Possible Litigation Involves Doughnuts And Bible Study At Joplin - KOAM TV 7

Possible Litigation Involves Doughnuts And Bible Study At Joplin School

Joplin, MO -

Update:  Jeff Koch, school board member, has told us contrary to this organization's claims, the Bible studies were not during school hours and the school is not providing food for this student led group.


There's separation of church and state.  Then there are doughnuts.  So yummy and tempting, they can cause you to forget about diets.

"That's exactly what it is, a lure," says David Niose with the Washington, D.C. based American Humanist Association.

Never mind diets.  Niose says doughnuts were being used by Joplin's North Middle School to illegally lure students towards weekly Bible studies at school property during regular school hours.

This may seem like only a sweet joke at first.

Joplin resident Terri Gilker says, "Doughnuts?  Really?  Doughnuts?"  

But Niose says there's definitely substance to his allegation.  He has a message for the Joplin School District.

"They certainly know that we are serious about our ability to litigate, and our willingness to litigate when we feel that it's necessary," says Niose.

We asked Joplin attorney Scott Vorhees, who's not part of this case, to look over the American Humanist's argument.

"I did think it was interesting in the letter, they suggested to get the doughnut you have to stay until after the service.  I can imagine some child saying, 'Hey, I just want a doughnut!  I don't want to stay.'  I don't know if they would give them one or not," says Vorhees.

"The bottom line here is this is an adult run, adult led, teacher led meeting for the purpose of preaching Christianity and getting kids in a public school to pray," says Niose.

Vorhees agrees with Niose.

"This seems to be a prayer group that is led, in part, by faculty on school grounds, at a time when school children are supposed to be there.  That seems to be the major issue I have with it," says Vorhees.

"I don't think they should have to get rid of it," says Gilker.  "But I don't think they should use that (doughnut) as a selling point to get them to come in."

Niose won't say if he would rather approve of school Bible study before or after regular school hours led by only students.

"The problem with coming up with hypotheticals on establishment clause issues is that when you change the facts, it really requires a thorough analysis anew.  We would be complaining if this was a Muslim or a Jewish meeting promoting their religion as well," says Niose.

 In short, there may be plenty future complaints about religion in public school.

"As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in school," says Vorhees.

The letter from the Humanist Association, sent yesterday, demanded a response from the school district within seven days.  However, the school district's communication director told us no school official will be available to comment until after the first of next year.

The American Humanist Association also filed a lawsuit against the Joplin School District in 2015, claiming North Middle School students were unconstitutionally sent on a field trip to a religious sports complex.  That lawsuit is awaiting summary judgment in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.


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