Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Huff, R-8 officials received numerous warnings Victory Ministries lawsuit would be filed

The buck stops here worked in the Truman Administration, but not the Joplin R-8 School District during C. J. Huff's tenure.

In a sworn statement filed today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Huff denied responsibility for the May 7, 2015, field trip taken by North Middle School eighth graders to Victory Ministries and Sports Complex, throwing two of his former employees under the bus.

"Those with authority to review, approve, or reject (field trips) would be, from top to bottom, (Executive Director of Secondary Instruction) Jason Cravens and (North Middle School Principal) Brandon Eggleston."

The court documents, however, indicate that Huff involved himself in the situation concerning the North Middle School trip, dashing off an e-mail to a lawyer threatening legal action making light of the situation.

Huff's statement that the buck stopped with Cravens came in his answers to interrogatories from the lawyer for Jane Doe, the North Middle School parent who filed the lawsuit on behalf of her child, who was an eighth grader at North at the time of the field trip.

The interrogatories were included among dozens of exhibits filed by Jane Doe to support a motion for summary judgment.

The documents detail the steps taken by school officials after they were alerted two days before the trip that it could very well cause such a legal action.

Huff, Cravens, and Eggleston were all aware of e-mails from three sources noting that in order for students to attend the field trip, they had to sign a consent form provided by Victory, which allowed Victory employees to talk about religion to the students:

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

Hemant Mehta, a reporter for an online magazine,, brought up the permission slip, as well sa the trip, in a May 5, 2015 e-mail to Eggleston, a copy of which was sent to Huff.

"Obviously, this is a problem. I'm not a lawyer, but I suspect taking kids to a Christian ministry when they could be subject to proselytizing from staffers (while their parents aren't around) is illegal.

"I'm curious why the administration felt this would be okay."

Huff contacted Cravens, forwarding Mehta's e-mail adding one sentence. "Jason, this one is all yours, CJ."

After receiving the e-mail, Cravens contacted Eggleston, asking for a scanned copy of the permission slip to help him respond to Mehta. In his response to Cravens, Eggleston explained the eighth grade outing.

I just sent you a scan of the permission slip and release form. It is a MAP celebration for students that attended all days of the MAP testing, exhibited appropriate behavior and work ethic during the testing time. 

The student body had three choices of which to vote from, Mini-golf, Bowling, and Victory. Overwhelmingly, the student body chose Victory. The form sent home to parents was accompanied with a permission slip. It is not mandatory for students to go and if a parent objects to their child going, they do not have to go. We will be there from 9-12 and students are supervised by teachers and administrators.

In the meantime, Huff was contacted by David Niose, legal director for the American Humanist Organization, who also noted the permission slips and the nature of the Victory Ministries and Sports Complex mission. In Huff's response, he acknowledged that the wording of the permission slip was "unfortunate" and that the district would not make the same mistake again. He noted that the students had voted to go to Victory. Though there was still time to change the plans and alternative sites for an outing were available, Huff made no mention of even giving a thought to changing the field trip, which caught Niose off guard.

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

Niose responded:

I must say your response is quite surprising. First, it matters not that the children voted to go to this destination. The Establishment Clause is not subject to majority votes. Second, although you choose to call the destination "Victory Gym," the facility is in fact "Victory Ministries and Sports Complex." 

 As for the trip being ostensibly "secular," that claim is quickly impeachable simply by looking at the web site. See their "About" page (a screen shot is attached to this email). They list three purposes (all religious) and eight goals (seven of which are expressly religious). They even utilize a cross in their sign. Any pretext that this is a "secular" trip is laughable - even if aggressive proselytizing doesn't occur, clearly efforts to influence the children will abound. I'm trying to be as straightforward with you as possible, so that we can avoid needless litigation. How do you think non-Christian parents would feel about their child being brought to this destination by their tax-supported public school? Our organization has litigated cases in Missouri before (we settled a lawsuit against the Fayette school district just last year), and we will not hesitate to do so again. You've been forewarned.

In addition to Mehta and Niose, Jane Doe had contacted former Missouri Southern State University professor Scott Cragin, who e-mailed Eggleston May 6, the day before the field trip, sending a copy to Joplin Globe Editor Carol Stark.

I received a letter from a North Middle School parent who is so concerned for his own child that he did not want to be identified. If you have not already heard from the AHA or FFRF, (Freedom From Religion Foundation) you should know that what you have planned for tomorrow is very likely against the law. I wondered if you could provide an explanation for me, the concerned parent, the SSA, and Carol Stark at the Joplin Globe why you are sending students to this event that is clearly sponsored by a religious group. "Ministry" is part of their name, so this can come as no surprise to you.

 Cragin was particularly disturbed by the section of the permission slip that allowed Victory employees to talk about religion to the students:

 Is any more evidence even necessary?I am also a member of Joplin Freethinkers. I am encouraging all organizations that respect the separation of church and state to make their voices heard on this issue. I'm sure the scheduling of the event on the "National Day of Prayer" was a coincidence, too. Please explain to us why this is not an offensive, illegal activity.Thank you for your time.

Eggleston forwarded the message to Cravens, who contacted the district's communications director, Kelli Price, including the following message:

FYI--another one to Brandon. I told he (sic) to use the language I used in the response to the blogger. These make me tempted to not even respond when they take this type of tone. What do you think?

Price's thoughts went immediately to protecting Superintendent C. J. Huff's pride and joy, Bright Futures:

It's best to respond.This leads to activist territory where we could be questioned on everything including the faith-based groups we have in our schools through programs like Bright Futures. Your original response was fine. How frustrating that the parent did not pick up the phone and call for an explanation. Did Brandon reach out?

While dealing with the e-mails, Eggleston was also working with officials at Victory to make sure there would be no problems. Court documents indicate he called to make sure there would be no problems with the students being approached with any type of religious message. The people at Victory assured him there would be no problems.

In a deposition, Victory CEO Jack Frost said he provided Eggleston with a way out, saying he had no problem if the school officials wanted to simply mark out the section of the permission slip that was creating the problem.

Though no explanation was offered (it was likely many of the permission slips had already been returned) Eggleston and R-8 officials did not take Frost up on his offer.

After talking to Victory officials, Eggleston responded to Cragin's e-mail:

Thank you for your email regarding our trip. Our students worked extremely hard on the state assessment and this trip is a product of their time, effort, and energy. The student body voted on the location of the trip and Victory confirmed with me that there will not be any bible studies, worship services, or other activities pertaining to the Christian faith. I have not had any direct phone calls from parents of North Middle School students concerning this trip, and I am confident that our students will not be subjected to faith based activities. I was assured by Victory that this would be the case, otherwise our students would not be taking the trip. In the future if we use this venue for trips we will ask for the wording on Article 6 of their standard release form be changed or omitted for public schools. 

The documents that were filed today indicate that the lawsuit's scope has broadened beyond the North Middle School field trip and includes other activities that the district has held at Victory, including those held by the Life Choices group the district contracts with to teach sex education and high school groups Fusion and its predecessor Link Crew.


Anonymous said...

I just don't get it! Today's society is all about tolerance, acceptance, and understanding. Unless it's about Christianity... I have no problem with my kids being exposed to things that I don't believe are right. I am agnostic, my best friends are Atheist, Catholic, and Christian. I love them all. I would never fear that my kids would be corrupted by hanging out with any of them. The kids voted. Victory is a fun place. And if their horizons are broadened by learning another lifestyle, all the better. I will never condone the censorship of another's beliefs to validate my own. This whole story makes me feel sad for humanity.

Anonymous said...

Eggleston is a CJ clone.

Anonymous said...

It is time to legally classify religion to specify it for exactly what it is, namely entertainment.

Subscriber said...

11:42 - Agree; well said.
1:50 - Disagree

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Was an alternate activity opportunity provided for kids who did not want to go and/or parents who did not want their kids to go to go to Victory?

Randy said...

The court documents indicate that the alternate activity would have been sitting at the school while the other students were at Victory. The documents also note that students voted on three possible activities- bowling, miniature golf, and going to Victory with approximately 90 percent of the students voting to go to Victory, according to Eggleston.

Anonymous said...

Well, 11:42, if you like the idea of your children having their horizons broadened by learning another lifestyle, I'm sure you'd have absolutely zero issue sending your kids to one of those skin-head camps so close to you in southern MO - The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord comes to mind. Hand little Suzie a Ar-15 and teach her to mow down paper targets while her little brother Bobby gets his head shaved. It's all in the name of diversity, isn't it? Get those kids in that KKKLan meeting and let them see how others think! Or, send your kids to Mosque during Ramadan, they will pray all day, fast all day, but be able to break that fast with a meal in the Mosque around 6 PM - and don't forget to send their prayer rug, and make sure they know what direction is East. If neither of those scenario's appeal to you, there's a church camp in South Dakota where they do preach Christianity, but they'll hand your kid a spear and teach her how to defend herself and kill in the name of that almighty Christ, while dressing her up in rags and calling her a member of the Army of God - oh, but wait, the local Pro-Forced Birthers group makes it a point to take about a dozen kids a week down to the local Planned Parenthood Office, where they teach the kids to scream obscenities while waving signs at the men and women going in and out for health care - that should really broaden Suzie and Bobby's horizons's, shouldn't it? Get them out there in the real world and let them see what hate is! Think of what they will learn and how wide their horizons will be! Well, what are you waiting for? Pick one activity above and put your kids on the bus, cause it's all about the kids!

Anonymous said...

Here we go again! The so called "tolerant" liberal movement is destroying what the country was built on. Religious freedom! Shameful. I am sure I will be eaten alive by the left-wingers that read this page. Oh well, nobody ever said it would be easy as a Christian. Luckily, the City of Joplin is getting rid of some of those who believe in this. Namely, some of the agnostic/liberal women on the city council (whom never spoke)! Go students for standing firm for Victory ministries.

Anonymous said...


It wasn't a matter of being simply "exposed." To me that means that there would be some literature around or some signs on the walls. The permission slip clearly states that visitors will participate in Bible study and activities. That is very broad. I have always tried to practice the teachings of Christ as depicted in the Gospels, but the Bible is interpreted in many ways, some that I find unacceptable. I want to be the one who teaches my child what the Bible says, and I don't want someone with other beliefs to instruct my child in Biblical study without my knowledge. We have that Constitutional right in America. It should be as prized as the current rage about the right to own any kind of weapon, to have freedom of speech, and to have freedom of the press. I don't send my child to school to be exposed to other religions, particularly this young. This wasn't learning about the tenets of Christianity, but notice that proselytizing could happen. There is a difference.

Anonymous said...

Brandon's a good guy, and great principal. If you knew/know him, "CJ clone" wouldn't come to mind. But we all have bosses to report to, who ultimately make the calls. When those bosses throw us under the bus, that's a failure of leadership.

Anonymous said...

Eggleston can't go five minutes or perform any task without a prayer, preferably a group prayer. He prays in school all the time and not all of us are comfortable with it. Those in his little prayer group are definitely favored. CJ Huff and Cravens are the same way. I pray. Privately and at home. I don't ask others at school to pray with me. Administrators in public schools should not lead group prayer on the job. There is pressure to conform, even if that pressure is not explicitly stated.

These three, along with Price, exposed their supreme arrogance in the way they handled this. Eggleston sends his own children to another district. He should go join them there. Cravens should be canned. Now R8 has two middle schools being led by religious zealots.

Anonymous said...


Perhaps if your comment made sense it would help. You simultaneously state that the country was built on religious freedom and that anyone who demands that is a liberal who can't be tolerated. Also, are you implying that the City of Joplin is purposely and deliberately getting rid of people based on their religious beliefs? I believe that is a violation of those rights, also.

You are what I fear my children will be exposed to in the name of Christianity.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Jefferson, whom I believe most of you would agree had some significant influence on the creation of the Constitution, did not believe in Heaven or Hell, or that the soul was or would be a separate entity of the human experience in life or death. The soul, for Jefferson, was the reflective, introspective nature of humans that dictated the sense of right or wrong as we traveled through life. He felt that sooner or later most intelligent and informed people would join him in this assertion. He truly believed and practiced the philosophical teachings of Christ, creating a version of the Bible known as the Jefferson Bible, a book with Christ's teachings separate from the mysticism found in the Bible. He felt adamantly about the need to keep religion free from government and government free from religion. It's a shame this is not a part of the discussion instead of the constant repetition of the mantra that our country was built on religion. That is only true in the sense that the Puritans came here to be free to practice their religion away from their government. Many others came here though to exploit the country's vast resources and to try to make a quick buck. You could as easily say our country was built on greed and avarice. Those traits seem to have won out in many respects.

Anonymous said...

So, 9:14, are you going to do a religious litmus test for any employees of the City or for future members of the Council in order to make sure you get no more agnostics or liberals? So much for your religious freedom.

Anonymous said...

Why did Cravens go to Price with his decision to respond? How much power does she have, and why didn't he ask an administrator or attorney about how to handle the situation? He was going to ignore it based on the man's "tone"? What a pompous and inept fool. Explains why the district did so poorly at the hands of the sanctimonious and arrogant Huff administration.

Anonymous said...

Looks like some pretty good evidence for Carol Stark's complicity with Huff. And yet, she is still employed at the Globe.

Anonymous said...

When I was a senior I ran passes for the senior office. Cravens and Mr. White were principals then. I learned very quickly that you better be just like them in religion or suffer. They would make fun of gay students after they left the office. You were either like them or unacceptable. I know White left, but I bet Cravens is still the same way. They used it have group prayers in their offices too.

Anonymous said...

I believe the Supreme Court has made clear the need to separate religious practices from public education many times over, and I am sure that any of them are more schooled in law and the Constitution than I am (or the vast majority of us, truthfully). Perhaps we could focus more on the economic side of this issue? By ignoring the warnings they received from several parties, these administrators have cost, and will continue to cost, the district a tremendous amount of money in their efforts to defend the indefensible. Why are they still in administration? I know Cravens has been knocked down a peg, but he should have been sent packing along with Eggleston. They could join CJ for coffee every morning and do the district no more harm. Think what else might have been done with that money--like paying off the massive debt they accrued with their rebuilding? Buying supplies for the kids to use in the classroom?

Another question I have is, why was a place of religious practice even allowed to be an option? It might be fun, but an administrator should foresee that conflict and head off the issue beforehand. It seems a lack of forethought has been a major issue for R8 in this and in many other situations.

Anonymous said...

Sufferin Succotash!

Who needs temples and moneychangers with "christians" like these?

Anonymous said...

I liked the part at the bottom of the post where Randy states that additional god botherers have apparently been roped into the R-8 Bright Futures faith based hot mess.

Good thing R-8 has a communication director to help deal with problems like this.

Anonymous said...

A lot of people say Eggleston will be the next Joplin Super. How will the outcome of this case influence that decision?

Anonymous said...

Looks like the fat guy in the picture can park a plate of donuts and a pot of coffee on that gut he's got going.

Anonymous said...

12:26 you are clueless.

Anonymous said...

When will the Christian majority in authority roles at local schools( this goes beyond Joplin) grasp the whole separation of church and state? They consistently want to force their personal religious beliefs on those in their schools and classrooms. LEAVE your religious ministry at the parking lot, don't bring it into the schools!

Anonymous said...

Life choices is responsible for the sex education curriculum being used in my child's school? Huh. I feel like I've somehow failed because I didn't know this. I'd like to see more on this subject. I won't allow participation in the future. I'm pretty sure none of my friends are aware of this contract with life choices. I don't want anyone affiliated with Life Choices making contact with my child as part of public school. This really makes me mad.

Anonymous said...

I like the parts where Joplin Schools administration laments that the parent did not contact them directly. If they weren't going to adjust or provide an equal, alternative accommodation under threat of lawsuit from outsiders, then it is reasonable to assume they would have done less if the parent had contacted them - apart from superficial efforts at placation and the "If you don't like it, your child doesn't have to go" line. I am suspicious that they might not have sought extra assurance from Victory that there would be no religious content if not for the attention of these outside organizations - this was their effort to cover bases.

I don't necessarily believe there was ever an overt attempt at indoctrination, only that this is indicative of the extent to which they take their own faith's position of privilege for granted, that there is a blind spot in recognizing even the subtle ways that religion is tacitly endorsed and elevated in their schools. This is also reflected in certain comments here where "intolerance" is equated to not allowing Christianity to occupy a place of privilege in schools. The First Amendment is very clear regarding government not preferring any religion, this is the "Establishment Clause", and no matter the odd re-twisting of history that occurs through various mental gymnastics demonstrated here and elsewhere, this has historically been interpreted as "separation of church and state", because that is how one arrives at true religious freedom - through keeping the government from aligning with any one religion - even the religion that majority of the public may identify with. It is not persecution of Christianity to keep government clean of this influence, rather it is to try and ensure that freedom remains free. Realistically, a person's beliefs may influence their values no matter their profession, but when you assume a role in a public institution it is important to check your biases so that they don't influence your job in a way that compromises your duty as a public servant to preserve the precedent set by the Establishment Clause. The line that was essentially used in reference to concerned parents/students, that they didn't have to go to Victory if they were offended, is better directed to those who take on the role of public servant: If you don't like the precedent set by the Establishment Clause, then don't take a job that requires its implementation.

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