Ethics 101: Is it Smart to Ask the Church for School Supplies?

A weekly commentary by Hemant Mehta, adapted from his blog "The Friendly Atheist."

Dec. 16, 2009

David McCalla, the principal of Albany High School, a public high school in Albany, N.Y., wanted to purchase SMART Boards for all the classrooms in his building. (For those who don't know what SMART Boards are, they are interactive whiteboards. I use them in my math classrooms every day and they are amazing. I'd be lost without them.)

The total cost to put the equipment in each classroom was $275,000–not a good-looking number when you already have serious budget issues.

So while the Albany school board grappled with its finances, McCalla took an unconventional route by approaching local clergy!

"Getting the widest range of people, the quickest way is through the church," he said.

On a recent weekday, McCalla met with the church leaders to demonstrate the boards and show what the city's students were missing out on. They must have been impressed, because by the end of the week the clergy had called a news conference and already had begun collecting donations from their church members. They also issued a challenge to local businesses to help them raise $60,000 by the end of January so the school could buy 30 new boards.

As far as I can tell, there are no strings attached to the financial contributions. It's hard for me to criticize the principal for going to the religious groups in the community to ask for help when it's tough to get that money from other sources. I also commend the churches for helping the children and teachers.

But I still feel a bit queasy about this relationship… do you?

Is the principal crossing the line by reaching out to the church community? If not, what would have to happen before that line was crossed? Readers, what do you think?



 About Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist


Hemant Mehta is the Chair of the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) Board of Directors. He has worked with the Center for Inquiry and is also an SSA representative to the Secular Coalition for America. Hemant received national attention, including being featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, for his work as the "eBay Atheist." Hemant's blog can be read at and his book "I Sold My Soul on eBay" (WaterBrook Press) is now in bookstores everywhere. He currently works as a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago.