In Madison, Wisconsin, a group of Christian parents have brought it upon themselves to coerce students at Middleton High School into accepting Jesus. They’re doing it by luring the kids off school property once a week, giving them free food, and using the opportunity to tell them all about Jesus.
It’s so widespread at this point — it’s been happening since spring of 2014 and now draws about 450 students each time — that the students and adults have just come to call them “Jesus Lunches.”
Now, Principal Stephen Plank is trying to put a stop to it before the lawsuits come flying in. In a letter sent to all parents and staff this week, he explained the origins of the Jesus Lunches and why they pose a legal problem.
Pay close attention to what he says, because it’s very clear he’s an administrator who’s genuinely not out to persecute Christians, but trying his best to uphold his duty as the head of the school:
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. In speaking with parents about concerns regarding informal gatherings growing into larger ones with the dissemination of food and giving away of Bibles. 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 group went to the City of Middleton and reserved Fireman’s Park starting in September of 2015. The parents provided large quantities of free food at the pavilion and began more organized events. The lunch event developed the name “Jesus Lunch” amongst MHS students, as it promoted a Christian-based worship. Steve Plank once again asked the parents to stop holding these lunches. They refused, and continued to expand them. The School District’s lease of Fireman’s Park permits enforcement of school policies during school hours/days.
The School District’s concerns related to this event come down to policy expectations that MCPASD maintains — policies in place to ensure student safety, health and welfare. The policies in question include food handling, visitors to campus, and expectations around student organized events. 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.
These policy concerns have been repeatedly conveyed to the group of parents organizing the “Jesus Lunches”. Just two weeks ago, Steve Plank learned that the parents intended to continue the lunches starting today. We have been working actively with city officials to make sure we are on the same page with our understanding of this situation and our lease of Fireman’s Park. Steve Plank again asked the parents to cancel the event earlier this week in a telephone conversation that was to precede a scheduled meeting. The response was that they would not respect this request, and that they intended to move forward.
In short, the District is trying to stop this illegal (but popular) practice, while the irresponsible parents in question don’t give a damn what the law is. They’re going to convert these children — and if a kid dies of a peanut allergy, or some kids’ parents object to the proselytizing, or a stranger has access to kids during the school day, so be it.
The letter continued:
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.
Imagine for a second these were Muslim or atheist parents trying to do the exact same thing. All hell would break loose.
Ted Cruz would jump on a plane to Wisconsin to put a stop to this travesty and score some easy political points. Fox News Channel would be having a field day. The screenwriters for God’s Not Dead 3 would be having a collective orgasm.
But because these are Christians, no one involved seems to be saying the obvious: This is really fucking creepy.
This isn’t about feeding hungry kids. The school already takes care of that. This is about taking advantage of children when their parents aren’t around in order to push Christianity on them.
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.
This is appalling behavior and any reasonable person should be able to admit that.
Last night, they posted this statement online:
The following statement can be attributed to Attorney Phillip Stamman of Southworth and Stamman, LLC, the firm representing Jesus Lunch regarding the School District of Middleton’s attempts to shut down the “Jesus Lunch” at Fireman’s Park in the City of Middleton, Wisconsin:
Fireman’s Park — a public park owned by the City of Middleton — remains accessible to everyone in the public for the purposes of assembly and free speech. By law, the lease agreement between the city and the School District of Middleton does not privatize the park. Christian parents who provide a free lunch and share their religious beliefs with park visitors retain their First Amendment rights to do so, notwithstanding unfounded protests from the school district.
Again, they have every right to set up shop in the park on a weekend or during the summer. But when they’re asking kids to join them on a school day, the District, which is responsible for those kids when school is in session, has the right to make sure rules are being followed. That means following the food safety protocol, getting names/IDs from all volunteers, and — most importantly — making sure this is a student-led activity.
That last one is the kicker. Students have every right to form religious clubs in high school. Not adults. Students could organize these lunches, too, but adults can’t come in from the outside to do it. That applies to all groups, not just Christian ones.
These parents think the laws don’t apply to them because they have everyone’s best interests at heart. Bullshit. Tell that to the Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, atheist, and non-creepy-Christian parents who don’t want strangers preaching to their kids, telling them they’re going to Hell unless they submit to Christ, when they’re supposed to be getting an education.
The Jesus Lunch organizers have been given ample warning — and they haven’t listened. It’s time for the District to use the force of law against them. That way, at least someone is thinking about the kids.
If nothing else, the District should simply adopt a policy forbidding students from going off campus during their lunch periods.
(Thanks to Liana for the link)