A Washington D.C.-based nontheistic group sent a letter to the Robbinsdale school district Monday scolding administrators for taking students to a church to do charity work.
Attorneys for the American Humanist Association said the parent of a Robbinsdale student contacted them last year to complain that the district's School of Engineering and Arts had taken students to Calvary Lutheran Church in Golden Valley to participate in a program run by Feed My Starving Children, a Christian effort aimed at eliminating world hunger.
While in the church's basement, students packed meals for needy families in Haiti.
Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said the field trip was a clear violation of the separation of church and state.
"Very importantly, we fully understand that at least one purpose of this field trip was to have the children participate in charity work intended to assist poverty stricken people," she writes. "Such good intentions, however, can be pursued in innumerable other ways that do not involve immersing the unsuspecting children into a theologically-charged environment."
Latisha Gray, a district spokeswoman, said school officials did not believe the incident had violated the law.
"There was absolutely no proselytizing," she said.
An official with the Minnesota Department of Education said the agency was unaware of the letter until contacted by the Star Tribune.
The American Humanist Association, which represents atheists, agnostics, and other non-theists, asked the district to notify them within two weeks that it will no longer take the field trip in the future.