The “Good News Club”: How the Religious Right is Taking Indoctrination into Public Schools

Going door to door, risking that each knock will be met with rejection, right wing evangelical Christians have gotten frustrated with the slow pace of recruitment to their beliefs. They needed a new tactic to fill their pews and the easiest targets for indoctrination are young children who don’t yet have the capacity to question whether they are being manipulated. So, the best place to find impressionable minds is in schools. There are thousands of parochial schools across the country where parents send their children to have an education that blends religion with reading, writing, and arithmetic. But this wasn’t good enough for the Christian Right; they needed to cast a much wider net. This is how the “Good News Club” came into being.

Ostensibly, an after-school club, the organization, sponsored by the international ministry of Child Evangelism Fellowship, is actually a foothold into the public schools to begin a base of evangelizing Christian beliefs, particularly fundamentalist beliefs, to youth. What are the beliefs that the “Good News Clubs” want children to adopt? According the author of “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children,” Katherine Stewart, they endorse the Bible as a literal and infallible word of God, teach that conversion to their own version of Christianity is the only path to salvation, while other types of Christians are not actually Christian, and they heavily emphasize the role of Satan in everyday life. One anecdote shared by Katherine Stewart in her book is instructive of how the “Good News Clubs,” treat children of other faiths. A Catholic boy had a brother die, and he told a leader at a club that his brother was an angel in heaven. This women stated, “I had to tell him that no, his brother was not an angel in heaven…I could see the look in this boy’s eyes. He was just devastated.” This was because he wasn’t “saved.”

Public schools are supposed to provide a secular environment where children are free from indoctrination into religious ministry. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that after-school activities must be open to religious groups alongside any other group, and by 2010, there were 3,439 “Good News Clubs” in public schools across the country. This seems reasonable enough for a group of Christian students to do Bible study or Muslim students to meet for discussions of Islam. They even have to have parent permission for children to participate. However, “Good News Clubs” have a coordinated national alliance of religious organizations behind them with more than just a self-contained student club on their agenda. They want their version of Christianity to be spread far and wide to susceptible children. They use all of the tactics one would expect to draw in vulnerable youth including offering candy and cookies. Mathew Staver, a leader of the club initiative and President of Liberty Counsel, has written: “Classrooms are full of unchurched children waiting to hear about a Savior who loves them and forgives sin.” Clearly, the group isn’t limiting its reach to current believers, but instead intends to evangelize to other children who are not believers in their faith. Indeed, the clubs teach the children who attend to go out and recruit other children to their meetings. According to Katherine Stewart, “Parents have reported many instances in which children tell playmates of other faiths that they will go to hell.”

But they don’t stop there. The clubs know the power of authority over children between the ages of four and fourteen, even calling this time period, “The 4/14 Window.” To blur the lines between academic educators and the religious educators in “Good News Clubs,” the proponents of these organizations have a scheme. They encourage the adult leaders of the clubs to volunteer during the day in classrooms so that they are ever-present in the lives of the children. Going a step further, they have encouraged public teachers to lead the “Good News Clubs,” a situation which resulted in a court case in South Dakota. At first, the courts realized that having a public school teacher endorse a particular set of beliefs in her own school would be problematic, so they ruled that she would have to lead a “Good News Club” at a school other than the one where she teaches. But another court overturned that initial ruling and went ahead and allowed this teacher to evangelize right in the same school where she teaches. These efforts are all part of the club’s founders’ strategy to give the group the legitimacy that being associated with school affords, since children don’t differentiate between when adults are teaching secular versus sectarian information.

The goal of making their brand of Christianity dominate the public sphere isn’t limited to public schools. The forces behind the “Good News Club” are Christian nationalist or dominionist in nature, believing that the United States should be a Christian nation, run by Christians, including the government. Some of the organizations behind the spread of “Good News Clubs” include the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), the Liberty Counsel, the Council for National Policy, and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), among others. They have up to $100 million in their war chest to ensure that they can infiltrate public schools with impunity. These same organizations fund actions that work to insert Christianity into virtually every realm of public life. While working to penetrate school systems, these Christian nationalist groups are also working overtime to undermine public schools as a whole, readily admitting that their goal is to “sink the ship.” Claiming that public schools are an affront to Christianity, these groups encourage fundamentalist Christians to get elected to school boards where they can make decisions that actively harm public schools. Where the clubs have come into school districts, they have frequently been the source of major conflict among parents, taking a previously inclusive, harmonious environment to a hostile, divisive one.

Katherine Miller’s book on the “Good News Club” is an excellent source of research on this threat to public schools. It isn’t completely clear how concerned individuals can act given that the courts including the Supreme Court have repeatedly shown favor to these evangelizers. At this point, an important first step may be to simply make people aware of how this encroachment of right-wing, fundamentalist beliefs into our allegedly secular, neutral public schools is occurring.

15 Replies to “The “Good News Club”: How the Religious Right is Taking Indoctrination into Public Schools”

  1. As someone whose childhood was made miserable by religious bullying from other children, I shudder. It’s clear to me now why the right wing hates anti-bullying legislation. It isn’t even about children being able to beat their “sissy” and “tomboy” peers “straight”. It’s about being able to beat their “godless” peers into “godliness”. No way in Hell should any teacher be leading such a group in her or his own school. Even without uttering a direct word during school hours, a teacher can make a nonconforming kid’s life Hell, and even without actually doing it, a kid is likely to get the message s/he can. I’d add that I’ve known teachers who are not “Christian” to come under heavy harassment themselves. This is impermissible, even though it has been permitted.

  2. I note that the issue of adult leaders of these groups being right in the schools and classrooms where they are proselytizing has not yet been brought to the Supreme Court, but it will surely be. It’s time to start Brandeis-briefing RIGHT NOW.

  3. Satanism is a religion and so is paganism, are they allowed to set up a club? THey were at the Air Force Academy in Colorado SPrings COlorado two years ago, so it owuld be only fair and under the supreme Courts rulings that religions are to be discussed in schools.

  4. Just so you know, I attended this program as a child in the 70s. I enjoyed it and I think I turned out okay. I am not found of the religious right at all, and feel I can make use of my life as a good example by loving and accepting all people and loving as Christ did. It’s an after school program and it isn’t mandatory. Perhaps things have changed since when I was involved, but in my case, no harm done. The schools are public buildings and they should be used outside of school hours. It’s not like the program is offered during the school day. I do not believe the program harmed our school or community in anyway. This article seems a bit extreme to me.

  5. ““Good News Clubs” found were far from the “Bible study” groups they claimed to be. They are actually a program of an organization called the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), founded in 1937, whose declared mission, according to Stewart, “is to produce conversion experiences in very young children and thus equip them to ‘witness’ for other children.” The Good News Clubs started in the 1990’…”

    I noticed that you carefully left out the fact that the club you claim you attended was indeed in a public school or that you even attended a public school where/when this occurred.

    So, I have my “doubts” as to your claim that you were in a “club” or had this “program” in a “secular” setting in the 70’s, since they were started in the 90’s in the public school setting

    …you’re wording is way too stealth to be credible for anyone to not see through in terms of self-serving, slimy an opportunistic “didn’t hurt me none” jump in the water is fine statement. And, most kids see through it too, especially the “educated ones”; the innocents one tell what they “learned” and their parents who then confront the school.

    “The schools are public buildings and they should be used outside of school hours…” so, again, this is just fine that the tax payer foots the bill because the schools can’t ask for “rent” from these little “clubs”…I see…

    “It’s not like the program is offered during the school day….” You lie. The children in the class rooms are exposed to this crap by “parents who volunteer” to sit in the class room and be a “teachers aide”…as soon as that teach walks out the door, the “good christian” takes advantage. There are dozens of documented stories in this book where children cry because they’re going to “hell” and they heard it “in school”; they cry a second time when they learn they were lied to in school…

    “I do not believe the program harmed our school or community in anyway…” Lying to children in a school setting doesn’t harm them, nooo, of course not…why good Christians wouldn’t lie, to anyone let alone a child, now would they!

    Next thing you’ll tell us is that little green monkeys jump out of Jesus’s ass and that should be taught in grade school, too…go “hiss” elsewhere you snake in the grass!

  6. Whatever. Any kid with half a brain will see right through this game, or figure it out within a few years. I know that less intelligent kids are susceptible…but they will be susceptible to many of the worlds pit falls; Credit card scams, various religious cults, nationalistic manipulation, media manipulation etc. The only real solution is to start clubs at your local school yourself. A non-affiliated spiritual club perhaps? Call it the “Awesome News!” club maybe? Or a critical thinking club that examines the various reality-memes that we all have to navigate now. That sounds useful.
    These christian folks DO have a lot of funding and dedicated bodies though.

  7. Is there is not Lord in soul there is no reasons in religion and churches. It’s pity that such idea are often overlooked.

  8. Hey if they don’t indoctrinate new followers how will they be able to grift millions and support their lavish lifestyles? Any parent that allows their child to be brainwashed should be ashamed. “Just say no”, parents. Children go to school to become educated. The more education they have the less apt they are to be money-cows for any faith. Educate children and let the make their own decisions.

    I just read an article about the the Crouch family of Trinity Broadcasting using millions of donated dollars to support their lavish lifestyle. People like that want and need for your children to become brainwashed and give up their paychecks, in the name of Jesus!

  9. I note that this little article has brought out the Christotrolls, some of whom are barely coherent. There must be a bunch of them scanning eevil librul blogs just so they can pounce on Bad Thoughts.

  10. “…The only real solution is to start clubs at your local school yourself…”

    Great idea! How about a kids club called “Cult Watchers” where they learn how to spot a recruiter on their campus, take pictures of them with their cell phones, make posters of them and put them on the lunch room door so the rest of the kids will be on alert not to talk to them or take “candy” from them…there are a number of trained psychologist who are trained in intervention/deprogramming and can set up nation wide workshops for parent interested in sponsoring cult education clubs!

  11. I was told the exact same thing after my brother died by a “well-meaning christian”; that my brother was not “saved”, and he unfortunately would not be going to heaven. As a child going through a horrific trauma, to hear this was excruciating. It left in me a terrible distrust of religion, and I am sickened by the Christionist crap I see daily in politics and the news. My children were taught that these types of people were not to be trusted, and were not allowed to participate in these things at their public school. They are all adults now, and have a healthy dose of skepticism toward these people/organisations. We need to put our foot down and stop these religious zealots. They are trying to remake our country with their dominionist tactics and beliefs.
    http://godsownparty.com/blog/2010/03/christian-dominionism-101/

  12. How callously cynical of the religious leaders of these clubs to use children in this manner. Children should be learning that all men are created equal. Children should be learning that in unity problems can be solved. Cooperation is necessary for education and for the welfare of the country. It is not appropriate to use children to put pressure on others. Judge not lest ye be judged. When a loved one dies, the consequences to the soul of the departed are up to God. No one has the authority to dictate the will of God. For a child to say, “your brother wasn’t saved. He’s going to hell,” is patently false. When did God speak to the child about this? On whose authority did he speak? What is telling in this situation is that reason and logic are totally absent and that religion without reason and rational thought is empty and is a vacuum, devoid of spiritual as well as material value.

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