Written by Don Byrd

A public school district’s fundraising for and promotion of a mission trip to Guatemala violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, a federal district court in Colorado ruled this week. Because “[t]he very concept of a mission trip has religious intimations,” the court found, the activities of school officials in supporting the “overtly religious” trip had the effect of advancing religion and entangled the government with religion impermissibly.

The judge highlighted the fact that officials sent flyers and emails promoting the trip, and solicited funds and supplies to assist participants. Here is an excerpt from the opinion:

The avenues by which these emails and flyers were sent are cause for concern in and of themselves, as the use of official public school platforms should not be intermingled with the promotion of religion. The language in the emails and flyers noting that the District was “partner[ing] with” an openly Christian organization in their proselytizing efforts is also concerning. . . . 

Further, the supplies collected in the supply drive were clearly intended to be taken and used on the mission trip—the flyer stated that “FCA students will take [donated supplies] with them to run camps during their Spring Break mission to San Pedro”—and indeed the beads solicited in the supply drive and donated by Cougar Run students were apparently used to make “Salvation Bracelets” to tell the story of Jesus. As such, the items collected at Cougar Run were used to directly promote a Christian message.

Via Religion Clause, the Denver Post reports the school district has not announced whether it will appeal the decision.