by Max Brantley
The blog reported yesterday about a complaint by the Freedom from Religion Foundation about the broad access religious groups have enjoyed in Conway public schools at lunch and other free time.
The groups, in theory, are only socializing with existing members, not proselytizing, teaching religion or recruiting members. Some parents think they are doing those sorts of religious establishment things. Conway Superintendent Greg Murry said he intended to review the policy and make a report to the school board. He insisted the school district didn't intend to promote religious group recruitment in schools.
But whoa: It looks like he's ceded the review of the matter — and even speaking on the subject and recommendations — to the Liberty Institute, not exactly a neutral observer. From the Log Cabin:
The district reached out Friday to Liberty Institute, a nonprofit organization "dedicated to restoring and defending religious liberty across America," according to a news release and General Council Jeff Mateer. The district's move comes after the district received letter, dated Oct. 26, from Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit group that advocates for separation of state and church nationwide.
Liberty Institute will also be speak for the district on this issue from now on, Murry and Mateer said. Murry referred questions to Liberty Institute when asked how he decided to hire the group.
It is a conservative Christian advocacy group that has worked in the cause of advancing overt religious expression in public schools. From Wikipedia:
Liberty Institute has since shifted focus to providing pro bono legal assistance to Christian people and organizations that they believe are suffering religious persecution in the United States, such as students, veterans, and pastors whose religious free exercise rights they believe are being violated.
Disappointing. Murry sounded like a straight shooter when I spoke with him yesterday. But if he's turned speaking and press releases for a taxpayer-financed entity over to a Christian advocacy group, I misjudged.
To the religionists, it is persecution if they may not evangelize n public schools. Parents who've complained about this are not happy about the turn of events. They best prepare to get unhappier.
From the Liberty Institute website's pitch for money:
Your gift now will help us be prepared to fight back against the attacks on religious liberty by the ACLU, Freedom from Religion Foundation and other anti-religious groups.
The group was founded by Kelley Shackelford, a Texas lawyer who's made a specialty of suing over religious issues. Right Wing Watch provides a good look at the work of Shackelford, who apparently is now effectively in charge of administration of Conway public schools. Most recently, he was linked up with faux historian David Barton about "religious hostility" in America. Want hostility? Try to keep folks like this from cramming their preferred brand of prayer down kids' throats in public schools, then you'll see some hostility.