A Kansas middle school has canceled its participation in Operation Christmas Child after an atheist group wrote to the school district alleging the program “violates basic constitutional principles” of separation of church and state.
“While it is laudable for a public school to promote student involvement in the community by volunteering and donating to charitable organizations, the school cannot use that goal as an avenue to fund a religious organization with a religious mission,” Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) wrote in a Nov. 3 letter. “Certainly, there are other secular nonprofit organizations that offer charitable opportunities.”
After receiving FFRF’s letter, Tony Helfrich, superintendent of Pratt School District, responded in a letter of his own, saying he “investigated” the claims and learned that the mission of Operation Christmas Child was “more sectarian” than school authorities had realized. He also assured the atheist organization that the school would “discontinue” its participation in the shoebox program.
Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Christian international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, has reached 178 million children with shoebox gifts filled with toys, school supplies and hygiene items in more than 150 countries since 1993, according to its website. While the project provides tangible gifts for children and their families, Samaritan’s Purse also partners with local churches to present the Gospel to the children in their native language before distributing the boxes.
Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, addressed the controversy in an interview on “The Ingraham Angle”: “We don’t hide the fact that we’re Christians,” he said, “it’s on our website, we’re very upfront about our position and our faith.”
He encouraged the students of Liberty Middle School in Pratt, Kansas, to send their packed shoeboxes directly to Samaritan’s Purse since their school has decided to no longer take part in the Operation Christmas Child program.
“Even though your school doesn’t want to participate, you can participate,” Franklin said.
In addition to ceasing its support of Operation Christmas Child, FFRF called on the school to stop holding “See You at the Pole” events and to monitor the email of school employees, making sure staff members “remain neutral toward religion while acting in their official capacity.”
In a recent interview with The Christian Post, Edward Graham, son of Franklin Graham and assistant to the vice president of programs & government relations at Samaritan’s Purse, said “more kids have heard about Christ through these shoebox distributions than ever heard about Christ in stadiums with my grandfather.”
Samaritan’s Purse hopes to collect enough shoeboxes this year to reach at least 11 million children around the world.
Photo: Courtesy of Samaritan's Purse