THE BLOG
11/26/2013 05:01 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2014

Being Good for Goodness' Sake: Why Operation Christmas Child Is Wrong

'Tis the season for giving, and according to the World Giving Index, America is the most charitable nation in the world, giving over 200 billion dollars annually. Unfortunately, some religious charitable organizations are staining American philanthropy's good name by giving gifts with strings attached. Rather than giving because it's the right thing to do, these charities give aid in exchange for religious conversion.

One such group is Operation Christmas Child, an evangelical organization that provides gifts to children -- with the goal of converting each child to Christianity. Making matters worse, this program is conducted in public schools and endorsed by school administrators, using student labor to compile boxes of toys, to which booklets are added that include evangelical tracts, sermons, and written prayers -- even a pledge card that the receiving children sign to become "God's child." These boxes of toys are essentially bribes used to pressure poor children living in developing countries to convert to Christianity. And Operation Christmas Child isn't shy about their efforts, bragging about the thousands of kids they've converted.

Reputable, religiously-neutral programs like Toys for Tots, a charity that collects new toys and donates them to poor children, are being supplanted by these discriminatory religious organizations that use holiday presents to entice kids in non-Christian families to convert. When endorsed by public schools, Operation Christmas Child thrives on the labor of students, and the tax dollars of their parents, who have a constitutional right to expect their kids to be free from religious intrusion.

Parents of kids at two public schools where this was happening were fed up. After raising concerns to school administrators last year and no action was taken, they contacted the Appignani Humanist Legal Center for help. Thankfully, after the legal center sent letters that explained the law, the schools stopped participating in Operation Christmas Child. One of the principals even admitted that they had committed an "indefensible" violation of the separation of church and state by working with the charity and by promoting public school students to take part in an explicitly religious activity.

That's why those who oppose these efforts are standing up for the real essence of holiday giving, and fighting back against manipulative attempts to convert children that are less fortunate. Children shouldn't be encouraged by public school administrators to participate in this exploitation. Not only is doing so an illegal violation of the principle of separation of church and state, that is enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, it's immoral. It runs counter to the very nature of the altruism that charity is based upon.

So why did Fox News blame an atheist organization for ending the program when the two public schools should never have endorsed Operation Christmas Child in the first place? I suspect it's because some have no problem with the organization's mission of converting children to Christianity -- and that's a problem for Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Pagans, Unitarians, and other religious minorities, not to mention the nearly 20 percent of Americans with no religious affiliation at all.

While Operation Christmas Child can legally continue their work, so long as they don't use the authority of public schools to promote it, they should perhaps take a moment to reflect on whether what they are doing is truly charity, or just another blatant attempt to manipulate people's suffering as a way of getting new followers for a particular religion. And those who are considering participating in Operation Christmas Child should consider the alternative of giving to charities like Toys For Tots -- that are truly doing good for goodness' sake.