A North Carolina school has apologized after a teacher complained about a religious message found inside an Operation Christmas Child project.
“Our intent was not to offend anyone,” said Ira Trollinger, superintendent of McDowell County Schools in Marion, NC.
Trollinger said students at Glenwood Elementary School were preparing shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child, part of a community service project.
Operation Christmas Child is sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse, an organization run by Franklin Graham. They expect to send more than 8 million shoe box gifts to underprivileged children in 100 countries. Around 60,000 churches and 60,000 community groups in the United States are participating.
As part of the project, the school children received a questionnaire that asked students to fill in the blank: “I love Jesus because ______.”
A part time tutor at the school complained about the questionnaire arguing that it crossed the line and may have violated the First Amendment rights of students.
Trollinger told Fox News & Commentary that no children complained and no parents complained – just the part time tutor.
“We may have teachers and tutors that are agnostic,” he said. “And that is certainly up to them. And we don’t mean to offend anyone. We want to give kids the opportunity to share and to feel good about what they are doing for other people who may need it more than they do.”
Nevertheless, the single complaint launched a flurry of apologies and phone calls. Trollinger said they called teachers together to remind them of the rules governing religion and public schools.
“We can’t support one religion over the other,” he said. “So many of us are Christian, but in our setting we will try to make sure we respect all religions.”
Trollinger said parents received an automated telephone call alerting them of the incident – as well as letters – all because the name “Jesus” was mentioned on a slip of paper.
Trollinger, who is a Christian and teaches Sunday School, said he is worried that some people will take offense to the apologies – but the rules are the rules.
“We have to be neutral there – even though personally I’m not neutral, when I’m in my job, I am neutral,” he said. “I try to be.”
The school hopes to continue participating in Operation Christmas Child but Trollinger said in the future they will not participate in the survey involving the “Jesus” question.
It’s not the first time Operation Christmas Child has raised the ire of critics. The Air Force Academy apologized in November after it was accused of religious intolerance for promoting the Christian ministry.