Actually sounds like a pretty good program to me.
By Dara Kam
Special to The Palm Beach Post
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
TALLAHASSEE — Just before Father's Day, Gov. Jeb Bush announced that he wanted every public school in Florida to host a Christian-based program designed to increase fathers' participation in their children's lives.
The program, All Pro Dad, combines a biblical foundation with the draw of popular professional athletes to promote the belief that "the father is the head of the household" and that men should rely on God to help them be better parents and keep their marriages intact. It also encourages Bible reading.
"This is a really great program," Bush said at a news conference last month, though he did not make any reference to the project's Christian foundation. "The response of this program has been a success, and I hope it expands throughout the entire state to every school in every school district."
But critics say the program, which has a direct link on the Florida Department of Education Web site, clearly has Christian overtones and is part of a national effort by evangelicals who view public schools as recruiting fields.
An official state Web site should not be linked to such an organization, said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Lynn said the link violates the First Amendment, which prohibits government from establishing a state religion and at the same time prohibits government from interfering with religious practices.
"This has a very clear religious message, so that's wrong and that should be stopped immediately," Lynn said from his office in Washington. "This is an overtly fundamentalist Christian worldview that's being promoted."
Program popular in Tampa area
The All Pro Dad program is used in about 60 locations in 20 states, including a dozen Tampa Bay-area public schools. Monthly breakfast meetings are held in school cafeterias or nearby Chick-fil-A restaurants. There are no active chapters in Palm Beach, Martin or St. Lucie counties.
Last month, however, Florida K-12 public schools Chancellor Jim Warford touted the program to the state's 67 school superintendents.
"I encourage you to go to http://www.allprodad.com/yourneigh borhood.asp to get a free introductory DVD about the program and how you can get fathers more involved in your schools," Warford wrote in a June 17 memo. The memo does not include information about the program's religious orientation.
Department of Education officials defended the state's endorsement of the Christian-based program, but otherwise referred queries about All Pro Dad to Volunteer Florida, a Bush-appointed nonprofit agency charged with faith and community outreach.
"It's appropriate for the Department of Education to endorse programs that encourage parents to be involved in their children's lives. We would support any program that would encourage that," department spokeswoman Melanie Etters said. "The fact is that a lot of the people that participate in the All Pro Dads are NFL stars and they reach out to some populations that the Department of Education wouldn't attract."
Etters said the department "welcomes other programs" that would promote parental involvement in their children's lives.
But Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said Bush and the department's endorsement of the program is indicative of the governor's disregard for the state constitution, which prohibits spending state money, directly or indirectly, on religious programs.
"It may be a wonderful program, but a program that encourages Bible reading and strengthening your relationship with God is not the kind of program that should be sponsored by the public schools, nor should it be the kind of program that is organized and facilitated by the public schools," Simon said.
"From vouchers, from faith-based initiatives, to the nation's first faith-based prisons, this governor has a blind spot when it comes to the constitutional requirement on separation of church and state. He's completely uncritical. He doesn't believe that reading the Bible and strengthening your relationship with God is a faith-based message."
The Florida Supreme Court is now considering whether Bush's 6-year-old Opportunity Scholarship Program is constitutional. The program gives vouchers for students at failing schools to attend private schools, including religious schools.
Two lower courts have struck down the voucher program, declaring it violated the constitutional provision barring state tax dollars from being spent on religious institutions.
The All Pro Dad curriculum was created by Family First, a Tampa-based nonprofit "research and educational organization," according to founder and President Mark Merrill. It is being promoted throughout the nation, in part with the help of fast-food chain Chick-fil-A, whose founder, S. Truett Cathy, is a Southern Baptist. Merrill was tapped by Bush, a Catholic, to serve on Volunteer Florida's 25-member board.
Mulrennan Middle School in Valrico, east of Tampa, promotes All Pro Dad on its school marquee and in newsletters. The school also advertises the program on its radio and television stations, said assistant principal Matthew Diprima, who organizes the monthly meetings.
"This is something the school supports, and this is something that's fostered by the school," Diprima said.
He said the Mulrennan group meets at a neighborhood Chick-fil-A, which donates materials to the children who participate. The group uses the All Pro Dad Web site to choose topics for discussion.
Included on the Web site are tips for fathers, including "Ten Ways to be a Better Dad" and "How to Save Your Marriage."
Father called 'head coach' of family
One of the marriage-saving lessons, written by All Pro Dad Director Bryan Davis, coaches men to pray with their wives.
"God has joined you and your wife together. He is the Author of love and marital harmony. Deepening your relationship with Him is the key and foundation of a successful marriage. If you haven't cracked open a Bible in a while, start. Find I Corinthians 13 and give it a read. It's the perfect blueprint for your marriage," Davis advises.
A video introduction by Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, All Pro Dad's national spokesman, lays the groundwork for good parenting by establishing the father as the "head coach" of the family.
"That's the biblical way it's set up. Mom and Dad directing the family together, with the dad being the head of the household," Dungy instructs participants. "Now that doesn't always happen... but that's the ideal way and the best way, and that's the way we're going to function the best."
But the group's president last week did not directly answer several questions about the Bible's role in the All Pro Dad resources.
"Isn't that self-evident?" Merrill said. "A lot of the principles contained in the Old and New Testaments really are superior principles for raising children and for living."