DORCHESTER COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - An attorney for Dorchester School District 2 says the district's schools and students will refrain from endorsing, sponsoring or fundraising for any church or religious institution, including those that contribute to or operate food pantries.
That message followed a complaint from the Appignani Humanist Legal Center in Washington, D.C., that proceeds from fundraising activities by Oakbrook Elementary School were directly benefiting Old Fort Baptist Church and Community Impact for Christ Food Bank in Summerville.
In a letter from AHLC to DD2 Superintendent Joe Pye and Oakbrook Elementary Principal Monica O'Dea, AHLC attorney Monica Miller said the school's "thank you grams," which were promoted by the student government, organized by a teacher and delivered to students during instructional classroom hours, violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause which "commands a separation of church and state."
Miller wrote that "several parents" of students at the school contacted the AHLC seeking assistance in the situation.
The AHLC letter stated the the church organizes mission trips to "proselytize Christianity" and included images of a school flyer promoting the fundraiser Miller said was sent home to parents.
"None of this is to suggest that the School District should not be participating in charitable endeavors," Miller wrote. "To the contrary, the AHA strongly supports charity giving. Such good intentions, however, can be pursued in innumerable other ways that do not involve religion."
The activity, Miller wrote, could subject the school district and its officials to a lawsuit.
In the response to the AHLC, attorney John Reagle said the school distributed the funds and canned goods collected to the District's high schools "for distribution to students in need" rather than the CIFC food pantry to address the group's concerns and avoid threatened litigation.
The funds donated amounted to $100, the letter stated.
Reagle disputed the group's claims the fundraising efforts violated the Establishment Clause, since the the funds raised and canned goods collected went directly to the food bank, not to the church. He also stated that because the food bank distributes the food to persons in need without regard to religious belief and, therefore, "will not have the primary effect of advancing religion."
"Nevertheless," Reagle wrote, "[Oakbrook Elementary School] has not provided any aid to Old Fort Baptist Church or CIFC food pantry, and neither OES, nor the District have a policy or practice of sponsoring a Christian church."
Reagle's response stated the district would include in each student handbook at all of its schools a disclaimer renouncing any sponsorship or endorsement by its schools of all non-school-sponsored fundraising efforts.
A request for comment from the church was not immediately returned.