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Oakbrook Elementary School's Church Fundraiser
Call to Action!Dorchester District Two's recent decision to give food and cash donations originally intended for Old Fort Baptist Church directly to needy students instead has outraged many local Christians. Despite their statements that the primary purpose was to feed the school's local needy (who are served by the district's decision), Christians are angry that the district has issued a statement saying it will no longer endorse church fundraisers. Predictably, many in the general public and in the media have responded with a bias against secular humanists, suggesting that we do not support charitable giving. Of course, we know this isn't true. We have monthly volunteer activities, collect money for various local charities, and have served food to the needy at least 4 times in the last 4 weeks alone. Still, we often find that we have to work twice as hard to seem half as nice. In an effort to show that Humanists really do care about people in need, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry is sponsoring a donation drive to match the funds collected by Oakbrook Elementary School. All funds collected will benefit DD2 school's food pantry.
A Summary of the SituationEarlier in November, Summerville's Oakbrook Elementary School's student council sponsored a food drive and a cash fundraiser which, according to the flyers sent home to parents, would "support the missions at Old Fort Baptist Church." Several parents were concerned with this school-endorsed sponsorship of a church. Even though participation was voluntary, parents and children in public schools should never have to opt out of a school-sponsored event. Such a fundraiser also has the effect of appearing to connect church with ethical behavior and children from non-Christian families may feel their school, in their position of authority, think their families' worldviews are less worthy. It is also interesting to note that almost all other schools in the area also had food drives, but theirs predominantly supported the Lowcountry Food Bank.
After leaving two messages for the club's teacher sponsor, parents contact the Appignani Humanist Legal Center (APHL) for assistance. Rightly recognizing that such a school-sponsored fundraiser was a church/state violation, the APHL wrote a letter to officials at Dorchester District Two requesting that the school district immediately cease its fundraising efforts to support the church. The APHL pointed out that humanists strongly encourage charitable giving, noting that there were may other ways the students could help those in need without resorting to actions that promoted a specific religious agenda.
After seeking legal counsel of their own, DD2 opted to give the $100 raised by the students along with their food donations to DD2 high schools, which will give the food directly to needy students. As stated above, the public backlash against atheists has been especially negative, stating everything from we should be shot (yes, someone really said this) to we are uncharitable to we should move away. (SHL President Amy Monsky replies to these accusations in this op-ed piece in the Post and Courier.) Moreover, as the AHLC letter suggests, those who selected a church as the charity of choice for a public elementary school need to recognize that it is possible to be charitable without supporting a religious institution.
As Humanists, we believe it is our responsibility to make a positive difference in our community. With all of the above in mind, we are calling on all SHL members and other supporters of our cause to take action now. Please use the button above to make a donation. All of these donations will be pooled and donated directly by SHL to the food pantries of the schools in Dorchester District Two.
Update (March 2015)SHL raised $2850 (almost three times the amount originally raised by the students). Bureaucratic delays at the school board have prevented the schools from obtaining that money in a timely fashion, but it looks like that is all worked out now. SHL will give $1500 directly to Oakbrook Elementary and the remaining $1350 to the DD2 general PTA fund with the stipulation that all funds be used for food services for students. Thanks to all of those who donated!
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