The Freedom From Religion Foundation is drawing attention to an evangelical Christian group that has been permitted by Georgia school districts to evangelize public school students while dressing up as popular superheroes like Captain America, Thor and Spider-Man.
A concerned district parent informed FFRF that Bryan County Schools recently gave access to an evangelical ministry called “Heroes Overcome” to recruit district students, including elementary school students, during the school day by putting on assemblies in several schools. During these assemblies, ministry members dress up as popular superheroes to entice children to come to religious presentations at local churches. Schools also reportedly sent home flyers inviting children to attend these preaching sessions.
The mission of Heroes Overcome is explicitly laid out on the group’s website: “Our mission as heroes is to help everyone discover the hero within themselves, with the Power of the Gospel of the Ultimate Hero Jesus Christ.” The website further explains, “Jesus Christ is the only real hero! He is king and ruler of all things. His mission was to leave heaven and come to this earth, to save us from all evil (your sin, my sin), and to teach us to love one another. Jesus gave up His life for you, and He loves you very much. He believer you are created perfect, to be the hero He created you to be!”
It is inappropriate to take away instructional time from students to expose them to a Christian proselytizing group, FFRF reminds the school district.
“It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion,” FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Chris Line writes to the school district’s legal counsel. “In Lee v. Weisman, the Supreme Court extended the prohibition of school-sponsored religious activities beyond the classroom to all school functions, holding prayers at public high school graduations an impermissible establishment of religion. Thus, recruitment for religious programming as part of a school assembly is in violation of the Establishment Clause.”
FFRF adds that elementary school-aged students are an especially vulnerable and captive audience. And official endorsement of such proselytization excludes the large portion of the student body that is nonbelieving (38 percent of Millennials are nonreligious).
Sometimes, Christian missionaries insinuate themselves into public schools by camouflaging their purposes. However, in this case, it would have taken only a cursory glance at the Heroes Overcome website to verify its religious agenda. It is difficult for FFRF to understand how this event could have been approved.
“A sectarian religious group cannot be authorized to come into a public school district and proselytize,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “Not only is this unconstitutional, it also makes students who belong to minority faiths or no faith at all feel excluded.”
FFRF is urging Bryan County Schools to ensure that no future assemblies from outside groups contain a proselytizing message or agenda.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its membership work to promote the viewpoint of freethinkers, including atheists and agnostics, and to protect the constitutional principle of separation between religion and government. FFRF has roughly 32,000 members and several chapters all over the country, including 500-plus and an Atlanta chapter in Georgia.