The Good News Club is the “primary ministry” of the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), a large fundamentalist religious organization based in Warrenton, Missouri.
CEF’s goal is to convert elementary school children to its extreme version of fundamentalist Christianity. Its mission statement reads: “CEF is a Bible-centered, worldwide organization composed of born-again believers whose purpose is to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, disciple them in the Word of God and establish them in a Bible-believing church for Christian living.”
Since 2001, when it won a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing it to operate in public schools,
CEF has aggressively installed after-school Good News Clubs in public elementary schools. There are now Good News Clubs in over 4,000 U.S. public elementary schools. Previously, Good News Clubs operated primarily in homes and churches.
CEF targets elementary schools because they believe children ages 4 to 14 are most vulnerable to evangelizing, and because schools provide a ready supply of “unchurched” kids to recruit. A CEF training video states, “Over 80% of adult believers came to Christ before they were 14.”
A Conversion Process Based on Shame and Fear
Instead of the Jesus-loves-you mainstream Christianity many parents expect, the Good News Club teaches an extreme version of fundamentalism. Its curriculum is focused on sin, punishment and obedience to authority. It contains over 5,000 references to sin, over 1,000 references to Hell or punishment, over 1,000 references to obedience, and only one reference to the Golden Rule.
In order to convert children, the Good News Club curriculum repeatedly teaches them that they have “dark” and “sinful” hearts, and that because of their sinful nature, they “deserve” to be punished. Children are threatened with an eternity in Hell if they refuse to believe the Good News Club’s message.
To complete the conversion process, each Good News Club class includes an “Invitation” where children are pressured to meet one-on-one with a teacher to accept Jesus as their savior and join a local fundamentalist church.
Concerns About Harmful Doctrines
Many parents and psychologists are concerned that some children who are repeatedly told they have a “black heart” filled with sin and are so bad that they deserve terrible punishment can develop a negative self-image and feelings of shame, fear, doubt and anxiety that can last into adulthood. One psychologist said that such teachings are “inconsistent with mental health.” Some parents think such Good News Club doctrines amount to emotional abuse which, like other forms of bullying and intimidation, should be banned from public schools.
Concerns About Misleading Permission Slips
Although parental permission is required to attend the Good News Club, parents often don’t get the information they need to make an informed decision. Good News Club flyers and permission slips are notoriously misleading, making classes sound like harmless non-denominational fun. Nowhere do these materials inform parents that the goal of the Good News Club is to convert their children to extreme fundamentalism. The Good News Club’s focus on sin and punishment as a conversion technique is also not disclosed.
How CEF Partners With Local Churches
Good News Clubs appear to be hosted by local churches. However, local churches must agree to exclusively use teaching materials provided by CEF and agree without reservation to CEF’s 15-point Statement of Faith. This statement includes such beliefs as Biblical inerrancy, salvation not by good deeds but by faith alone, the physical reality of Satan, and the damnation of unbelievers to the Lake of Fire for conscious, eternal torture.
In exchange, Good News Clubs offer local churches the chance to increase their membership (and thus their income) by recruiting “unchurched” elementary school children and their parents.
Good News Clubs are typically seeded with children from a local church. These children are given candy and other treats as incentives to recruit friends and classmates who may have different beliefs, a process known as “peer evangelism.”
Concerns About Predatory Proselytizing and Religious Bullying
Many parents, including many Christians, are unhappy that the Good News Club has introduced religious proselytizing into public schools. They are concerned about the Good News Club’s reputation for overstepping its bounds by aggressively recruiting non-participating students and trying to create the impression that its teachings and activities are endorsed by the school.
Parents are also concerned that their children will be subjected to religious bullying by children who attend the Good News Club. Children have been known to tell their classmates they are going to Hell if they don’t attend the Good News Club.
How Can the Good News Club Be Legal in Public Schools?
Many people are surprised to find that an adult-led evangelical organization is allowed to operate in public elementary schools.
Until 2001, religious and political organizations were generally excluded from public schools. However, in 2001 the Supreme Court ruled in Good News Club v. Milford Central School, 533 U.S. 98 that the Good News Club is entitled to the same access as other groups, such as the Boy Scouts, that provide after-school programs designed to promote “moral and character development.”
The Court held that religious activities are nothing more than speech from a certain point of view, and that the Good News Club’s activities in public schools are protected by the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, rather than prohibited by the Establishment Clause mandate of separation of church and state.
As a result, any school that allows outside groups to sponsor after-school clubs must allow the Good News Club to rent its facilities. However, some legal experts believe that the Good News Club can be barred from using school facilities under Facility Use Policies that prohibit third-party organizations that threaten, bully, harass or intimidate children.
CEF’s Threat to Public Education
The Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) is a large organization, with hundreds of employees and tens of thousands of volunteers in the U.S. and Canada. As of 2011, there were 3,560 Good News Clubs operating in public schools across the US and more than 42,000 clubs in over 170 countries worldwide. CEF’s stated goal is to establish a Good News Club in all 65,000 U.S. public elementary schools.
According to Katherine Stewart, author of The Good News Club, CEF is associated with the Christian Nationalist or Dominionist movement whose ultimate goal is to create a fundamentalist Christian theocracy in America. The agenda of this movement includes bringing the Bible back into public education; opposing equal rights for gays and lesbians; teaching creationism in science classes; rewriting U.S. history textbooks to fit their worldview; opposing scientific sex education, contraception, and a woman’s right to choose in reproductive issues; and one day replacing public schools with Christian academies.