Americans United for Separation of Church and State has urged two South Carolina public school districts to stop a Baptist ministry from performing foot-washing rituals on students as part of a shoe giveaway.
After receiving complaints about the program, Americans United sent letters in December to education officials in Aiken and Edgefield Counties, urging them to discontinue the “Laces4Love” program run by the First Baptist Church of North Augusta. The program provides new shoes to needy children but includes a dollop of proselytism.
The Rev. Mark Owens told a local newspaper, “We just feel like God’s called us to reach as many children as we can with the Gospel of Christ and a pair of shoes.” He said First Baptist volunteers enter schools and, before fitting the needy students with new shoes, “wash their feet like Jesus did his disciples.”
Said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn, “Providing poor children with new shoes is a worthy endeavor. But the manner in which the church is doing so is blatantly unconstitutional.”
In its letters, Americans United argued that “public school districts may not participate in or facilitate operation of the ministry in any way, including by providing a list of needy children, hosting the shoe-fittings and foot-washings in school facilities, or promoting the ministry’s activities.”
The Edgefield school district issued a statement claiming it was “not aware of any religious ‘foot washing ceremony’ performed when the children receive their shoes.”