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Secularist group calls on school district to stop religious mentorship program

(Pixabay/weisanjiang)A secularist group has called on a school district in South Carolina to put an end to an evangelical organization's mentorship program at an elementary school.

A prominent secularist organization has called on a school district in South Carolina to put an end to an evangelical group's mentorship program at an elementary school.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has sent a letter to Beaufort County District on Oct. 31 to complain about its partnership with an evangelical group called Real Champions of the Lowcountry to provide religious instruction to students at Okatie Elementary School.

According to FFRF, the religious group conducts one-on-one mentoring sessions, in which students are regularly removed from classrooms in the morning to participate in Real Champions activities.

"It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion. It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the district to offer religious instructors unique access to its students," FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliot stated in the letter addressed to Beaufort County School Superintendent Jerry Moss.

"The partnership between a religious mentorship program and the Beaufort County School District impermissibly advances religion, communicates a message of school district endorsement of religion, and excessively entangles the school district and religion," he continued.

The Okatie Elementary School has sent a permission slip seeking student participation in the mentorship program. The permission form also sought the approval of parents to allow Real Champions to access the students' school records.

However, the FFRF contended that it is irrelevant that permission forms were sent to the parents, noting that courts have rejected arguments that voluntariness excuses a constitutional violation.

The permission form states that the mentorship program will "use Bible passages and prayer to encourage your student to achieve success."

The FFRF, which boasts of 29,000 members across the U.S., including hundreds in South Carolina, described the program as "egregious" and called on the district to put an end to it in order to avoid "unnecessary and costly legal action."

Jim Foster, director of communications for the school district, told The Christian Post on Monday that the district is "looking into the complaint."

Real Champions, which was founded in the upstate of South Carolina in early 2000, has an official statement of faith, which declares that the Bible is the "infallible Word of God" and "the final and sole authority for all Christian life and practice."

The evangelical group's website states that the mentoring program serves children in five local schools in Bluffton, South Carolina.

"We're shocked that the school district doesn't realize the inappropriateness of this program. Religious organizations should never be allowed access to such young public school children," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

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