The Freedom From Religion Foundation believes there's a simple solution for the city of Middleton, Wis., to stop the contentious weekly "Jesus Lunch" event.
For the past couple of years, a parents' group has held weekly lunches at the Fireman's Memorial Park, adjacent to the Middleton High School, in which organizers have handed out bibles, engaged in proselytization and given out free food to as many as 400 students. The lunches have isolated non-Christian students and have led to student protests and disruptiveness.
The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District had leasing rights to the small park, which is directly beside the major entrances and exits of the school and its parking lot. This spring, the school principal asked lunch organizers to honor the lease and stop holding events during school hours. The organizers refused, threatening to sue the school. The district superintendent responded this week by asking the city to dissolve the school's lease.
FFRF points out that this development does nothing to lessen the divisiveness. The organization instead endorses the most rational and obvious solution: to deed the strip of parkland to the school. The cooperation from the firefighters' association that originally deeded the grounds to the city would be required, but FFRF contends that with good will, there should be no problem. Divesting the city of this strip of park would advance a public purpose by enhancing the safety and security of the students, FFRF maintains.
"Since a group of parents has made clear its intent to continue to solicit Middleton minors as long as they are legally permitted to do so, it is imperative that the city take some reasonable action to protect its young citizens," FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor writes to Susan West, president of the Middleton Common Council. "Failing to act creates a dangerous precedent for others to emulate the Jesus Lunch organizers."
FFRF emphasizes that there are no free speech issues at work here, since the "Jesus Lunch" organizers can still offer their meals on private property, such as a nearby church, or even on city property that does not directly abut the school. With the resolution that FFRF offers, the students can be protected without chilling the free expression of anyone, including that of the lunch organizers.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with 23,700 nonreligious members, including more than 1,300 in Wisconsin.