Atheist group seeks to deny poor children Christmas gifts

Operation Christmas Child targeted for being sponsored by religious organization
Thursday, December 05, 2013

Attorney sound bites:  Jeremy Tedesco  |  Kevin Theriot

WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. — Alliance Defending Freedom sent East Point Academy a letter offering free legal assistance after an atheist group threatened to file a lawsuit against the school for including a community service project sponsored by a religious organization as one of the many programs its students may voluntarily participate in.

“Public schools should provide students with as many community service opportunities as possible and not engage in unconstitutional discrimination,” said Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “The American Humanist Association is incorrect that neutrality toward religion requires schools to discriminate against beneficial programs simply because they are run by Christians. That is not neutrality but targeted religious discrimination forbidden by the First Amendment.”
East Point Academy offers a variety of humanitarian community service programs, including Operation Christmas Child, in which students can voluntarily participate throughout the year. OCC is sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian organization that works with local churches and ministry partners to deliver gifts to needy children around the world. OCC has provided gifts to more than 100 million impoverished boys and girls in over 130 countries.
The Alliance Defending Freedom letter explains that “there is nothing illegal about a public school providing students an opportunity to put together a box of gifts for impoverished children throughout the world just because the toy drive is sponsored by a religious organization.” The academy “has taken no actions that promote any religious aspect of OCC. It simply offers OCC as an optional opportunity for students to engage in humanitarian aid to needy children.”

The letter also encourages the academy to “demonstrate to its students and to its wider audience that the correct response to being wrongfully accused of violating the law is to take a stand, rather than acquiesce to the accuser’s unreasonable demands.”
“It’s shameful for groups like the American Humanist Association to attack charity events that provide impoverished children with Christmas gifts they wouldn’t otherwise receive,” added Senior Legal Kevin Theriot. “We hope that East Point Academy will decide to provide OCC as an optional humanitarian service program for years to come.”
John Tyler, attorney with Sweeney, Wingate & Barrow and one of nearly 2,300 attorneys allied with Alliance Defending Freedom, also signed the letter and is offering the academy free legal assistance.
  • Pronunciation guide: Tedesco (Tuh-DESS’-koh) Theriot (TAIR’-ee-oh)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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