Last Thursday night, the Frankfort Elberta Area Schools in Michigan held its annual “Holiday Dinner and Talent Show,” which should’ve been a pleasant event for all the attending families. However, according to one of the people in the crowd, the night took a strange turn when Principal Matt Stapleton silenced the audience and said, “Before we get started with our meal, we’ve invited Christian Baron to bless the meal.”
Baron, an Anglican priest, then delivered a Christian prayer:
God we give thanks for these plants and animals that died so that we can live. We ask that you give us grateful hearts, Oh God, for all your mercies and make us mindful of the needs of others. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
The reason we know all this is because that person in the crowd alerted the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists (MACRA). The group’s co-founder Mitch Kahle sent an email to Stapleton briefly laying out the law, and how the prayer was illegal, before issuing an ultimatum: “MACRA hereby demands that Frankfort Elberta Area Schools immediately cease and desist of this and any religious activity in the future.”
It took mere hours before the principal responded with an assurance such a prayer would never happen again:
The Frankfort-Elberta Area Schools will immediately cease and desist of this and any religious activity in the future. We understand the importance of following the law and its’ application to school activities.
As a side note, I would like to let you know this was not a scheduled activity on the agenda. This volunteer, who had previously signed up to help at the meal, offered to bless meal just minutes prior to it taking place.
The person who contacted MACRA added that he was “certain” this prayer occurred last year, too.
In any case, the problem was resolved via a couple of emails, and everyone seems to be in agreement that what happened was a violation of the law. If anyone offers to bless the meal in the future — or there’s another kind of violation occurring — Stapleton is now on the record as promising to put a stop to it.
Kahle told a local reporter that that’s a victory in his book.
“They knew the law was being broken but turned a blind eye,” Kahle said. “We want it stopped — and they will stop it because now they know they’re being watched. … Public schools, because we’re all paying their bills, really have to remain secular.”
The strangest thing about the whole story? Baron, the guy who delivered the prayer, contradicts everything Stapleton said. He didn’t offer to bless the meal; he was asked to do it. And he’s a firm supporter of church/state separation!
“They asked me to do it,” Baron said. “I’m not some super evangelical Christian. I’m all about keeping the separation of church and state. My kids go to Frankfort. I love the school.”
I have so many more questions now…
In any case, MACRA assured Stapleton that these events would be recorded in the future, so they’ll know if he’s living up to his end of the deal. Anything less could lead to a lawsuit.
(Image via Shutterstock)