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Missouri school suspends Bible study because it offered students free doughnuts

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The Joplin, Missouri, school district has decided to halt a Bible study at North Middle School following a complaint that employees were "enticing students" to join the group with doughnuts.

"Enticing students to Bible studies with donuts is deceitful and inappropriate during school hours," Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based American Humanist Association's Appignani Humanist Legal Center, wrote in a nine-page December letter about the study, which met for breakfast on Thursdays and was led by teachers and clergy.

According to the Springfield News-Leader, the study in question was suspended earlier this week because it did not comply with district policy that protects only programs led by high school students.

"As a result, we have suspended the Bible study as it is currently organized," a Monday statement from district officials read. "Community groups that wish to host activities such as this, or other types of events or activities, at our schools may do so by complying with our facilities use policy."

However, despite its decision to stop the study, the district's statement did acknowledge that the program was "a student-initiated activity held before class, not during instructional time, and it is entirely voluntary for students to attend."

David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association, which previously suggested that clergy involved in the Bible study used doughnuts "essentially as a bribe to get children in the door," said in a statement he was "disappointed" the district said the class was in compliance with school policy.

We are pleased that the program has stopped, but disappointed that the district, perhaps in an attempt to save face, has falsely described the program as lawful. In fact, the program was very much adult-led and clearly unconstitutional. Nevertheless, the important outcome is that the school will no longer be promoting Christianity and luring children to Christian meetings with promises of special treats.

This is not the first time the AHA, whose motto is "Good without a God," has gotten involved with an issue in the Joplin school system. In 2016, the association filed a lawsuit against the schools, claiming the district sent middle schoolers on an "unconstitutional" field trip to a Christian-owned sports complex.

"The school district endorses Christianity through these field trips and has caused our clients serious harm by making them feel marginalized in their own community," the AHA wrote in a June statement. "We request the court to enjoin the school district from using Victory Ministry or other religious venues for future field trips."

The association became involved in the most recent matter, according to the News-Leader, after a parent reached out to the group voicing objection over the "promotion of Christianity, or any other religion" in a public school setting.

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