Recently, the Georgia director of American Atheists announced that his organization would target two national Christian organizations—Child Evangelism Fellowship and Fellowship of Christian Athletes—for legal action. What do these organizations do? Well, they minister to thousands of children, often holding their meetings in public school buildings after school—as both the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act allow them to do. But this upsets Mr. Stefanellis and his fellow atheists, so they accuse CEF and FCA of “targeting the impressionable minds of our children” and of using “unethical,” “immoral,” and “illegal” methods. All of this ominous rhetoric amounts to nothing more than the type of intimidation tactics that atheists and secularists have specialized in for decades. That said, it would be nice if Mr. Stefanellis and his comrades understood a few basic things.
First, the Constitution protects the rights of all Americans to advocate their beliefs. This right even extends to atheists, a small, disgruntled minority who promote the faith-based belief that God does not exist and who regularly showcase the same kind of anti-religious rhetoric that Mr. Stefanellis spouts. (In unpublished remarks, he even claimed that Jesus Christ never existed. Perhaps a history lesson would be in order.) It would be nice if these atheists would recognize that the Constitution extends the same right to the millions of Americans who cherish their religious beliefs. Sadly, they insist instead on silencing religious expression at every turn, as if they and they alone are entitled to free speech.
Second, it would be nice if the atheists could keep their story straight. They claim that children should not be exposed to religious views, but nonreligious (or even anti-religious) ones are welcome. When fellow students and private ministries share their religious beliefs after school, the atheists call it “passive-aggressive proselytizing” and “indoctrination.” But when government officials promote anti-Christian dogma during the school day, everything is just fine. So while atheists talk about giving children “all the facts,” they really seek to advance their own values and silence all others. Again, the Constitution allows them to advocate their faith, their values, and their morality. But it also allows Christians to do the same. This is what the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause is all about.
Last, these atheists need to understand that their bullying tactics will not work. As federal courts have repeatedly confirmed, the Constitution allows religious students and organizations to use school facilities just like other students and community groups. And it permits students to distribute religious tracts and flyers at school, just as it allows outside groups to do so if the school has opened a forum. Atheists may not like the freedoms the Constitution grants, but they certainly have no problem with using them to advance their message. We at the Alliance Defense Fund will vigilantly look out for any attempts from atheists to bully schools into silencing religious speech and accepting their anti-God agenda through legal threats. And we will stand with organizations like CEF and FCA—and the countless Americans they represent—who prize both religion and freedom.