It has been revealed by school authorities at Middleton High School in Middleton, a NW suburb of Madison, Wisconsin, that a group of parents giving free lunches and Bibles to students in exchange for listening to the parents tell them about Jesus. As the principal of the school explains in an email to parents and the “wider district community,” these have come to be called “Jesus Lunches” by MHS students, “as it promote[s] a Christian-based worship.”
AllGodsPeople.com explains the genesis of these lunches as a response by a few parents to “intense peer pressure” that “can pull impressionable kids away from the values they are taught”:
In 2014 five Middleton High School moms began praying together for their kids: for God’s protection, for their faith to withstand the pressures of their high school years, and for their witness. When the kids were asked, “what do your friends think about what you believe?” they responded, “I don’t think they know what we believe.”
That response led the moms to begin thinking and praying about ways they could help their kids share their beliefs without being “weird”. And the Jesus Lunch was born. At first it was called Mama’s Lunches, but the students who came renamed it the Jesus Lunch, because that’s who they talked about.
“They don’t know what we believe”? Well, we can’t have that, can we?
You can see from this account that the whole project is less about protecting kids who already “believe” than “educating” those kids who don’t know what their friends believe. It’s not about being Christian but about “sharing their beliefs” – wanted or unwanted. It’s about pushing their religion on other people. It’s about proselytizing on school property.
This has been going on over the past year. Just to show that this is no small-scale affair of a few people gathered informally in the park, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church tweeted this photo in 2015:
— St. Luke's Lutheran (@StLukesMidWI) October 27, 2015
Notice how the caption reads “At Middleton High School.” The parents were asked to stop, but have refused. As explained in the email:
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, [Principal] Steve Plank expressed an opposition to this growing event, and conveyed to these parents that this practice violates school and district policy.
The problem for these parents is that “the School District’s lease of Fireman’s Park permits enforcement of school policies during school hours / days.” But then conservative Christians have always followed Fifth Century Egyptian monk Shenoute’s adage that “There is no crime for those who have Christ.”
And there are reasons the School District is concerned that have nothing to do with a person’s expressed religion, though it points out that the circumstances in question are not legal:
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.
The parents have announced, now that spring is here, that they plan to continue the lunches and, in fact, they began again on Tuesday. AllGodsPeople.com points to the success of the program, that upwards of 500 students now attend every week and that “costs for the food alone reach $2000-$2500 every week.”
“The Jesus Lunch fund raising strategy is word of mouth. This year the Madison Christian Giving Fund has granted $5000 to the Jesus Lunch to help pay for hot home made lunches for these students, and more importantly, to open doors to conversations about Jesus. [emphasis added]”
Again, this is less about feeding kids than pushing religion on them.
When informed, the principal asked them again to cancel the event. The parents said “they would not respect this request, and that they intended to move forward.”
What’s worse, it is the parents who have threatened legal action against the District in defense of their violation of not only District policy (here) but the First Amendment, arguing 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 disagrees, arguing that they have jurisdiction over leased property, “which is part of our campus” and 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.” The District points out that students themselves have expressed concern “about a group offering free food to incentivize participation in a religious event on campus.”
Clearly, if these parents wish to “protect” children from peer pressure there are ways of doing this without interfering with the school day, or violating school rules and the First Amendment. There is the teaching/reinforcement of values at home. There is even a place designated for such activities: a church.
The school is not a private or a charter school but a public school funded by taxpayer dollars, and is not the property of any church or even group of churches. Students should feel free to go to school without feeling coerced by the very peer pressure these parents say they are combating even while they are creating it.
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Middleton High School as being in Madison, WI. Middleton is a suburb of Madison, Wisconsin.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.