Atheists Battle Christian Good News Club's Influence in NY Elementary School With Secular 'Better News Club'

(Photo: Reuters/Rick Wilking)First grader Adam Kotzian (C) does a spelling drill with classmates in his classroom at Eagleview Elementary school in Thornton, Colorado, March 31, 2010.

In an attempt to counter the influence of a Christian student group called the Good News Club at a New York public elementary school, atheist parents have created their own organization for young children that will hold its first meeting on Thursday.

Atheist activists with the Better News Club have created a student group called the Young Skeptics for Fairbanks Road Elementary School in Churchville in response to the Child Evangelism Fellowship's Good News Club's chapters, which it claims are advancing "a form of psychological abuse."

Established in 1937, the CEF has three ministry programs: Good News Club, the 5-Day Club, and the Truth Chasers Club. "The Good News Club and 5-Day Club ministries take place in neighborhood settings such as homes, backyards, schools and community centers all over the world. These fast-paced, one-hour programs are designed to bring the Gospel of Christ to children on their level in their environment," reads their website.

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(Photo: Courtesy of Child Evangelism Fellowship)Moisés Esteves, vice president of Child Evangelism Fellowship.

Kevin Davis, communications director for Young Skeptics and the Better News Club, told The Christian Post that Young Skeptics is an "alternative" to Good News Club, one that is "a club for kids that emphasizes critical thinking and evidence-based learning, empowering kids to ask questions and make decisions for themselves, based on what they discover."

"Young Skeptics is not a club about atheism, despite the religious affiliation of its founders. There is no mention of religion in any of our curriculum, and we don't plan to discuss it," Davis said. "Our group is open to children and parents of all faiths, and is simply focused on critical thinking, evidence-based learning, and the scientific method. Faith need not be viewed as mutually exclusive with these principles."

Davis also told CP that while Young Skeptics in Churchville, New York, is their only club so far, they've "been contacted by several organizations around the country who are interested in partnering with us in the future to start similar clubs elsewhere."

The Better News Club claims that it doesn't seek to convert students to atheism, but rather to advance rational thinking. "Young Skeptics is not on a mission to challenge the religious views of children attending the group. Instead, our goal is to provide children with an alternative, and scientifically based, view of the natural world around them."

The Good News Club has been criticized in the past by church-state watchdog groups for its program of proselytism being brought to public school facilities.

In 2001, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Good News Club et al v. Milford Central School that Good News Club has the right to hold meetings after school hours.

"We conclude that Milford's restriction violates the Club's free speech rights and that no Establishment Clause concern justifies that violation," the Supreme Court concluded.

"When Milford denied the Good News Club access to the school's limited public forum on the ground that the club was religious in nature, it discriminated against the club because of its religious viewpoint in violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment."

Moisés Esteves, vice president of USA Ministries for CEF told CP that they had not had competition from other student groups in the past.

"There are many different types of clubs for children in schools around the country. We have not experienced competition from any other types of clubs," said Esteves. "Child Evangelism Fellowship has been teaching for 77 years what the Bible has been teaching for 2,000 years: Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

Esteves also told CP about the feedback that CEF and Good News Club typically gets from schools they meet at, saying they get "positive responses from children, parents and school staff."

"A survey was done with over 200 principals (of schools with Good News Clubs) from 28 states. Eighty-seven percent of those principals had personal knowledge that the GNC has been a positive experience for their school," said Esteves.

"GNCs are so beneficial that there have been many situations where schools requested them."