Ark. School Suspends Pastor Visitation Program

Conway Public Schools in Arkansas has suspended, at least temporarily, a practice allowing local ministers to come into the school cafeteria during lunch and talk to students. The school says they’re suspending the practice until they can do a thorough legal review of the matter:

Local youth ministers and pastors can no longer visit students at lunchtime in Conway schools after an organization sent a letter in October complaining about the visits, school officials said Thursday.

About 16 representatives from area churches and religious organizations met in a closed-door meeting between them and superintendent Greg Murry on Thursday morning.

“A lot of things were circulating last night on Twitter and Facebook, and people were talking about ministers being banned from school,” said Conway K-Life board president Jeff Standridge. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there right now. (But) there is a suspension of these activities until they could complete the review.”

This is hardly a close call. That review should take about five minutes — it’s illegal, period. But they say it may take months:

Standridge said his group was informed by letter several weeks ago that the lunchtime visits are suspended until the district reviewed its policy on the matter.

Murry said the school wants to make sure the practice is legal. The move to disallow visits from ministers at lunchtime is temporary, but the time to study the issue could take months, he said.

“We certainly want the community to know that we are wanting to make sure that whatever activities that are allowed at the school are legal for us to do and that’s really what all this is about,” Murry said. “We’re not trying to kick anybody out of the school, or an organization out of the school. Whatever we do, we have to make sure we are on the correct side of the law.”

The church behind this, of course, says that they don’t proselytize at all:

Wilkins said Conway K-Life has a long history of visiting Conway students at lunchtime. He said K-Life ministers will talk to other students about the ministry when asked, but said “The purpose is to maintain relationships with our students invested in our ministry and to go and be a positive influence during the school day.”

“To be clear, the purpose of these visits is not to recruit students to K-Life,” Standridge added. “My understanding (of) the purpose is to visit existing kids in the programs. The purpose is not to recruit kids into the programs.”

Conway school district may be within its legal boundaries of separation of church and state, said board member Bill Clements.

“They are just supporting kids who go to their church,” Clements said. “They are not trying to recruit other kids.”

Right. And if you believe that, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arkansas to sell you.

13 comments on this post.
  1. jnorris:

    The parents can get the kids to a church anytime the parents want to. The schools do not have a void that needs filling.

  2. peterh:

    Read the Constitution’s First Amendment. and a sampling of the court decisions involving public educational institutions which reference that amendment. What further legal research is needed?

  3. fifthdentist:

    So I’m sure they wouldn’t mind Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus circulating around the tables at lunch time just “to maintain relationships with students.”

  4. sergiolira:

    They know its illegal what they are hopping to do is use the word suspend and investigate then let months pass and hope the church nuts forget
    They want to avoid a lawsuit for sure but also crazy angry churchees running around

  5. whheydt:

    It’ll take months to find a lawyer crazy enough to tell them the program is legal.

  6. Deen:

    The reason why the review will take months, instead of five minutes, isn’t because it will take that long to figure out whether it’s legal. It will take months because they intend to find a way to change the program just enough to make it legal, but not so much that it will upset the local churches and conservatives.

    And maybe they hope that when they inevitably fail, it will have taken long enough for people to have forgotten about it.

  7. TGAP Dad:

    I wonder if these churches would allow representatives from American Atheists, FFRF, CFI, the Clergy Project, and SSA to come talk to parishioners during Sunday services. I have a feeling they would not be so accommodating.

  8. MikeMa:

    Its not like there isn’t a church on every damned corner. Leave the religion out of the public schools.

  9. baal:

    ““They are just supporting kids who go to their church,” Clements said.”

    Even assuming this is true (total bs but why not), what support do they really need or ought to have from a religious adviser during the school day? “Wow, that was a hard test. If only pastor bob were here to say grace with me over my burger and fries, i could make to through to the end of the day?”

    I think Deen nailed it that the they are looking for a way that can even get close to constitutional to keep the xtian religionists there at lunch.

  10. raven:

    Looks like I’m out of touch with “modern” Arkansas.

    Is it really this backwards and cuckoo?

    The schools in my district have a restricted access campus. This is part of a security anti-mass murderer plan. Among other reasons. After Columbine, Newtown, and several other incidents, this is generally SOP.

    They do let selected people in during the day. They are prescreened. One guy who tried to gain access turned out to be a convicted serial pedophile. Not only didn’t he get in, the police had a word with him about just why he was trying to hang around an elementary school.

  11. tbp1:

    Why is it that people who think the government can’t do anything right want the government to indoctrinate their children with regard to religion?

    (Or think that the same system that can’t be trusted with tort lawsuits never makes a mistake in a capital punishment case?)

  12. Sastra:

    Deen #6 wrote:

    The reason why the review will take months, instead of five minutes, isn’t because it will take that long to figure out whether it’s legal. It will take months because they intend to find a way to change the program just enough to make it legal, but not so much that it will upset the local churches and conservatives.

    Yup, I think you nailed it. I bet that right now they’re mentally going over ideas for costumes which will both tie in to something already being taught or promoted at the school (Abraham Lincoln, a valentine, “Mr. Arithmetic”) and tie in to the “history” of Christianity

  13. marcus:

    I think Deen and Sastra are correct. This was my first thought also. Why go to all those angry, non -productive meetings and possibly lose your job because you know what you’re trying to do is inherently illegal?

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