The hosting of a creationist event at an Effingham public school that was promoted during the school day has drawn the attention of a national civil rights group.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter to the Effingham Unit 40 School Board after it was reportedly informed by a concerned parent.
The foundation’s mission is to “promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.”
The program was conducted by the Creation Truth Foundation, which describes its mission as a restructuring of American society to a more biblical basis. The group believes everything was created within six days, as set out in the Book of Genesis.
The group held an instructional non-religious session for students on Jan. 26 at which students were able to examine dinosaur fossils and models provided by the group. During the school day, students were provided flyers about the event on Saturday at the grade school.
“We are aware that some Christian missionaries insinuate themselves into public schools through camouflaging their purposes and by professing to be experts in a secular field,” the foundation wrote.
However, public officials need to do their due diligence with groups that come in, the group added.
The group drew particular attention to the role of school board President Jeff Michael, who is also the pastor of Christ’s Church. Michael brought the program to the area.
The church rented the school from the district on Saturday for the program. Groups with religious or other beliefs can rent school facilities during non-school hours. However, the church offered to have the group make its Friday presentation during school hours and district officials agreed, according Michael. The flyer given to students made no mention of the Creation Truth Foundation, simply listing the Saturday event and some of the fossils on display.
The group said his involvement made it appear he was “deliberately using his position as school board president to promote his church’s religious mission.”
Michael previously told the Daily News “it was not anybody’s intent to be deceptive.”
He acknowledged they could’ve sought to be clearer in information about the difference between Saturday’s event and Friday’s presentation.
The board agreed, by letter, to make alterations as a result.
“The only oversight that occurred is that the district allowed flyers to be distributed to students concerning the weekend event during a secular presentation about dinosaurs to students at Central Grade School without thorough inspection. To correct this oversight in the future, the school district has implemented a practice that will require the superintendent of schools to approve in advance all flyers that will be distributed to students. This way we can help insure that no non-secular materials will be distributed to students,” Superintendent Mark Doan wrote in his reply letter.
Graham Milldrum can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 131 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.