Hunters given religious material at state class held at church


LACONIA — Responding to a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Fish and Game Department is investigating why people attending a hunter safety class at Heritage Free Will Baptist Church were given religious fliers.

Volunteer instructors typically conduct such classes, but it's not clear who handed out literature with prayers and information about services, said Laura Ryder, hunter education supervisor at the department.

Materials to be handed out in such classes are supposed to pertain strictly to hunting.

“This is a first,” Ryder said Friday. “We're reviewing everything that happened and are handling it like a personnel matter.”

Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, sent a letter on June 28 to Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau, complaining about the religious handouts, including one titled, “How can I become God's child?” that provided the advice “Admit that you are a sinner.”

A person who complained to the Freedom From Religion Foundation said all participants in the class, which was held at the church April 6-8, received the same material.

“We understand that a pastor taught this class and that these religious materials were enclosed with all of the hunter's official safety documents and study packets,” Barker and Gaylor said in their letter.

“These proselytizing handouts are supremely insulting to non-Christians and nonbelievers.

“The state of New Hampshire has no business holding workshops of vital importance to hunter safety that berate attendees as 'sinners,' etc. Such a misuse of state function for sectarian, proselytizing purposes is disgraceful.”

Joel Nason, pastor of the Heritage Free Will Baptist Church, did not return calls for comment Friday and wasn't at the church.

Ryder there are 480 certified volunteer instructors who instruct hunter safety classes after becoming certified “in a clearly defined curriculum.”

Such classes are needed for those 16 or older to get a hunting license.

Nicola Whitley, spokesman for the Fish and Game Department, said Normandeau would be out of the office until next week.

“I can assure you that the Fish and Game Department emphasizes to all instructors the importance of only covering information contained in the hunter education curriculum, which contains no material relative to any religion,” she said.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation describes itself as a national nonprofit with 29,000 members with a mission of protecting the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

07 08 Heritage Free Will Baptist Church

Heritage Free Will Baptist Church, where a hunter safety class has touched off a controversy. A person complained religious material was handed out in the state Fish and Game Department course there. (Photo by Rick Green/Laconia Daily Sun)