Maybe it got a little out of hand

[wonkbar]a href="://"[/wonkbar]A group of Christian moms' little project to meet their kids for lunch and talk Jesus with them has ballooned into a great big Church-n-State hotdish mess at Middleton High School in Madison, Wisconsin, with school authorities trying to keep order during the school day and evangelical parents claiming that the school is trying to persecute Christians, as schools generally do. The weekly feedings of the adolescent multitudes, which includes preaching and distribution of Bibles, have come to be known as "Jesus Lunches," and the school administration is trying to tell the preaching parents to knock it off -- not out of any desire to reach out and crush faith, but because the combined lunches and revival meetings pull up to 450 students a week away from school grounds in violation of school district policies.

Middleton High Principal Stephen Plank sent out a letter to parents and staff explaining why the Jesus Lunches had become a problem:

These lunches began on a very small scale with one/two parents bringing sandwiches to their own children at MHS, sitting down with them at lunch, outside the building and discussing their Christian faith. It then expanded to the parents bringing more and more lunches to give to students interested in sitting down and discussing their religious faith ... The parents/students moved from outdoors on the south lawn of the school, to an off campus location (which would have been allowable but would have required school administration to inform parents of any incentivizing of students to eat lunch free in exchange for attendance), and finally to Fireman’s Park in the fall of 2015. In both cases of the south lawn and off campus locations, Steve Plank expressed an opposition to this growing event, and conveyed to these parents that this practice violates school and district policy.

The letter explained that Plank had informed parents several times that the school district's lease on the site, Fireman's Park, allowed enforcement of school rules in the park. As the lunches expanded, they began to interfere with the orderly operations of the school, and violated district safety and health policies:

We are in no way interested in opposing religious practice in otherwise legal circumstances. Below are three of the policies being ignored:

  • Anyone providing food for students must follow the district’s food handling standards found in the district Food Safety Plan. Food of any kind that is served to students must be approved by the school/district to ensure food safety, cleanliness, and health. In addition, many students are subject to food allergies, so additional protocols must be followed to safeguard students with these conditions. A parent group bringing large quantities of food to a school also raises significant questions regarding whether it is, in fact, an adult organized event that has not followed Administrative Policy 371.
  • Adult visitors to school/school campus must follow Administrative Policy 860 Visitors to the Schools, which requires registering in the school office, or the greeter’s station. This is a requirement of all visitors to our schools/school campus during school hours, whether or not they are parents.
  • If students are interested in organizing student led activities, MHS staff are happy to work with them and will convey the district and school policies that govern activities. This, however, appears to be an event initiated by adults without approval by the school.

Every time Plank tried to tell the evangelizing parents to knock it off, and to explain why the lunches were legally questionable (which had nothing to do with First Amendment concerns), the Christians expanded the events and cried that they were being repressed.

The letter closes with a wanly optimistic call for peace, which seems unlikely:

The parents contend that it is their First Amendment Right to provide free food and hold a religiously oriented event on this property during school hours. The District believes that we have jurisdiction of this leased property, which is part of our campus. We believe that religious or political events do not have a place in our school or on our campus, except when sponsored by a student group in accordance with our rules, which require prior approval. In addition, many students have conveyed to us their concern about a group offering free food to incentivize participation in a religious event on campus. The result of which has a divisive impact on our learning community. As such, we will continue to work with the parent group to find an amicable resolution.

The school says the park counts as school property during the school day, and the lunches violate school policies on food handling and student organizations, and the parents insist they're merely having a nice little Jesus lunch with their kids and any others they can entice into showing up for free food and a sermon. And if somebody cooks up some salmonella casserole, or preaches to a kid whose parents object to getting Jesus all over the school day, well, that's a shame, but it's all for a good cause, right? (Let's not even get started with the possibilities of a creeper coming to the lunchtime revival and walking off with a kid. Oh look, nobody had to sign in!) And it's all perfectly acceptable, because popular proselytizing is just fine. As Friendly Atheist columnist Hemant Mehta points out,

Imagine for a second these were Muslim or atheist parents trying to do the exact same thing. All hell would break loose [...]

The parents have no “First Amendment Right” to do this, either. Strangers can’t walk up to a public school and offer kids candy, just like they can’t tell those kids to walk off campus property during the school day in order to acquire the goods.

But the parents don't want to play by the rules. If they wanted to have lunch and preaching on a weekend or outside of school hours, wonderful, go for it. Students are free to form religious clubs, but no, adults aren't allowed to come in from off campus and set up a club or food tent for them.

We're sure this will all work out just fine, though. Just as soon as the school starts demanding the right to hold algebra classes during local church services. Now all they need are some Open Carry advocates to show up with guns to protect the kids from militant atheists.

[Friendly Atheist / Middleton Times-Tribune]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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