Are flyers for an Easter egg hunt a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state?
That's the question some Muslin parents in Dearborn, Mich., are asking after flyers publicizing an upcoming Easter egg hunt at a Presybterian church were distributed to students in Dearborn Public Schools.
The parents said the incident is deepening their concerns churches are using the school district to convert their children to Christianity.
The district has a large group of Muslim students. One of their parents, Majed Moughni, told the Detroit Free Press the flyers "really bothered” his two children, ages 7 and 9, who attend Dearborn elementary schools.
The April 12 event to be held at Cherry Hill Presbyterian Church includes an egg hunt, relay race and egg toss. The flyer, which included images of eggs and a bunny, were encouraged to RSVP to make sure they got a free spot early.
“My son was like, ‘Dad, I really don’t feel comfortable getting these flyers telling me to go to church,” Moughni told the newspaper. “I thought churches are not supposed to mix with schools.’ ”
Moughni said he doesn’t think teachers whose salaries are paid by taxpayers should be distributing flyers for a church event. “I think that’s a serious violation of separation of church and state,” he said, adding that he would similarly oppose the distribution in public schools of flyers that promote events at mosques.
Moughni said this isn’t the first time flyers for events at churches have been distributed by the schools, including a Halloween party at another church last fall. He also cited a performance at the school by The Conquerors, a Grandville-based group of Christian athletes who perform feats of strength to spread the gospel of Jesus.
The Free Press asked Dearborn Public Schools spokesman David Mustonen for comment, but he did respond to several requests.
Cherry Hill Presbyterian Church pastor Neeta Nichols said the Easter egg hunt isn’t a religious event and the Dearborn school district approved distribution of the flyer.
“It’s designed to be an opportunity to invite the community to come for day of activity,” Nichols said. “There is not a religious component to this event.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State lawyer Greg Lipper told the newspaper that though there’s room for debate over whether Easter is an entirely religious holiday or one that combines Christian and Western cultural traditions such as the Easter bunny and eggs, promoting an event at religious institution is troublesome.
Events such as the White House Easter egg hunt or similar events in other secular settings pass constitutional muster, he said, “but this invitation was for an Easter egg hunt at a Christian church — and so the event has much clearer religious connotations."
"Context matters," he said.
Lipper also said the school district has to be careful about appearing to endorse one religion over another, especially when impressionable children are involved.