Recently in Moline, Illinois, illusionist Zak Mirzadeh performed for students at Wilson Middle School during the day. During that assembly, Mirzadeh invited the kids to bring their parents to a similar evening performance where there would be “more magic, free prizes, and food.”
There was also Jesus. Lots of Jesus. Mirzadeh never mentioned that. Neither did the school.
One complainant attended the event to find an auditorium packed with middle school students. After performing some magic tricks, Mirzadeh told the audience about his conversion from Islam to Christianity.
Following his religious testimony, he asked the audience to bow their heads and close their eyes while he said a prayer, then asked members of the audience to raise their hand if they had “accepted Jesus tonight.” He then instructed the audience to stand and asked those who had raised their hands to come forward to celebrate their “spiritual birthday” in an altar call.
He may have thought this was legal because it was during a voluntary after-school event. But the group’s secrecy and the District’s complicity suggest that both sides knew exactly what would happen and allowed it to take place.
Now the Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling on the Moline-Coal Valley School District No. 40 to investigate how this happened so that they never again promote religion via a school assembly, directly or indirectly. FFRF also wants the District to promise never to invite Mirzadeh or his New Life Fellowship colleagues from performing for students again.
“We are aware that some Christian missionaries insinuate themselves into public schools by camouflaging their purposes and professing to be experts in a secular field or, as in this case, popular children’s entertainment,” writes FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne in his letter to Superintendent Lanty McGuire. “It is incumbent that public officials do ‘due diligence’ when approached by outside groups with vested interests in pitching their message to a captive audience of public school students.”
“This is one of the more egregious complaints we have received,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Not only has the district violated the rights of conscience of students and their parents, but it also allowed students of one minority religion to seemingly be specifically targeted for proselytizing from a person of another religion.”
This part of Moline is home to a large Muslim population, making this covert effort at proselytizing even more insidious. While the daytime event may have been secular on its own, it was only a trap to lure children into Christianity. And if they can’t be honest about that, maybe they should rethink their own beliefs.
(Image via Shutterstock)