Religious talk: Salem school bars church leader

AP News
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Posted: Oct 31, 2014 7:20 PM

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A church youth leader has been barred from volunteering at a Salem public school after a student said he was promoting Christianity and insulted her for being an atheist.

The principal at Straub Middle School, Laura Perez, said that Tim Saffeels will not be allowed back as a volunteer for the remainder of the school year, the Salem Statesman Journal (http://stjr.nl/10aa7pU) reported Friday.

Saffeels, director of student ministries at Salem Heights Church, said students initiated a conversation about religion, but he denied insulting the student who complained to the principal about an Oct. 23 lunch conversation.

Eighth-grader Shelby Conway said in an email that Saffeels asked students for their religious beliefs and, when she said she is an atheist, told her that atheism is "wrong," ''bad," ''stupid" and "evil."

Perez said that violates school policy, which prohibits visitors from "promotion or inhibition of religion in any form ..."

"I decided that I'm not going to allow him in because to me there was a breach of trust there," Perez said.

Volunteers supervise students during lunch and serve as role models. They make sure students are picking up after themselves, Perez said.

The student said she was "very uncomfortable and personally offended with the way he was speaking to both me and other non-Christians around the lunch room."

Saffeels said he sat down at a table with a student from the church when students started asking about religion.

"I wasn't in any way trying to force any of those things," Saffeels said. "They actually did literally ask me 'Who is Jesus?' "

He denied making the comments Conway attributed to him about atheism.

Perez said she that after the current school year, she would revisit whether to allow Saffeels back into Straub.

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Information from: Statesman Journal, http://www.statesmanjournal.com