- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 28, 2015

An anonymous Missouri mother and an atheist-rights organization are suing a local school for taking the children on a field trip to a Christian-centered sports center.

The lawsuit says Joplin school officials violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment when they permitted students to go the Victory Ministry and Sports Complex on May 8.

“By sending students on a field trip to an overtly Christian venue with proselytizing Christian messages, the public school district is engaging in unconstitutional conduct,” said David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association (AHA), whose legal center filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Joplin mother and two children.

School officials replied that “no religious exercises or proselytizing took place on the field trip,” and noted that the lawsuit didn’t allege such events, according to the Joplin Globe.

“The field trip is secular and the location was chosen by the students as a celebration,” communications official Kelli Price said, according to the Globe.

The lawsuit, filed May 27 in U.S. District Court in Springfield, seeks a judgment that the school officials broke the law and will never again send children to “religiously themed” field trips, as well as damages and attorneys’ fees.

The Victory Ministry and Sports Complex says on its website that it is “the perfect destination for school kids” due to its wide selection of sports-related activities.

As a Christ-centered community center, Victory also offers early morning worship services, and religious events and concerts on some evenings and weekends. It carries some banners and posters about “worship” and “Jesus is worthy of it all.”

The unidentified mother, who has a child at North Middle School, said in the lawsuit that she is a non-Christian and was “injured and aggrieved” because her child was “exposed to” the school’s “promotion and endorsement of religion.”

The child — who stayed home and didn’t go on the May 8 trip — “felt coerced by the school to participate in religious activity,” and the school’s actions have made the mother and her family “feel like outsiders and unwelcome in the School District,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also cites a school permission slip sent to parents that advised them that while the children were at Victory, they “may” be invited to Bible studies and local churches. Parents were asked to agree that if such an event occurred, their student had permission to participate in worship services, Bible studies or other activities that ay pertain to the Christian faith.

According to the lawsuit, a few days before the field trip, the AHA warned C.J. Huff, the superintendent of Joplin schools, and Brandon Eggleston, principal of the middle school, to call off the event, due to the mother’s objections and the wording of the permission slip.

Mr. Huff responded to the AHA saying the permission slip was “inappropriately worded,” but the field trip was constitutional.

The AHA replied that the trip was unconstitutional and they would sue if it took place.

The AHA, based in the District, represents humanists, atheists and other non-religious Americans.

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