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.