Student Bible clubs temporarily suspended in Ohio after atheist group files complaint

Students hold Bible study outside their classroom.(InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA)

Student Bible clubs in at least two schools in Lancaster, Ohio have been temporarily suspended by officials after an atheist group sent a letter to complain.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) earlier wrote a letter to Superintendent Steve Wigton of the Lancaster City Schools to complain about outside adults conducting Bible studies during lunch time at different schools.

"It is our understanding that bible study groups meet during the lunch period at Lancaster High School and Sherman Middle School, and before school at Thomas Ewing Middle School," the atheist group said in its letter based on the listing of the clubs on the Faith Memorial Church website.

It said that "public school district must ensure that student religious groups are genuinely student-initiated and student-run, and that outside adults do not regularly participate in the clubs."

"We are writing to request an investigation into the involvement of outside adults in religious clubs in your District," FFRF said.

FFRF said even though the Equal Access Act (EAA) provides that public secondary schools cannot discriminate against student organizations based on their religious, political, philosophical or other beliefs, "it is illegal for outside adults to regularly participate in, organize, or lead student religious organizations."

Rev. Jonathan Morgan, Faith Memorial pastor, said the complaint is "much ado about nothing," adding that the text in the web page was improperly worded.

He said pastors do not lead the groups but have been invited at times by students, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Lawyer Sue Yount, representing four school districts, wrote FFRF to say that "the districts are meeting with building principals and reviewing the parameters of the federal Equal Access Act."

"This Act provides for the right of students to hold religious activities on school grounds during non-instructional time, so long as the activities are student-initiated and student-led, with non-school persons not directing, controlling, or regularly attending," she said.

Superintendent Todd Osborn of the Liberty Union-Thurston district said the Bible clubs at the high school and middle schools have been temporarily stopped pending review by a law firm.

"We need to make sure that we're doing things correctly," he said, adding that the clubs are not partners of any church.

Osborn said students were disappointed that the clubs were suspended but understand that there are rules to be followed.

Moran said the clubs are beneficial.

"As a pastor, when we are doing our best at the request of others to be of assistance in the lives of others, it's frankly repulsive where we are today — that an individual can bring such undue and unfounded criticism," he said.