Some Muslim parents are concerned about public schools in Dearborn handing out flyers to all students advertising an Easter egg hunt, saying it violates the principle of church and state separation.
A flyer headlined “Eggstravaganza!” was given to students this week at three elementary schools in the Dearborn Public Schools district, which has a substantial number of Muslim students. The flyer described an April 12 event at Cherry Hill Presbyterian Church in Dearborn featuring an egg hunt, relay race, and egg toss. It asked students to RSVP “to secure your free spot” and included images of eggs and a bunny.
“It really bothered my two kids,” said parent Majed Moughni, who is Muslim and has two children, ages 7 and 9,
in Dearborn elementary schools. “My son was like, ‘Dad, I really don’t feel comfortable getting these flyers, telling me to go to church. I thought churches are not supposed to mix with schools.’ ”
Moughni said he’s concerned about “using school teachers paid by public funds … to pass out these flyers that are being distributed by a church. I think that’s a serious violation of separation of church and state.”
David Mustonen, spokesman for Dearborn Public Schools, did not respond Thursday to several requests by the Free Press for comment.
The pastor of Cherry Hill Presbyterian Church defended the flyer, saying it was approved for distribution by Dearborn Public Schools and is not promoting a religious event.
“It’s designed to be an opportunity to invite the community to come for a day of activity,” said Pastor Neeta Nichols of Cherry Hill. “There is not a religious component to this event.”
“Part of our ministry in Dearborn is to invite the community to let them know we’re here,” she added. “We’re offering various kinds of programming, fun opportunities, so what we can be engaged with the community.”
But Moughni and others are worried that churches are trying to convert their youth through the Dearborn schools. Moughni said his children received flyers for Halloween events at another church last year.
And in recent years, other Muslim parents have complained about what they say are attempts to convert their children. The Conquerors, a Grandville-based group of Christian athletes who display feats of strength to spread the message of Jesus, have performed in Dearborn schools, drawing some concern. In 2009, there was controversy over an assistant wrestling coach who some parents said was trying to convert Muslim wrestlers, which the coach denied.
Moughni said he greatly respects Christianity, but believes that schools should not promote events related to religious holidays. He said he would oppose flyers that promoted events at mosques as well.
Part of the debate centers around whether Easter is entirely a religious holiday, or one that combines Christian and Western cultural traditions such as the Easter bunny and eggs.
Greg Lipper, senior litigation counsel at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he has some concerns about the flyer since the event is being held at a church.
“It would be one thing if this were an Easter egg hunt in an otherwise secular setting,” say, the White House Easter egg hunt, 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.”
Lipper added that the legality of flyer distribution in schools depends on whether the district is favoring some institutions over others. Schools can’t favor one religion, he said.
“The younger the children, the greater the concern,” Lipper said. “Children are more impressionable than adults, and elementary schoolchildren are more impressionable than any other students. And so the school district has to be especially careful about appearing to endorse … a particular religion.”