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updated: 4/15/2011 5:18 PM

Parent upset over atheist group at Larkin High

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At least one parent was upset today when a group of students set up shop in the Larkin High School cafeteria to talk about atheism.

The occasion was Ask an Atheist Day, a national event that aims to dispel stereotypes about atheists and promote dialogue between believers and nonbelievers.

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Jon Tuin, principal of the Elgin school, said he allowed a group of atheist students from Larkin to set up a table in the cafeteria during two lunch periods.

"Kids could come up to the table and ask them questions," Tuin said. "Students didn't have to go up to them and talk. It wasn't like a group came in to do a presentation."

But one parent said the school went too far.

"They were here to talk about atheism," said Shavon Stanback of Elgin. "That's totally unacceptable to me."

She continued: "I'm a Christian woman. I believe in God. I believe in heaven and hell."

But Tuin said Christian groups -- or students from any other religious background, for that matter -- would have the same opportunity.

"I allow Christian groups to do a similar thing," Tuin said. "So I feel like if atheist kids want to engage in dialogue with students at lunch time and they do it in a reasonable way, they're within their rights."

A spokesman for Elgin Area School District U-46, of which Larkin is a part, said that's well within district policy and state law.

"If it's a student-led group, and their materials are not offensive or obscene, it would be within board policy," U-46 spokesman Tony Sanders said. "You can't mandate an assembly and force them to listen to that type of information, but having a table set up where students can go up and talk -- that's not an issue."

Tuin said the discussions he witnessed were lively but civil. As of Friday afternoon, he said he had not yet heard any complaints.

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