“Young Skeptics, an after-school program that organizers say offers an alternative to religious clubs, opened its first California chapter at Harloe Elementary in Arroyo Grande last week with Atheists United of San Luis Obispo.
“We are not teaching any kind of
particular point of view,” Atheists United spokesman David Leidner said.
“We were concerned about the proliferation of Good News Clubs at our county schools and wanted to offer students an evidence-based alternative.”
The Young Skeptics program, an incorporated nonprofit organization under the name The Better News Club Inc.,
originated at Fairbanks Elementary School in Churchville, New York, in
2015. At the time, it was founded because of concern over religious and
what opponents called “fear-tactic” teachings of the Christian-based
Good News Club.
We’re not telling kids what to think, we’re teaching them how to think. – David Leidner, Atheists United of San Luis Obispo
“We wanted to provide kids with a
safe space to think critically, evaluate evidence and discover their
own answers to questions they might have about the natural world around
them — in stark contrast to the methodology of the GNC,” Young Skeptics
executive director Kevin Davis said.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2001
that schools cannot prohibit a religious club or after-school program —
specifically the Good News Club — from operating on campus purely
because of its religious nature, because to do so “discriminated against
the club because of its religious viewpoint in violation of the free
speech clause of the First Amendment.”
Since then, the Child Evangelism Fellowship
(which manages the evangelical clubs) has won numerous lawsuits with
school districts that shied away from permitting Good News Clubs on
Darren Johnson, director of the
Central Coast chapter of Child Evangelism Fellowship, said there are
about 30 Good News Clubs in San Luis Obispo County, including one at
Nationwide, about 4,500 elementary schools have such clubs, and about 180,000 children are enrolled, he said.
The Better News Club shares its Young Skeptics program curriculum
on its website, with lessons on evidence, reasoning and communication,
skepticism and the scientific method. Many of the lessons feature
experiments and games to cement the ideas, as well as worksheets and
Leidner said the club won’t
“teach atheism” — instead, it focuses on critical thinking skills and
encourages students to analyze facts to shape their own beliefs.
Leidner said. He said
they hope to open more chapters at other schools in the area in the
The maiden lesson was how to separate facts from opinion.
“We do think critical thinking
skills can be taught at any age,” Leidner said. “We’re doing our best to
make this fun and achievable for all ages of student.””