WCAF Student Essay Contest 2018:
Eligible entrants: High school and middle school students residing in Mesa County.
Topic question: “What is separation of church and state, and why is it important to maintaining our democracy?”
Deadline for submissions: December 15, 2018
Judging: WCAF Judges will have three months to evaluate entries and winners will be announced on or before March 15, 2019.
Award date: WCAF will give the awards to the winning students by March 30, 2018.
Essay Contest Rules:
– Minimum of 700 words
– Maximum of 1,000 words
– One submission per entrant.
– Entries shall be submitted in 16 point Helvetica font or handwritten in clear writing on lined paper.
– Email entries to WesternColoradoAtheists@yahoo.com with subject line “Essay contest submission,” or send entries via U.S. mail to WCAF Student Essay Contest, ℅ WCAF, P.O.Box 1434, Grand Junction, CO 81502.
– Entries must be postmarked or delivered to our Yahoo inbox before midnight on December 15, 2018 to be eligible. No late entries will be accepted.
– No one directly affiliated with WCAF is eligible to enter. Family members of WCAF board members are ineligible to enter.
– All submissions become the property of WCAF and will not be returned.
– Judges will consist of a panel of WCAF board members and volunteers.
– The winning essays will be posted on WCAF’s website and Facebook page, along with the authors’ name and school.
– The award for the top essay by a high school student will be $500.
– The award for the top essay by a middle school student will be $250.
– All awards will be in the form of a check from WCAF.
– Winners must be willing to attend an award ceremony, pose for a photo with their award check and allow WCAF to publish the photos, along with their names. Winners must be willing to read their essays publicly, have their and essays published publicly, and have their wins announced publicly.
– Winning essay authors will be notified on or as close to March 15, 2019 as possible.
– Prizes will be awarded by March 30, 2019.
December 17, 2017 – WCAF’s 2017 holiday billboard
WCAF posted a bright, digital billboard on I-70 B at Rimrock Marketplace, right in front of Hobby Lobby and Chick-Fil-A as a big “thank you” all the brave people in western Colorado who proudly came out as atheists this year. It’s up until December 23, and is on the side of the board that faces west, so people see it when coming into town:
November, 2017 – School District 51 continues to distribute religious promotions on it’s PeachJar electronic literature distribution system, while denying WCAF the ability to distribute it’s brochure on the system.
District 51 has allowed the following religiously-centered material to be distributed on PeachJar, while continuing to deny WCAF access to use the system to distribute a brochure to families letting them know our group exists, and what we do:
WCAF Awards Scholarship to Cidney Fisk, Who Blew the Whistle on Proselytizing in Delta, CO Schools
August 15, 2016 – Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers gave its biggest grant ever today when it awarded Cidney Fisk of Delta, Colorado a $4,325 scholarship to help her attend college at DU this fall. Cidney exposed rampant Christian proselytizing in Delta County’s public schools, as well as misplaced funding priorities that cause the school system to pour money into athletics while academics suffer. Students at the school use textbooks dating back to the 1980s, have a classroom full of broken computers and advanced placement students have to buy their own textbooks. All this was happening while the school put $32,000 into a new gym floor and bought all new wrestling mats.
WCAF to Award $4,325 to Student Who Exposed Christian Proselytizing in Delta Public Schools
August 10 2016 – On Monday, August 15, 2016 Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF) will award a $4,325 college scholarship to Cidney Fisk, the newly-graduated Delta High School student who exposed the pervasive Christian proselytizing in Delta County’s public schools. WCAF will hand over the check to Cidney at noon in front of Delta High School in Delta, Colorado.
Cidney is an award-winning, A+ student who excelled in speech and debate, but was punished for her opinions about the school, and her open critique of how the school system pushes religion on students.
The scholarship is WCAF’s largest to date. The group gave a $1,000 gift to the Mesa County Public Library Foundation in July of 2013 to help with construction of the new downtown Central Library, and in spring, 2016 donated $100 to Delta Middle School to help with minor repairs in the girls’ and boys’ restrooms in the school’s cafeteria.
Cidney graduated from Delta High School last May and was outspoken about the school bringing in Christian-based speaker Shelly Donahue, who gave an abstinence-only-before-marriage talk to students. This talk was nominally secular, but contained crucifixes in all the slides and Donahue told students that having premarital sex “puts you further from God.”
Cidney also served as student body treasurer at DHS and was critical of the school’s lopsided expenditures on athletics at the expense of academics. She pointed out publicly that the school lavished tens of thousands of dollars on items like a new gym floor and new wrestling mats, while Delta High had no library, all of the computers in her journalism classroom were broken and DHS students were using psychology textbooks from the early 1980s. The school also does not supply textbooks for Advanced Placement (AP) students, but makes parents of AP students buy their children’ textbooks, putting a substantial burden on low income parents of academically-advanced children.them further from God.” This talk the only “sex ed” most DHS students ever received from the school district, but it contained none of the state-required information about contraceptives, sexually-transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS or other information the state says public schools must give students if districts choose to teach sex education.
Cidney’s student government teacher gave her Fs because of her opinions about the school and for questioning authority, and her academic counselor threatened to damage her standing in student government and her ability to get grants and scholarships to college as long as Cidney kept criticizing the school.
Cidney told her story in a local blog titled “What it’s Like to be a Student With a Brain in the Delta County School District.” The blog got over 17,000 views in less than 36 hours, from all over the world. As a result of widespread interest in Cidney’s story, at the suggestion of a reader WCAF set up a scholarship fund to help Cidney go to college in Denver this fall, and donations poured in from all across the U.S. and four foreign countries. Some people even donated twice.
The scholarship funds will help Cidney pay for her college education. Cidney says she plans to major in political science and economics.
WCAF Designs New Brochure for Middle-School-Aged Kids Saying It’s Okay to Not Believe in God
January 23, 2016 – WCAF has designed a brochure appropriate for middle-school aged students that we hope to distribute to public school students across the western slope via appropriate channels. Here is the flier:
Citizens Protest District 51’s Use of Email System for Religious Promotion in Violation of District Policy
For Immediate Release: Friday, January 22, 2016
Contact: Anne Landman, Board Member at Large, Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (970) 216-9842 (voice and text)
Parents and citizens are complaining that School District 51 improperly used its internal email system to distribute a promotional flyer for a Christian event that uses Bible lessons to encourage young girls to remain “pure.”
The flier promotes a Christian religious seminar targeted at adolescent girls to be held at Colorado Mesa University called “Wake Up Sleeping Beauty – Worship At His Feet.” It describes the event as “An opportunity for girls to learn to worship God with their gifts and talents.”
The flier quotes scripture:
“As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. Luke 7:38.”
District 51 Policy KHB-R (pdf) prohibits distribution of advertising that “promotes any religious organization” or “demeans or ridicules a person or group on the basis of gender.”
M.Z., a District 51 parent who contacted Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF) and alerted the group to the policy violation, says the scripture describes a female humiliating herself at the feet of a male figure, is demeaning to girls, and as such is inconsistent with District policy that prohibits distribution of material that “demeans a person or group based on gender.”
“The idea of a woman or girl (‘she’) crying at a man’s feet, then using her hair to wash his feet, then kissing his feet, seems pretty demeaning to me,” said M.Z.
M.Z. complained about the flier and its distribution to D-51 Communication Specialist Jeannie Smith and pointed out the violations of District policy, but Smith quickly dismissed her complaint.
Here is Smith’s response to M.Z.:
“Having reviewed the flyer and KHB-R per your request, we do not find that the flyer promotes a religious organization or demeans a person or group on the basis of gender. “
Wake Up Ministries, operated by June Fellhauer of Grand Junction, puts on the Christian-based “Sleeping Beauty” purity seminars for girls. One of Fellahuer’s websites says,
“We will give everything about education back to God; buildings, teachers, students, administration, etc.” The ministry’s stated mission is to “Introduce [the next generation] to the saving grace of Jesus Christ and show them how to seek God’s will for their futures.”
Among other things, Fellhauer preaches to girls that they need to repent for spending time on IPads and iPhones and for using social media sites like Facebook, but Fellahauer herself makes broad use of social media. She has a Linked-In page, a personal Facebook page, a Wake Up Ministries Facebook page and promotes her purity seminars through YouTube, several websites, and a web-based event promotion service called EventBrite.
A local blog covering this incident has been reposted on several national websites like Alternet and Raw Story, resulting in thousands of views over the last two days and drawing widespread attention to District 51 and this issue. The story has even been translated into French and printed on a website in Quebec, Canada.
“People are appalled that District 51 used its email system to promote religion and disseminate scripture that humiliates girls, in clear violation of their own policy, and then deny they’ve done anything wrong,” said WCAF Board Member at Large Anne Landman. “At a minimum, D-51 officials need to do a better job of vetting material they send out on their email system, but really, parents of District 51 students deserve a public apology for this oversight.”
Delta Middle School Pushes Bibles on Students During Class
December 18, 2015 — The parent of a Delta County middle school student is reporting some of the most overt and egregious violations of separation of church and state yet found to be occurring in western slope public schools.
The parent’s child attends Delta Middle School (DMS) and reported to her mom on Friday, December 18, that her social studies class went to the school library with their teacher, Mr. Michael Long (firstname.lastname@example.org). Once in the library, Mr. Long “announced to the class that there were free bibles available” and students “could pick one up off of a table located in the doorway of the library and take it home.” A student who noted this overt violation of separation of church and state in a public school, took a photo of the bibles on the table and sent it via text to her mother, pointing out that the table with the bibles was located where students had to walk around it to enter and exit the library.
The student who did not take a bible was confronted by her classmates about why she didn’t take one, and the classmates started pressuring her to feel ashamed for not conforming to Christian beliefs.
After finding out bibles were being pushed on her child with the endorsement of the social studies teacher, the student’s parent, outraged, contacted DMS Principal Jennifer Lohrberg (email@example.com), to protest the overt endorsement of Christianity on school property and during school hours. Principal Lohrberg insisted the bible giveaway was all in accordance with school policy, and sent the upset parent a copy of Delta County School District’s policy governing posting and distribution of non-curricular literature. (pdf)
DMS Violates Its Own Literature Distribution Policy, Multiple Times — And Denies It
One must only read the Delta County School District’s policy to see DMS’ library bible giveaway violated the District’s literature distribution policy in four different ways.
1. District policy states that any “printed non-curricular material” cannot be distributed in “any classroom of any building when being occupied by a regularly-scheduled class.” The reporting student’s class was held in the school library on 12/18 so the class could do research. The library was the students’ classroom that day, during school hours. Moreover, this wasn’t the only class held in the library that day, or the only class that had bibles foisted upon them.
2. District policy states “Distribution [of non-curricular materials like bibles] may be made 1/2 hour before school and/or during regularly scheduled lunch periods…..Any other times during the school day are considered to be disruptive of normal school activities.” This student’s social studies class was held in the library at 9:40 a.m., during normal school hours. More than one teacher brought their class to the library during school hours that same day.
3. Delta School District policy states that “Students may not be used as the agents for distribution of such materials without the written consent of the student’s parents.” Mr. Long’s social studies students became agents for distribution when they started pressuring the reporting student to take a bible. No written consent was solicited from the parents of these students regarding solicitation of bibles.
4. District Policy states “No student may in any way be compelled or coerced to accept any materials being distributed by any person distributing such materials or any school official.” Both Mr. Long and his social studies students pressured the reporting student to take a bible. Another policy states teachers can not endorse the literature. Mr. Long endorsed the bible distribution when he told students “There’s bibles and they are free if you want one.”
Policy and Legal Violations Ignored by Principal, Assistant Superintendent
The glaring violations of Delta School District policy and the impermissible endorsement of religion on school grounds during class time alarmed the parent, who in turn immediately contacted DMS Principal Jennifer Lohrberg about it. Incredibly, Principal Lorhberg denied that any violations had occurred. She even assured the concerned parent all was done in accordance with school board policy and the bible giveaway had been approved by the District’s lawyers.
After being brushed off by Principal Lohrberg, the parent called the Delta County School District Assistant Superintendent, who similarly insisted the bible distribution was in accordance with District policy and the school was doing nothing wrong by making the bibles available. The superintendent suggested the concerned parent take the matter up with the School Board.
Fed up with the brush off and runaround from the Delta County schools, the parent is now saying “This is the last straw. I have had enough.” She intends to contact the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union and get any other assistance she needs to rein in the overt proselytizing taking place in Delta County public schools, and to protect her daughter’s right to be free of religious coercion in school.
Other incidents of religious proselytizing reported at Delta Middle School over the last year alone have included school staff mandating all middle school students attend a Christian religious play, students in the DMS drama club being forced to attend a Christian-themed musical performance while on a field trip to Denver last spring, and use of free doughnuts to coerce students to attend morning prayers led by a DMS teacher.
CMU to Force Christian Bibles on RN/BSN Grads; Nursing Students Fight it
November 10, 2015 – Students about to graduate from Colorado Mesa University RN/BSN nursing program are fighting a school-sponsored plan to hand out Gideon Bibles to nursing graduates after they step down from the dais at their pinning ceremony. The December 11 pinning ceremony is a symbolic welcoming of newly-graduated nurses into the nursing profession, and is the nursing students’ official, school-sponsored graduation ceremony.
Students Given No Choice
RN/BSN Nursing program administrators let students vote on many details of their own graduation ceremony, like the location and photographer, but made it clear to students that the Bible give-away was a non-negotiable part of the ceremony.
The Bibles are to be distributed by a local volunteer for Gideons International, a Christian evangelical organization that works to convert people to Christianity. According to their website, Gideons International is “dedicated to telling people about Jesus through sharing personally and by providing Bibles and New Testaments.” The Gideons are primarily known for putting Bibles in hotel and motel night stands, but they also distribute Bibles to elementary schools starting in the 5th grade, and to colleges, prisons, jails, hospitals and medical offices.
CMU nursing students who aren’t Christian and some who aren’t religious were appalled that they would be forced to either accept or reject a Christian Bible in front of the entire audience at their graduation ceremony. The students protested the Bible give-away to CMU president Tim Foster, but nursing program faculty attempted to ridicule the complaint and told students it is simply “what we do,” and they should just accept the Bible as a gift.
The disaffected students then contacted Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF), a group that advocates for the separation of church and state. WCAF wrote a letter (pdf) to CMU President Foster and Diana Bailey, the head of CMU’s RN/BSN program, on the students’ behalf explaining that many students in CMU’s 2015 nursing class who aren’t Christians find the Bible give-away offensive and improper. Under the law, WCAF said, the Gideons can give away Bibles, but only if they stand on city-owned sidewalk, well off school property, while they do it.
CMU Focuses Exclusively on Christianity
“It’s a blatant disregard of other peoples’ religion,” said one student, who wished to remain anonymous, to WCAF members. Another student wondered why just one religion would be represented at the ceremony. To be fair, the students said, CMU needs to distribute texts from other religions as well, like Books of Mormon, Korans and Talmuds.
The students have a point.
Public schools can’t do anything that gives the appearance of endorsing a single religion.
The Supreme Court, ruling (pdf) in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe (June 19, 2000), explained that,
“[S]chool sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are nonadherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community and accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.’”
Publicly-funded institutions like CMU have to stay neutral in matters of religion, and cannot do anything a reasonable person might construe as an endorsement of a particular religion.
And that’s exactly how the nursing students see the Bible give-away: as an improper endorsement of one and only one religion: Christianity.
The nursing students have three main goals:
- They want to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution and the potential for compromising their future careers locally,
- They want their entire class to be able to vote on the Bible give-away, and if a majority of the class approves of it, the students want other religious texts, as well as information on atheism, to be included in the give-away.
- The want CMU to acknowledge that the Bible give-away violates the law, and they want to keep future nursing classes from having to grapple with this same issue over again in future years.
One thing that’s working in the nurses’ favor is Gideons’ own internal policy governing the distribution of Bibles in schools. Gideon International’s Form 115 policy on school scripture distribution (in Section 4-1, under “Reaching the Hearts of our Young People”) says,
“If any method of distribution [at a school] has the potential to create media publicity, the distribution must be cancelled or postponed.”
If CMU refuses to work with the nursing students to change or eliminate the Bible give-away, WCAF has vowed to contact the local media, protest at the pinning ceremony and, if necessary, contact the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) for legal help fighting it.
George Carlin on Religion
In this humorous video, comedian George Carlin makes excellent points illustrating the utter absurdity of many popular Christian fables like God, hell, divine plans, the effectiveness or lack thereof of prayer and other topics. Laugh and learn!
WCAF issued following press release October 10, 2015, in response to news reports about “Take Your Bibles to School Day,” promoted by Focus on the Family:
For immediate release: October 10, 2015
Contact: Anne Landman, WCAF Board Member at Large (970) 216-9842
Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers Approves of “Take Your Bibles to School Day”
Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF), the western slope’s premier advocacy group for secular belief systems and separation of church and state, wholeheartedly approves of “Take Your Bibles to School Day,” sponsored by Focus on the Family.
“There are already thousands of fictional books in schools and we see no harm in adding one more,” said WCAF Board Member, Mike Avila. “We’re glad that children are reading books about they mythologies they love best, whether it is the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Koran, the Upanishads, Paul Bunyan, books about the feathered snake Quetzalcóatl, or whatever.
WCAF wholeheartedly endorses the right of all Americans to read and enjoy any book they like, and to take it wherever they want, whenever they want.
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March 25, 2015
Look for WCAF’s upcoming digital billboard on I-70 Business Loop, right by Hobby Lobby and Chick-Fil-A, starting April 1. The billboard was the product of many generous and enthusiastic donations of money and talent by WCAF members and supporters across the area.
Thanks to outreach efforts like the billboard, our advocacy for separation of church and state, and growth in the number of nonbelievers on the western slope we’ve been expanding! In 2014 WCAF started a new branch in Montrose, called Humanists, Atheists, Freethinkers and Agnostics, or HAFTA Montrose. The group is growing rapidly. If you aren’t a believer, you just “HAFTA” belong! We’d also like to announce that a new secular group, not affiliated with WCAF, has formed in beautiful Ridgway, Colorado, called the San Juan Secular Society. They meet every first Wednesday of the month at the Trail Town Still in Ridgway.
Violation of separation of church and state reported in a western slope school district:
March 2, 2015
My daughter brought home a permission slip for a 3 day field trip to Denver with the drama class. The field trip has lots of fun stuff like the butterfly gardens, but it also includes a trip to the Christian based play ” Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat”. I just don’t understand why the school has to continue to push Christianity onto my child. This is really getting out of hand. I signed the permission slip, paid for the field trip and sent a hand written letter. In the letter I reminded them of the first amendment and informed them they are violating the establishment clause ( I cited Fed. court cases just incase they need more information.) I also suggested they find a different play or a more suitable option for that time slot.
I thought you might like to know what’s going on down here. I feel like I live in crazy town. It will be interesting to see how things turn out. I’ll keep you posted. Have a great evening.
Violation of separation of church and state reported at Delta Middle School (submitted by a supporter in Delta via our web form):
Received December 10, 2014
Subject: Delta Middle School
A teacher named named Mrs. Charlesworth teaches reading and writing at Delta Middle School. She likes to share her Christian beliefs with the class. One day she told the class non Christians were bad people. A student said that the non Christians were the people who bombed people and she did nothing to correct the conversation. On Friday 11-5-14 all DMS students were forced to watch an 1.5 hour long play about the baby Jesus. My daughter repeatedly ask if she could leave the play because she thought it was inappropriate for school. The teachers would not let her leave. My daughter felt like she was forced to attend a Christian church. my daughter has also been forced to read a book called “The Witness.” She said it has a lot of God stuff in it. I haven’t read it yet. I met with the principal and vice principal of DMS today 12-10-14. I informed them they were violating Church and state rules. They told me the play would never be performed in DMS ever again and the Christian bias would stop. They also assured me my child would treated with respect and would not suffer because I complained. Several hours after my meeting with the principals my daughter was singled out and yelled at by Mrs Charlesworth, in front of the entire class. My daughter is being retaliated against for asserting her rights. I will be speaking to the principal again tomorrow 12-11-14.
WCAF Says “Help Hungry Kids this Halloween”
October, 2014 – How much money will you spend on Halloween candy this year? And how much good does that really do?
Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers thinks some of that money can do a lot more good if applied to help alleviate hunger in our community.
Sadly, an astonishing number children in our own area suffer from food insecurity.
Mesa County’s poverty level is significantly higher than the state’s as a whole, making life difficult not just for local parents, but for their kids, too. Thirteen percent of Mesa County families live below the federal poverty level, compared to 8.9 percent for the rest of the state. More than half of the students attending Mesa Valley School District 51 schools qualify for the free and reduced lunch program, and a fairly large number of kids who don’t qualify still go hungry because of poor parental behavior.
This Halloween, Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers urges people to consider taking the money you would normally spend on candy — and maybe just a little more — and donating it to Kids Aid, the local nonprofit that provides backpacks full of non-perishable foods to kids who would otherwise go hungry over the weekends.
Kids Aid currently sends home a phenomenal 1,800 backpacks of food every week to students in all District 51 schools. The need in our community is very real.
Few kids suffer from a shortage of candy at Halloween, and obesity and diabetes are growing problems for young children. At the same time, many local kids are suffering from a chronic shortage of real, nutritious food.
Four dollars worth of candy money will feed a child for one whole weekend. Sixteen dollars of candy money will feed a child for a month, $48 worth of candy money will feed a child for a quarter and $128 worth of candy money will feed a child for an entire school year.
Few kids need more candy at Halloween, but a lot of kids need more nutritious food.
WCAF urges people to put their candy money to better use this year and turn Halloween in Mesa County into a helping holiday for hungry kids.
Send donations to
P.O. Box 2569
Grand Junction, CO 81502
…or donate through Kids Aid’s website at KidsAidColorado.org
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WCAF to Meet in Ridgway on May 4, 2014
WCAF will hold its first-Sunday-of-the-month meeting in Ridgway May 4, at 1:00 PM at the Trail Town Still, 240 Palomino Trail, Suite A in Ridgway. The Trail Town Still is southwest Colorado’s premier craft distillery. To get to the Still, take Highway 50 to the traffic light in Ridgway and turn left. The still will be on the right, behind the gas station.
The Still was established by WCAF’s former president and secretary.
We’re taking our meeting on the road to give people in the Montrose/Ridgway/Telluride/Ouray a chance to get together and enjoy some conversation with fellow atheists, agnostics, humanists and freethinkers, and possibly form a group in that area. Come join us! For more information call Anne at (970) 216-9842.
Letter-to-the-Editor (via email) in the March 24, 2014 Daily Sentinel:
Religious puppet show at Fruita dinosaur museum lured viewers in under false pretenses
I am a mother of five who has held a family museum membership for several years. This past fall I was very upset by an incident at the Dinosaur Days exhibit in the Fruita museum, but was initially reluctant to speak out. The recent attention to church advertisement in a District 51 school compels me to write this letter now. I hope that the lateness of this statement does not in any way minimize what remains an important issue.
The schedule of events at Dinosaur Days included a puppet show. All five of my children were very excited to see the puppets perform. The schedule of events gave no indication as to what sort of performance this would be, but obviously I assumed it would be related in some way to dinosaurs.
My children and I were near the front of the queue when it was time to enter, so we were able to sit in a nice location near the performance area. The announcer introduced the puppet troupe as hailing from a local church, which had not been mentioned in the printout I had viewed, but did not initially concern me.
The puppets popped up wearing cute dinosaur shirts and the dinosaur-themed puppet show began … or so I thought. It became immediately apparent that the puppet show consisted entirely of church-related themes and had absolutely zero content about dinosaurs. This was very stressful to me. as my home is not a religious one and no one in my family actively practices any religion.
The conversations I have had with my own children regarding religion are that when they are old enough to evaluate, apply logic and consciously choose a religion, then they are welcome to do so. I was incensed to have a religious presentation foisted on my children in disguise as a learning or entertainment experience about dinosaurs.
It would have upset my children to leave the performance, and since we were seated near the front, it would have disrupted other attendees, as well, so we remained seated. It is my recollection that every song performance by the puppet troupe was a Christian song, including “God is greater than the Boogie Man” and “My God,” sung to the tune of “My Girl.” I am absolutely certain that there was zero content regarding dinosaurs, aside from the aforementioned dinosaur on the puppets’ shirts.
The show both began and ended with an invite for children to attend the church. Children stood at both doorways offering flyers for the church as attendees left the room.
It is highly inappropriate for any type of religious indoctrination in an environment in which families come to learn about science and enjoy a museum. This was not a learning experience of any kind, but was proselytizing at its most blatant. The fact that the show was not advertised as being Christian in nature or performed by a church is most concerning, because it seems designed to trick families and children into sitting through a live advertisement for a church. A puppet show at Dinosaur Days by the church could have been appropriate had it been devoid of religious content and actually included material about dinosaurs.
At the absolute very least, the show should have been described on the schedules as being put on by a church and containing religious themes, so parents could make the informed decision on whether or not it would be appropriate for their families to attend, based on their choices about how to present religious information to their children.
KARA M. TAYLOR
In March, 2014, WCAF drew attention to the promotion of a youth recreation facility called “4640” owned by Fellowship Church in local public schools. As a result we received a number of comments from people discussing proselytizing in local schools.
Comments received from District 51 students and parents about proselytizing in District 51 schools:
“Having a child in middle school in District 51, our family has had to deal with 4640. Our student has peers that pass invitations to 4640 at school to other students. A lot of pressure is put on recruitees to attend, ‘it’s the coolest place in Grand Junction!’ ”
— A District 51 parent
“I personally have experienced this VERY activity during my time in a D51 school, as at the time the district-wide student council day retreat was held in… drumroll… Fellowship Church. And they managed to squeeze in plenty of bible talk between the scheduled activities and speakers. I thought it was wrong then, and I continue to think it is wrong now. In that particular situation we were bussed in, so had no way of leaving the facilities to not participate in the religious activities and dogma plastering the wall….I have had experience with the aforementioned Student Council event, as well as directly witnessing school staff members working with church officials on how to further those activities. I went to administration about the issues I had seen and was quickly shut down.
—A former District 51 student who now attends Colorado Mesa University
“I went to a D-51 school and distinctly remember an abstinence-only presentation put on by a church in which students rolled dice to find out which STD they might get. It was very awkward. Not to mention creepy that a church was putting on a presentation in our school. I’m not sure if it was Fellowship or not.”
–Former Plateau Valley School student, circa 2000
I have seen the same in Fruita. Mostly at 8/9. Also the choir songs are almost all religious. — District 51 parent
If you have time to visit the halls at GJHS, the place is plastered with posters and stickers. — District 51 parent
I have a lot to say about this, but won’t. I’ll just stick with – I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed. — District 51 parent
A Grand Junction resident also reported that while he attended a District 51 school, her son was recruited to attend Camp Redcloud, based in Lake City, Colorado, a religious camp founded “to serve and minister to the kids of Western Colorado and beyond.” It’s mission is “To develop Christ-like character through challenge, empowering us to transform our world for a lifetime of true adventure.”
WCAF Press Release:
Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers Condemns Proselytizing in District 51 Schools
For Immediate Release: February 21, 2014 Contact: Anne Landman, WCAF Board Member at Large, (970) 216-9842
A member of Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF) reports that on February 11 his child, who attends Grand Mesa Middle School, came home from school with a flier promoting a facility called “4640” in Grand Junction. The flier was a release of liability form stating that kids could go to the 4640 center to enjoy “spider jumps,” a “giant swing,” a “foam pit” and a “sports court.”
4640 is a new, youth-centered recreation facility created by Fellowship Church to attract children and indoctrinate them into Christianity. Fellowship Church’s Facebook page for the 4640 youth center states that “The mission of 4640 is to reach young people with the Message of Jesus. Teach them with truth from God’s Word. Tend to their physical, spiritual and emotional needs. Send them out to be leaders for Christ in their generation.” 4640’s website page for middle school children says,
“A couple bucks will buy you more junk food than your mom would approve of. We’re talking about snacks high in sugar, low in nutritional value — just the kind of fuel you need to have a blast with your 500 other Middle School friends!”
“Ever seen anybody eat a live cricket? Our Youth staff will do anything it takes to blow your mind.”
Our member’s child reported that he and his classmates were shown a video presentation about the 4640 facility during gym class and were told to pick up fliers and permission slips on hand after the presentation. The students were told the name “4640” comes from a section of the Bible meaning “John 6:40.” WCAF is also aware that similar promotions occurred at other District 51 Schools around this same time, including at Central and Grand Junction High Schools.
WCAF condemns School District District 51 for allowing Fellowship Church to use school time and facilities to promote its religious youth facility. The GMMS principal, responding to our member parent, said he was out of town at the time of this promotion and knew nothing about the video, and that he ordered the fliers pulled down because they did not bear an approval stamp from District 51. He also said the presentation itself similarly was not approved. Teachers need to get prior approval for any videos shown in class.
Allowing a church to proselytize in public schools is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which requires separation of church and state. Students are free to engage in religious activity on their own time and off school grounds, but the use of taxpayer-funded class time to promote a church-owned facility created to indoctrinate children is a clear violation of the law and should not be tolerated.
So far District 51 has failed to return calls from our member parent about the incident. This shameful lack of response, and the incidents themselves, are unacceptable. District 51 needs to send letters to all affected parents and students dispelling the suggestion that District 51 supports this religious facility in any way.
Further, School District 51 should reinforce to all school personnel, and in very clear terms, that religious-themed presentations during school time and on school premises are illegal and should not be permitted.
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Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF) was organized in February, 2007 in Grand Junction, to add a long-missing secular voice to the community dialogue in western Colorado. WCAF’s goals are to inform and educate the public in Western Colorado about atheism, to promote atheism through appropriate public and community activities, to actively preserve and promote the separation of religion and government and promote the acceptance of atheism as a valid belief system. WCAF also provides western Colorado atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and humanists with a way to connect with each other, share information, enjoy social activities, develop new friendships and enjoy freethinking conversation. We are a IRS registered 501(c)3 charitable group, and are also a registered charity with the State of Colorado.
Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce President Diane Schwenke’s Anti-Atheist Facebook Post
Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce president Diane Schwenke publicly offended the local secular community by putting up an anti-atheist post on her personal Facebook page on May 5, 2013. As Ms. Schwenke says, she found this nasty joke “just too good not to share,” so we are sharing it with WCAF fans. Since when is it okay for the president of the local Chamber of Commerce to offend minority groups like this? Is it more politically safe to publicly attack atheists than, say, Jews, Mennonites, Latinos or African Americans? And to make matters worse, the G.J. Chamber continues to get public funding from the City of Grand Junction! A larger screenshot of Diane Schwenke’s Facebook Page with her joke and affiliation with the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce can be seen here.
Here’s a photo of Diane Schwenke:
…and here’s a copy of her Facebook page, containing her bigoted May 5 post that also states her affiliation with the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce: