For years now, we’ve posted about the Todd Becker Foundation. It’s a Christian ministry that works its way into public schools under the guise of teaching kids to make smart decisions… only to evangelize to them after those assemblies. Sometimes they do that during the school day. Other times, they offer a secular speech, then encourage students to attend a similar presentation in the evening, when the school’s rules are no longer in effect and they’re more overt about their goal to convert everybody to Christianity.
There’s not much groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation can do about this since the school administrators are usually ignorant about all of this. At least that’s what they say. So FFRF may send a letter to those schools reminding them to do more research before inviting speakers to their schools in order to prevent a church/state separation violation.
But there’s also a more proactive approach.
Because the Todd Becker Foundation is so problematic, FFRF has been checking out where the ministry will be and sends letters to schools in advance to try and prevent any problems. One way to do that is to advise the schools to have strict rules about what the group can and cannot say to students. That also requires filing open records requests to discover what the administrators have already said to the ministry.
And you’ll never believe what they just found.
FFRF wrote to the Burlington School District in Colorado, urging them to cancel an upcoming assembly with the ministry on November 28. They also requested a copy of the contract the two sides signed. Here’s what FFRF discovered:
- The school was aware of the ministry’s evangelistic goals.
- The school knew that a Bible verse would be included in the assembly.
- The school openly admitted to knowing the ministry would “involve them referencing a helpful Bible passage, and/or praying with or for the student.” They knew the ministry would proselytize to students!
- The school agreed to allow ministry members to pray with students after the assembly.
- The school also agreed they would not stop members of the Todd Becker Foundation from being around to speak with students after the assembly.
And here’s the kicker: There’s a clause in the contract that seems specifically designed to stop FFRF from getting in the way of their agreement. In a section titled “Outside influence on this assembly contract,” the Todd Becker Foundation required the school to agree not to modify the contract based on what outside groups told them.
I understand that the Todd Becker Foundation is a faith based, Christian organization that has a long standing reputation of presenting a positive and impactful assembly which is wholly appropriate for the public school setting. Having said this, I understand there are many outside individuals and organizations with a specific agenda to oppose any positive and or/faith based message in public schools. I understand that such outside groups or individuals may try to intimidate, threaten, harass and inhibit the execution of the details set forth in this contract. Therefore, I will not let any outside influence dictate or contribute to the changing or modification of the originally agreed to items in this contract, nor will I allow any outside influence to contribute to the cancellation of this assembly contract.
If the District does cancel the event, they would owe the ministry $6,215.
Superintendent Tom Satterly signed that clause… and all the other ones in the contract.
When FFRF wrote to Satterly last week requesting those open records, Legal Fellow Christopher Line let him know that allowing students to opt out of the assembly didn’t make the ministry’s performance legally permissible. (“When children opt-out, their absence is obvious, and the ostracism they suffer is precisely what the courts have sought to prevent.”) FFRF also noted that a signed agreement that said direct proselytizing wouldn’t occur didn’t absolve them from their legal responsibilities.
But that was before FFRF saw the actual contract. Now, with the actual wording in hand, Line has responded to Satterly once more with far more direct language. I obtained a copy of that message via email.
While I understand your desire to bring in speakers to deliver positive or uplifting messages to your students, there are many assemblies and speakers that are willing to do so without an agenda or desire to spread their religion and religious messages. This agreement should have raised many red flags and alerted you to the potential legal liability that allowing an outside religious group to proselytize to your students presents. I recommend reaching out to legal counsel regarding this matter. In the past, the Todd Becker Foundation has disguised its desire to use public schools as a recruiting grounds for its religious mission, but in this case, they presented all of that information to you and you have agreed to allow them to do it.
It is alarming that a public school official like yourself would not only allow this religious assembly, but also agree to provisions which prevent you from being able to stop representatives of the Todd Becker Foundation from praying and proselytizing to your students. Allowing this assembly and the subsequent one on one proselytizing after the assembly to occur in your public school district is a blatant violation of the Establishment Clause and this assembly must be cancelled immediately.
Satterly has a big problem on his hands. He made a mistake by signing a contract with a Christian ministry known for its deception. If he allows them to perform, however, he could face a much more costly lawsuit.
The only responsible course of action at this point is for Satterly to pay the fee by breaking the contract, apologize to everyone for his irresponsible actions, and send a message to every other public school district that they’re playing with fire when they decide to invite a Christian ministry to preach to students during the school day.