Have any of you had any trouble with 4H and church/state separation? 

My child is currently attending a 4H day camp. I looked into 4H and it is run through the US Dept of Agriculture. So, it never occurred to me that I had to worry about her being indoctrinated with Christianity.

It is a 5 week camp. On the last day of week 4 they had a cookout and invited parents. I attended and was shocked to see that before lunch they sang a Christian prayer song. While it didn't mention Jesus by name, several times it referred to "Our Lord" and in the song they thanked "Our Lord" for creating the sun, moon, stars, etc. At the end they sang "Amen." It seemed very Christian to me. Two boys weren't singing the counselor told them that they had to.

I called the National 4H office who referred me to the Civil Rights office for the Dept of Ag. I spoke to the director who was very understanding and said he would get right on it. Someone from his office called back later today and said that they were going to replace the song with a nonreligious song.

My child just came home from camp and I asked about the song. She said they still sing it but not it is optional.

That's better. But I still think it is a violation of the constitution since it is a federal government program. If they were singing a prayer from some other religion, the other parents would be up in arms. But, because it's Christian, they think it's fine to impose it.

I don't know why they can't just give them a moment of silence before they eat and those who want to pray can, and those who don't, don't. Why does it have to be a lead prayer?

I am not sure how far to take this. I suspect that they already know who complained even though the Civil Rights office said that they did not disclose our names. It is a small Southern community and I worry about the backlash against my daughter.

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I'm sorry you have to deal with this.  I wonder if the "optional" choice to sing was the group's way of dealing with the situation, or if the direction to not sing the song hasn't reached them yet. I would ask again after a couple of days and see what they are doing.

Whenever I have been in a situation like this, I consult my daughter in how she might like to handle it.  Depending on your daughter's age, and how she might feel about other children knowing it was her mom who complained might have some weight on what to do next.  I make it clear to my daughter that as her parent, it is my decision what to do, but I also like her to know that her own thoughts on the subject will be considered.  My daughter always wants to go for it (and she usually complains about similar violations before I even know they exist) but she's my little activist. ;-)  If she were more shy about being an atheist, or more concerned about what others thought of her, I may not be as vocal. 

Please let us know what you decide to do, as we can all learn from how you end up handling this. 

Oh that stinks. 4H should be one of the good places for us. My family was very active in 4H when I was a kid. I don't remember that ever being an issue but then I'm in the northeast where religion is not generally quite so aggressive and my parents were nominally Catholic so I might not have noticed anyway.

Here is 4H's actual policy on religion: http://www.national4-hheadquarters.gov/library/fs_religion_4h.pdf

Personally, I would push it. The policy is very clear and clearly does not allow what your daughter's camp is doing. But of couse that's only a decision your family can make.

Thanks for your thoughts.  I am still trying to figure out what to do. My daughter is very young and doesn't understand all of this. That is part of the problem - I am getting my information from her. I don't know how reliable it is. The first time I saw it and I saw two boy who weren't singing the prayer get told that they must. But now I am relying on a small child's memory and understanding of a very adult situation. She could be confused.

I am quite certain that the information reached them. It's a very small office here. The person at the Civil Rights office told me who she spoke to and that they would replace it Monday. Also, my daughter said they talked to all of the kids today about the "option" and the pledge and government. (She didn't understand any of it). I think that making it "optional" is their way of dealing with it. However, that's not how I was told they would deal with it. I don't like it. What little kid can truly understand this option and the peer pressure at this age is intense.

Yes, I thought 4H was a place for us too!! My daughter loves many things that 4H does and I thought we would even join after the camp, but I am not keen on it now. I was going to pull my daughter out of the camp because I wasn't sure she liked it anyway, but she wanted to stay. So, I am going to let her go. But next year, I think I will just keep her in the YMCA all summer.

The funny thing is that she also attended several weeks of a YMCA camp where there was none of this. The camp was even held at a church, but they never prayed or talked about God. They just used the back of the church building (Yes, I am not crazy about that, but I knew about it before I signed her up and I didn't have to do it). When I asked the YMCA if they prayed, they said they did not because they wanted it to be welcoming to everyone. Hmm... what a thought. Too bad our secular government doesn't feel the same way!

Yesterday my daughter came home and told me that once again they sang the "Gray Song" (I think it is probably Grace Song, but since we don't say Grace she didn't get the name right.) So, I put another call into the Civil Rights office to see if they can find anything out. My daughter is very young, so when I ask her for details, such as "Was it counselor led?", she has no idea what I am asking. So, I hope that I can find out while still remaining semi-anonymous. (They probably know who complained because there weren't very many parents there when they did the song for the day I complained about.) 

She is enjoying the camp and I am going to let her finish it out. But we probably won't do anything 4H again because of this. Sad, because a federally sponsored program should be welcoming. I know I'm not the only non-Christian in the county (although I think there is a small group of non-Christians - but we have Jews, Buddhists, etc. I wouldn't have thought that at 4H there would be an issue.

I think the Civil Rights office might be blowing me off now. I called and left a message with someone. When I didn't hear anything I called again. I am still waiting. Tomorrow will be a week.

Just to give everyone an update - After weeks of calling and leaving messages, I finally got a call back. I was told that he would send an email to all of the directors and remind them about the separation of church and state. I reminded him that I wished to keep my name out of it. He said that was no problem. However, he did not. He copied me on the email and it had my first and last name, stated that I made several complaints, and disclosed that I am an atheist. I sent him an email stating that I was unhappy with this, but I have not heard from him. I hope these directors keep my name to themselves.

On the upside, the email did remind everyone of their duty regarding separation of church and state. The director of my area emailed me and said that he would take care of it. Unfortunately, he is leaving for another job this week. So, even if he does take care of it, there is no guarantee it will last. Frustrating.


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