A humanist organization is threatening lawsuits against two public schools for their participation in Operation Christmas Child, a project of evangelist Franklin Graham's international Christian relief organization Samaritan's Purse that seeks to deliver Christmas toys to needy children throughout the world.
The American Humanist Association recently sent letters to two public elementary schools, one in South Carolina and one in Colorado, threatening legal action if they continue participating in Operation Christmas Child, which delivers thousands of shoe boxes stuffed with gifts to needy children throughout the world every year during the holidays. Along with containing small gifts, the shoe boxes also include a small note inviting recipients to join in Christianity. The American Humanist Organization argues that Operation Christmas Child's commitment to "[sharing] the life-changing Good News of Jesus Christ" means that public schools in the U.S. should not participate in the program.
In its letter sent to East Point Academy in West Columbia, S.C., the humanist association accuses the school of "promoting student participation" in the Operation Christmas Child program by encouraging students to assemble shoeboxes and donate money. According to the humanist organization, East Point Academy has been involved with Operation Christmas Child since 2011.
"Because the purpose and effect of Operation Christmas Child is to induce impoverished children to convert to Christianity, the school's promotion of this program violates the Constitution. The school must immediately suspend its unconstitutional participation in Operation Christmas Child," the letter states.
"The boxes of toys are essentially a bribe, expressly used to pressure desperately poor children living in developing countries to convert to Christianity, and are delivered with prayers, sermons, evangelical tracts and pressure to convert. While a private religious group is free to pursue such a goal, even through such questionable means, a public school cannot affiliate itself with, endorse, promote or support such a group's program without violating the Establishment Clause," the letter adds.
A similar letter was sent to SkyView Academy in Highlands Ranch, Colo., stating the atheist group's claim that the school's participation with Operation Christmas Child was unconstitutional. That elementary school has reportedly been involved with the program for several years in efforts to help needy children.
In response to the humanist association's letter, East Point Academy has already announced that it will cut ties with Operation Christmas Child to avoid any legal proceedings. Renee Mathews, school director at the South Carolina school, said in a letter to parents earlier this week that "in an abundance of caution because we do not want to expend school financial resources defending a lawsuit, we are not going to accept Operation Christmas Child boxes. If you and your child had planned to donate a shoebox of supplies, you are encouraged to find a charity of your choice for the gift."
The school in Colorado has yet to respond to the humanist association's letter.
Operation Christmas Child said in a statement to The Christian Post that it stands by its mission to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jesus Christ.
"Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization. As our name indicates, and as is communicated in all of our promotional materials and website, we are a project that aims to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas – the birth of Jesus. Our purpose is to show God's love in a tangible way to needy children around the world. We do this by distributing millions of shoebox gifts to hurting kids to let them know that they are not forgotten. Operation Christmas Child is open to anyone who chooses to participate in this Christmas project," the statement read.
More information on Operation Christmas Child can be found by clicking here.