Group protests church’s video being shown at middle school

Teens pick out treats at the Fellowship Church 4640 Activity Center Wednesday night.

Pastor Jayelle Dolan, second from left, talks to a group of teens at the Fellowship Church 4640 Activity Center Wednesday night, where hundreds of teens hang out and listen to a youth-oriented program.

An incident at Grand Mesa Middle School has stirred concern among members of the Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers about the separation of church and state in local schools.

A teacher at Grand Mesa showed a brief video to his physical education students late last month promoting the 4640 Center, a new club at Fellowship Church that provides basketball courts, a foam pit and a “spider jump center,” along with sermons and religious music. The video was not approved by the school’s principal, Mark Vana, who was out of town at the time of the viewing, according to District 51 Executive Director of Academic Achievement in Secondary Schools Mary Jones.

While a parent who complained about his son seeing the video in school said he felt the problem was settled after he spoke with Vana, he and three members of Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers spoke up during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s District 51 School Board meeting to express a desire for the district to do more to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.

WCAF member Anne Landman told school board members she has heard from a handful of people since the February incident that they felt uncomfortable with what they saw as a breach of church and state separation in the past within the district, including a student who said there was religious discussion between activities at a school student council retreat a few years ago at Fellowship Church. Earle Mullen, also of WCAF, told board members stronger policies and making sure all teachers read those policies may be needed to prevent schools from crossing a line.

“There’s been a breach but it’s not unique to District 51. Teachers who take it upon themselves to foist religious beliefs upon youngsters should be held to account,” Mullen said.

Jones said the teacher at Grand Mesa was not attempting to proselytize. He got the video from a friend and believed it was appropriate to show in a gym class due to the center’s physical activity offerings. Vana said he would not have approved the video had he seen it beforehand and the teacher, who said he made a mistake, was reprimanded.

Jones said the district will be more careful about selecting field trip or retreat venues and review with each teacher this fall the policy on showing videos to students, which limits videos to curriculum-appropriate content and videos unlikely to offend “community/cultural sensitivity.”

She added it was hard to tell from the video that the 4640 Center had a religious affiliation and she’s uncertain whether the teacher viewed the video or researched the center before showing it in class.

“(The teacher) broke policy because it looks like we’re promoting a church or a religion,” Jones said. “He was trusting. It wasn’t like he was actually promoting the church. There was some non-transparency with that whole youth group.”

Jayelle Dolan, associate pastor for youth and children at Fellowship Church, said the church neither produced the video nor distributed it to the teacher. She said she did not hear about the incident until it became public.

Now, she said she’s more concerned that teachers and principals will go too far in the other direction and infringe on students’ rights to free speech.

“I think many of our students have been censored in relation to this incident, especially at Grand Mesa Middle School,” she said, saying students at various schools said they had been discouraged from bowing their heads to pray at lunch or handing out fliers for church events at school.

“When one minority opinion starts making them lose their rights, that’s where I think the majority of citizens of Grand Junction would agree that’s not fair,” Dolan said.


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This speaks poorly for our school district. We all know that religion is not allowed in public schools. So I hope the district and administrators will make sure this kind of thing does not happen again.

4640’s high school promotional posters were deceptive. They did not tell kids the facility was at a church, reveal that “recreational” features included a “worship pit,” or that kids using the facility would be subjected to religious indoctrination while there. Activities included a “Middle School Homework Bonfire,” and a food court where. the church said, “A couple bucks will buy you more junk food than your mom would approve of. We’re talking about snacks high in sugar, low in nutritional value — just the kind of fuel you need to have a blast with your 500 other Middle School friends!”

Activities to promote the facility to kids included an ant-eating contest where the church brought in school principals to act as judges. 

The youth pastor’s claim that students “have been censored” because of this incident is absurd. Students are free to exercise their own religion as they see fit. The complaint front and center here is not what students do. It’s about a school promoting a specific religion to kids, which violates the law.

Regarding the youth pastor’s claim that opinions are making people lose their rights: Rights are not given or taken away by majority opinion or even a majority vote. Everyone is entitled to their legal rights; that’s why they are called “rights.”

Churches: one church has taken membership funds and provided a “safe” after school environment while inundating these young people with their particular church views. If I belonged to a small financially depressed church that could not offer the same I would be as indignant as the WCAF.  My concern about this “safe” environment is not seeing any direct supervision of potentially dangerous activities such as rope climbs and swings after the youngsters have consumed thousands of sugar calories as their “treat.”  Simple sugars found in candy (the picture in the Daily Sentinel shows ONLY candy) causes the “sugar-high” and enhances the consumer’s sense of being invincible. We have seen this in our kids and grandkids.  So is this really a “Safe” environment.  We need a Boys/Girls clubs or community centers like the Molina Center on the Grand Mesa.

I’m neither an athiest nor a “freethinker” (whatever that means).  But I think that showing this video in a public school was wrong.

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