The school prayer ban is 50 years old this month. Yet there's more religion on campus than ever. The after-school Good News Club, for example, brings the fourth R – religion – that follows a day of reading, writing, and arithmetic at 3,200 public schools.
Once a week, Sanders Elementary School reverberates with religious music and the sound of excited children vying for prizes. After a day of reading, writing, and arithmetic, 30 public school students have gone on to their next class: "Sunday school on steroids," as Lin Harrison describes it.
This is one of more than 4,000 after-school Good News Club programs in 3,200 public elementary schools nationwide; Mr. Harrison, associate pastor at nearby Orange Hill Baptist Church, is one of some 25,000 GNC volunteer teachers.
Supporters hail the GNC for giving children a message of hope and a moral keel. Children can only attend, they point out, with written parental permission. Critics denounce the GNC for inculcating a conservative and highly judgmental interpretation of Christianity in young, malleable minds.
Many of the arguments echo the deliberations of the Supreme Court when, in 2001, it ruled that a school hosting secular after-school programs must allow GNC entry. While the court decided 8 to 1 against school-sponsored prayer, this decision proved more contentious: The GNC free speech ruling passed 6 to 3.
The decision fueled GNC's phenomenal reach, from 17,000 children in 2001 to 156,000 today.