Thursday, March 24, 2016

How C. J. Huff invited one last lawsuit

It is always a volatile mix when you bring religion into public education.

When an anonymous woman filed a lawsuit against former Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff and North Middle School Principal Brandon Eggleston saying her children should not have been exposed to a field trip to Victory Ministry and Sports Complex, the reactions were predictable.

Many said they signed the permission slips for their children and had no problem whatsoever with the field trip and that it had nothing to do with religion.

Others noted that no one was forcing this woman's children to go on the field trip.

Some Turner Report readers and commenters on KZRG and other local Facebook pages attack the woman and her desire for anonymity.

For those old enough to remember my time as editor of the Carthage Press, I wrote about the subject of schools and religion many times. I covered the successful efforts of a group of Jasper students to start a Bible study and the long battle over whether a prayer could be given over the public address system before Lamar High School football games.

I was in the end zone on the south side of the Lamar football field when those protesting the decision (brought about by ACLU threats) of the Lamar R-1 Board of Education organized a prayer rally.

I was also there a few weeks later when Lamar High School student Lindsay Hughes restored the pre-game prayer, giving it over the public address system, as an activity that was organized by students and not by school officials.

I have absolutely no doubt that no form of religious activity took place during the North Middle School field trip to Victory Ministry and Sports Complex last May.

That being said, reading over the court documents, there is absolutely no doubt that C. J. Huff should have canceled the field trip and had Eggleston come up with some kind of alternative.reward for North students.

Huff was given that opportunity and elected to allow the trip to take place. Nothing in the court documents indicate what Huff's reasoning was. Perhaps he simply thought no one could believe that any proselytizing would be taking place during a trip that clearly had nothing to do with religion, or perhaps Huff did not want to offend Bright Futures' faith-based partners.

There would have been nothing wrong with fighting for the field trip ... had it not been for the permission slip.

Eggleston did not have the students use a Joplin R-8 permission slip. Instead, the students used slips provided by Victory Ministries, which included the following paragraph:

We understand that the officers, officials, agents, other participants, and employees of Victory Ministry and Sports Complex may be inviting me (or my) students to Bible studies or churches of he Christian faith. While at any Victory Ministry and Sports Complex location or event, my (our) student(s) has permission to participate in worship services, Bible studies, or other activities that may pertain to the Christian faith.

Huff was made aware of this permission slip and acknowledged the problems with it in his response:

Thank you for your email regarding your concerns over the field trip to Victory Gym. The trip is a celebration for the hard work the students did this year. The students voted for this location. The activities and approaches are completely secular in nature. The permission slip was the standard waiver of Victory Gym. We have not had any parents contact us about concerns, but if they do, we will assure them the secular nature of the trip. Your email brings a good point for us to review the waivers of locations better so our communication can be clearer. I believe removing the language on the waiver would have created more clarity and removed the confusion for the parents regarding the nature of the trip. Definitely something for us to be diligent towards in the future. Thank you, again. CJ

Any administrator who was paying attention would have realized that the one paragraph in the Victory waiver was enough to guarantee a lawsuit. At that point, there was still time to make alternate arrangements. Instead, Huff blithely ignored the threat.

The American Humanist Association lawyer made one more effort to convince Huff to stop the field trip. That, too, was unsuccessful.

And so, we have one last lawsuit provided to R-8 taxpayers by C. J. Huff.

Whether you agree with the stance taken by the American Humanist Association or not, this lawsuit could have been prevented...and should have been prevented.


Anonymous said...

Mixing religion with public Ed is a recipe for ligtigarion. Don't believe it. ask yourself how you would feel if the trip was to a Mosque. Then you would sue. That is why we separate the two!

Anonymous said...

DELTA, Colo. Some Delta parents are in an uproar, after both atheist and satanic literature will be distributed in Delta County high schools and middle schools on April 1st. The Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers say they are working with the Freedom From Religion Foundation to offer Delta students, alternative ways of thinking.

In December, Gideon bibles were distributed to Delta County students. The Western Colorado Atheist and Freethinkers say the distribution of those bibles prompted their desire to distribute atheist and satanic material as well.

"This is the other side of that,” explained Kurt Clay, the Assistant Superintendent. “The policy says we cannot discriminate what is handed out, we just have to follow the process.”

Anonymous said...

Amazing the things people are offended by these days. Just another way to be lazy and not have to work for a living. Just sue everyone and hope for a settlement. What a great way to live, but certainly in line with the moral decay of society. And no, I am not particularly a church going type of person so bring it on all of you God less Joplin And no I wouldn't be offended if the school used a long as religion wasn't taught to my child....which was the case here. And as for anonymity...if you are suing an organization that is funded with tax dollars, you should be required to give your name. Just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I find it humorous how the only problem that you have is not that the trip took place, or the nature of the trips, but that they school was asked not to go, and they did anyways... another example of Huff putting public tax dollars on the line, yada, yada, yada.

You spend much of this article defending faith in schools, basically saying that you think the lawsuit is malarkey , but because it's against Huff, then he's to blame. I'm not sure if you would have done anything different if you were in his shoes.

That's the fun part about these types of things is that God is involved. Huff probably prayed about it, and God told him to take the trip. When you an Evangelical , you have to put God into ALL of your actions, including telling non-believers to take a walk... we're going on this trip, and if you heathens sue us... well then God will take care of it.

The lawyers for the school have nothing to loose either, they get to be defenders of the Lord, and get paid by the public to do so.

I'm a person of faith, but I'm also a person of the law. It's to bad that many around here can't be both.

Anonymous said...

Christians want religious freedom, but they only want it for Christians.

Randy said...

To Anonymous 5:37: Please reread what I wrote. The permission slip clearly gave the people at Victory Ministry the right to promote Christianity and churches and that was clearly a violation. Once that was pointed out to Huff, he had ample time to make the correct move and cancel the field trip and find an alternate destination. His response to the American Humanist Association lawyer is indefensible.

Anonymous said...

The whole idea of organizing a school trip to a facility to one of the local christian madrasas was the problem. Not the wording of the permission slip, or that there was a complaint about the permission slip before the trip. No matter how attractive the facility or the temptations offered within it.

Anonymous said...

@Randy from 6:15am

I know this is an editorial piece and I appreciate that you report the news, events, updates on this case in an unbiased from. I appreciate that as no one else does on this or many other things going on in the community.

You state

“I have absolutely no doubt that no form of religious activity took place during the North Middle School field trip to Victory Ministry and Sports Complex last May….

There would have been nothing wrong with fighting for the field trip ... had it not been for the permission slip.”

While I can’t find other quotes I feel that you have highlighted in past editorials that your problem isn’t with Victory, the field trip, or religion in schools at all but with Huff’s recklessness.

I’m not trying to pick a fight...but I don’t know if you feel that taking a bunch of public school kids to a Christian based facility (not talking about eating at Chick-fil-A or shopping at Hobby Lobby) is okay, or if you are carefully covering yourself from the backlash of a large part of the community (and many...but not all of your readers) who sees no problem with the schools actions on this matter.