Ohio School Districts Suspend Student Bible Clubs Amid Complaints by Nation's Largest Atheist Group

Priscilla Gammon reads along in her Bible during a weekly Bible study meeting at the West Unity Methodist Church in Unity, New Hampshire July 5, 2011.
Priscilla Gammon reads along in her Bible during a weekly Bible study meeting at the West Unity Methodist Church in Unity, New Hampshire July 5, 2011. | (Photo: Reuters / Brian Snyder)

Bible study clubs at two schools in Ohio have been suspended following a complaint made by a Wisconsin-based atheist group.

The Columbus Dispatch reported Monday that two schools in Fairfield County have temporarily suspended their Bible clubs in response to a complaint letter sent by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

"[FFRF] sent letters to four school districts regarding Bible studies held in eight high schools, junior high schools and middle schools before class or on lunch breaks," reported the Dispatch.

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"Such groups violate protections of separation of church and state if they are led or regularly attended by local pastors, said Ryan Jayne, a legal fellow at the Wisconsin-based foundation."

Of special concern was the purported involvement of Faith Memorial Church of Lancaster, whose website temporarily listed the Bible clubs as places where their pastors speak.

Youth Pastor Aaron Green of Faith Memorial Church told The Christian Post that the pastors and the school administrators "have always had an extraordinarily great working relationship, one that has helped these groups to thrive and to be encouraged in a special way during the school day."

"I am not aware of any school administrator that is not supportive of these groups as well. However, most school districts have asked that youth leaders and volunteers to attend less often and only speak at the specific request of the students," said Green.

"Both youth leaders and schools are aware of the sensitive nature under which these things operate and need to be extra vigilant about rules governing separation of church and state."

Earlier this month the FFRF sent letters of complaint to officials at Lancaster City Schools, Bloom-Carroll Local School District, Fairfield Union Local Schools and Liberty Union-Thurston Local Schools.

In the letter sent to Lancaster City, FFRF called for an investigation into whether or not the Bible studies were being led by students rather than pastors.

"Public school districts must ensure that student religious groups are genuinely student-initiated and student-run, and that outside adults do not regularly participate in the clubs," read the letter.

"It is illegal for public schools to allow adults to lead religious instruction on school property during the school day. The Supreme Court ruled that a program that permitted religious instruction on school grounds violated the Establishment Clause."

The letter went on to state that if "FMC representatives have indeed been leading student Bible studies, those clubs are not bona fide student-initiated religious clubs and should be dissolved. ... Students would be free to re-establish the clubs, on their own initiative, in the future."

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