The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children by Katherine Stewart is a book I would encourage everyone to read. (I have the hardcover; it is also available on Kindle.) It is not only a well researched and informative work of investigative journalism on a deeply important subject, it is also very well written; Stewart also writes for the New York Times, Reuters and the Guardian.
I had the good fortune to meet with Ms. Stewart when she addressed the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry at one of our recent meetings. She is an articulate and charming speaker, and gave a précis of her work which was disturbing and thought-provoking enough in itself. The full impact will only be felt if you follow the story as it unfolded to her, as recorded in “The Good News Club” in detail.
The title of Stewart’s “The Good News Club” refers to a particular after-hours school club infiltrating public primary schools in a very systematic and organized way by Evangelical Christian groups, in an attempt to recruit children into their particular brand of Christianity.
I do not use the word infiltrate lightly; it is a false-flag operation on multiple levels. The Good News Club presents itself as a general, ecumenical and nondenominational Christian Bible study group to the parents of the communities it targets, but they and their parent organization the Child Evangelical Fellowship are actually rigidly authoritarian Biblical literalists.
Stewart documents how they will blandly assure Catholics, for example, about how nonthreatening they are, but subsequently indoctrinate the children with theological positions that tell them Catholics and adherents of other “incorrect” sects of Christianity are doomed to Hell. Needless to say the same applies to all the children’s atheist and non-Christian theist friends. The object is to get the kids to preach to their peers, typically in exactly that bullying fashion of telling them they will burn in Hell if they don’t believe “correctly” (i.e. in Evangelical Christian style).
This inculcation of child preachers is one of the foundational principles of the Good News Club. Teachers are not allowed to preach religion in public schools, of course, or lead public prayers. Students can, though, and the false flag that the GNC works through is to coach the kids into doing that preacher’s work for them. It is legally defensible as permissible “student-led activity” even though (as Stewart pointed out in her presentation) it is in reality no more student-led than a Little League meeting – adults organize the group’s meetings, teach the kids what to do, set their goals, track their progress, and reward their achievements. (From the very beginning the children are conditioned with rewards like sugary snacks, first to attend and then to recruit.)
There is also a deliberate effort on the part of GNC organizers to blur the lines between school activities and GNC activities; one of the first Good News Clubs Stewart came across was actually offered free space of superior suitability in a neighboring church, but they preferred to continue using the school. The aim is obviously to absorb some of the school’s cloak of authority for the Club’s teaching, and it works; Stewart relates how one girl, when told that her schoolmate was not in fact going to Hell for not being the right kind of Christian, objected that she’d been taught it in school, and they couldn’t teach wrong things in school. This was not an isolated incident, but an example of a desired result of GNC policy; they want those kids confused in that way.
Another confusion which works to the advantage of the Good News Club organizers lies at the heart of why they are allowed to preach religion in a school at all; Stewart goes into some detail about the implications of the Supreme Court case that let that particular camel’s nose into the tent. The confusion lies in conflating the right to free speech and the right to freedom of conscience; I won’t go into a great deal of detail here but Stewart does an excellent job of presenting how this conflation actually puts religiously based clubs like GNC in a supercategory with greater protections than any normal club would have.
I for one was totally unaware that taxpayer-maintained public schools are now commonly repurposed on Sundays as out-and-out churches, and I’m not at all happy about that either. Not only does it direct public funds toward sectarian uses (building maintenance isn’t free!) but it further erodes the distinction in children’s minds between the secular public school and the church that inhabits the same building. It’s a double whammy for the church; they get a fantastic deal on a building they could not possibly afford if they weren’t sucking off secular tax monies, and they get the blurring of authorities too.
It’s hard to know where to stop on this, but I suppose that the preceding will give you an idea of what kind of information to expect from this important book. Once again, I strongly urge you to read it.
You can also get more information at the Web site thegoodnewscclub.com where Katherine Stewart posts relevant articles and maintains a blog on the subject. The situation is continuing to worsen while this problem flies under almost everyone’s radar.