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Sacramento Freethinkers Atheists & Nonbelievers (FAN) Message Board › Public School Sending Kids To Christian Focused Camp

Public School Sending Kids To Christian Focused Camp

Paul N.
user 41481352
Sacramento, CA
Post #: 3
Hey all,

I have just found out that my kid's public school is sending their 5th grade students to Westminster Woods for a week long science camp. While the program itself is supposedly free from religious references, according to their mission statement "Westminster Woods exists to build meaningful relationships - with Christ, with one another, and with our communities through outstanding programs and hospitality in a remarkable redwood setting of God's creation."

This strikes me as a violation of the separation between church and state. The school claims that since the specific program they are paying for is secular that they are able to give their/our money to this overtly religious organization. They are giving me the option to have my child opt out, but doesn't that smack of religious discrimination? Does anyone have any recommendations on how to handle this situation? Also, does anyone have any suggestions for a completely secular science camp in the area? Thanks.

user 9892369
San Ramon, CA
Post #: 567
If public monies are being used, in whole or in part, to finance the public school students' attendance at a camp sponsored by a religious organization, then that's wrong and needs to be protested, regardless of whether or not the science program in question is free of religious references. Offering an opt-out option is a lame and ineffective attempt to appease you; but, in practice, it's denying your child an opportunity s/he should have, delivered in a legally acceptable context. The only way I can see this being acceptable is if the camp is sponsored by a non-religiously-affiliated third party hired by the school system, and that third party rents the space from Westminster Woods and has no other connection to it and provides assurances and proof that is will be a "neutral" environment. Also, what proof does the school offer that the program will be secular? And how are they going to monitor/guarantee that? I'm guessing whatever answer they give will range from lame to insufficient.

Here's a concern: at the website for Westminster Woods, the "Summer Camps" page has this language at the top: "Westminster Woods invites campers of all ages to come and revel in the life-changing gifts of God by being loved unconditionally, playing uninhibitedly, laughing uncontrollably and growing unexpectedly. Westminster Woods is the perfect environment to run, explore and enjoy being a kid." It doesn't say "...except for the Science camp." And prominently displayed on the same page, in large type in a sidebar on the right, is this unattributed quotation, "I grew in my understanding of God and had a huge amount of fun along the way."

Even in the case of subcontracting the program delivery via a third-party sponsor and supposedly guaranteeing a secular experience, a religious institution would still indirectly benefit financially from public funds.

Finally, perhaps they should consider that there's a reason all the OTHER public schools don't, as a rule, avail themselves of facilities and programs owned or controlled by religious organizations.
David D.
Lodi, CA
Post #: 186
Caralee says that she's been to that camp a few times back in the late 80s / early 90s, and doesn't recall anything religious about her experience.

It's also possible that Westminster Woods is just providing the facility at which secular teachers are offering a science program. (Similar to Camp Quest that rents a facility for a week from other campsites that aren't involved in the actual camp program.)

My advise would be to talk to whoever is in charge at your school and ask who will be running the program. If it's run by a religious organization, you certainly have a valid reason to be concerned. But, that doesn't mean it can't be secular. If that's the case, you might offer to go along as a chaperone, or ask your child to take really good notes if he/she observes anything religious.

But if they tell you that the program is run by science professionals, or a secular organization like a public school, then I think you'll be fine.

Maybe you can find out the name of the program and post it here, or get a copy of their brochure or curriculum outline, too.

Or perhaps there's a 6th grader your child knows that went last year, and can tell you about their experience.
user 102386322
Roseville, CA
Post #: 6
I just noticed this posting. My children attended Alliance Redwoods, which is a science camp at a Catholic camp. The program is secular. While there are some religious signs here or there, there is no commentary about them.

It is entirely legal for a government entity to pay for this, although, typically, it is the parents who are paying. That is akin to a government buying a secular product from a religionist: they are not directly endorsing, by their funding, a religion, only making a fair trade for a product. To ban a government from buying a product from a religionist is akin to restricting their own beliefs.
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