December 2012 Church & State | People & Events

Jewish public school students are often targeted for evangelism by fundamentalist Christians in Georgia, says the website Jews On First.

According to a lengthy story by journalist Jan Jaben-Eilon, an Atlanta resident, a number of Jewish students express concerns about being singled out for evangelism efforts.

“A lot of classmates said they’d pray for me since I was going to hell because I’m Jewish,” one young woman, now in college, told Jaben-Eilon.

Proselytizing by classmates may be annoying, but school-sponsored religion is illegal. Georgia schools still have problems with that, especially in smaller towns and rural areas.

The site reported on a host of problems, including evangelistic rallies held on school property by preachers who claim to be offering anti-drug messages, entertainment assemblies that turn into Christian rallies and official prayers before school events such as football games.

Some Jewish students have also reported experiencing difficulties getting excused absences for religious holidays, even though the schools are routinely closed for Christian ones.

“It’s a rare month that we don’t get at least one student complaining about proselytizing in a public school,” said Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

Seagraves added, “I’ve lived in Georgia for 64 years, and it’s always been this way. A lot of Christian practices are incorporated into schools inappropriately.”

Rabbi Fred Green, who serves a synagogue in Roswell, Ga., agreed that there are problems.

“I’m encountering it far more here than in New York or Connecticut,” Green, who previously worked in those states, told Jews On First.

The problem is compounded by local and state legislators, many of whom are hostile to church-state separation.

In 2002, Jeff Selman, an Americans United activist in Cobb County, spoke out after the school board ordered that anti-evolution disclaimers be pasted into science texts. Selman filed suit, and the case was eventually settled out of court. Part of the settlement called for the stickers to be removed.