Operation Christmas Child is an annual program operated by Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse. Every year, Americans fill millions of shoeboxes with toys, clothing, toiletries, and other necessities for children around the world.
Liberty Middle School in Pratt, Kansas, had been a part of that program before and was set to participate again this year, Christian Headlines reported.
That is until the Freedom From Religion Foundation — an atheists group known for harassing communities and schools that do not adhere to the organization’s absolutist stance on the separation of church and state — heard about it and sent a letter to the school district demanding that the school abandon its chartable efforts with Operation Christmas Child immediately.
In the letter to Superintendent Tony Helfrich, FFRF staff attorney Christopher Line claimed that a “concerned staff member” had contacted the organization to complain about “many egregious constitutional violations” at Liberty Middle School, including participation in Operation Christmas Child.
“Our complainant also reports that Principal Ryan Creadick has directed staff members to arrange for the school to participate in ‘Operation Christmas Child,’ which is a charity project sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse, which describes the program as a ‘shoebox ministry,'” Line wrote, insisting that the school “cease participation in Operation Christmas Child.”
FFRF’s letter said the charitable event was bad news for the school because it is sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse, which the atheist group decried as a “pervasively sectarian religious organization.” According to FFRF, by being involved with Operation Christmas Child, the school is essentially “employ[ing] school staff and resources to convert people to Christianity.”
School gives in
Upon receiving the letter, the Superintendent Helfrich caved and abandoned the annual Christmas charity.
FFRF touted its victory on its website Friday, and highlighted a statement of defeat from Helfrich.
“Regarding our students’ participation in ‘Operation Christmas Child,’ we are discontinuing that effort upon learning that its mission is more sectarian in nature than we realized,” the superintendent wrote in a letter to the organization.
The atheist group, acting as though it had uncovered some nefarious plot by Graham and his team, preened that it was “pleased that it was able to educate the school district about the true purpose of Samaritan’s Purse — and that the district officials were quick to see the light.”
“A lot of these groups rely on school authorities being ignorant about their mission,” FFRF co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said. “We appreciate how swiftly the district discontinued the fundraising after our alert.”
But should the school have sidelined Operation Christmas Child?
HillFaith, a Christian website geared toward U.S. congressional staff, said Wednesday that it asked First Liberty Institute’s Jeremy Dys if Liberty Middle School’s involvement with Operation Christmas Child would have been protected by the First Amendment.
“The reality is that Samaritan’s Purse is a social welfare organization. They exist to care for those in need — in the greatest of need across the world. Just because they are religious is no reason to exclude them from public,” Dys told HillFaith.
“Excluding an organization just because it is religious is the the very type of religious intolerance the First Amendment abhors,” Dys added. “FFRF and other Grinches would rather kids be denied the opportunity to care for kids who have nothing at Christmas than put up with the religious mission of Samaritan’s Purse.”