

Don't hold your breath for a retraction.

A public school district, its administrators and board, should know better than to contract for services with an organization that describes itself as "an intense and passionate discipleship ministry for Young Adults. It's not only for people who want to go into full-time ministry; it’s for those who have a relationship with Jesus Christ and want to establish a firm foundation in Him. Through worship, prayer, service and ministry, you will be prepared for wherever God wants to take you in life."

And when the local "Christian" radio station congratulates, on-air, organizers of programs being brought into public school assemblies by this group for having gotten past school authorities, it's not only appropriate to raise concerns, it's essential.

Anonymous said...

If Rocky Grove wants a truly inspirational assembly, they should work with a group that is not funded by a fundamentalist religious organization and that is touted by the local radio station as having a religious mission. There are lots of excellent organizations that provide speakers at no cost. Why chose a group that is likely to land the school dsitrict in a costly law suit?

Anonymous said...

Can you at least agree that is always better to have a direct source of information, rather than a third-party? So you can speak from facts and not others interpretations of the facts?

End Bigotry in Venango County said...

Which third party are you referring to?

And how much more direct could a source be in this case?

The service provider's own web site:

And a radio broadcast in Venango County where it is announced that these programs will be "ministering" in local public school assemblies:

Anonymous said...

I am just saying that maybe you should have contacted GZMC personally and talked to them about it. Their website includes all of their "ministries" and programs, but Explicit Truth is separate from GZMC rallies. The radio mixed the two together and caused confusion. Any reporter will tell you to go straight to the source.