The Freedom From Religion Foundation is objecting to events suffused with religion that are due to be held at several Indiana public schools.
Two groups are organizing these events.
Several Indiana public schools are hosting assemblies for "Break the Grey," a group that addresses troubled-youth topics. The speaker at these events, Bill Ballenger, promotes Christian rock concerts organized by him, often on the same evening as the assemblies. Ballenger has stated that the assemblies are designed to get people to the rock performances, and has referred to the evening event in his web biography (since altered) as the "culminat[ion]" of the assembly.
The other organization that is putting together events at many Indiana public schools is called RemedyLIVE, a Christian ministry that encourages students to "share their secret struggles with caring adults." Its website informs schools that students will be "given cards that invite them to chat with RemedyLIVE's 24/7 crisis chat center," but notably omits the fact that the ministry refers to its online staff as "soul medics" who have to be "committed believers to the teachings of Jesus Christ." They discuss religion with students during online sessions. RemedyLIVE's own website says that they "want to help young adults who struggle with ... disbelief in God." The website lists "faith" as one of nine issues for discussion. Even secular topics such as bullying are presented in religious terms.
It is unconstitutional for a public school district to allow outside adults to promote a religious event to a captive audience of students during a school-sponsored assembly.
"It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne has written to several Indiana schools, citing a number of cases. "In Lee v. Weisman, the U.S. Supreme Court extended the prohibition of school-sponsored religious activities beyond classrooms to all school functions."
While public schools may host speakers to address bullying and other subjects, those events cannot be tied to Christian messages or after-school religious revivals.
Legal issues aside, school districts should not provide discriminatory groups with access to schools. Nearly half of millennials in this country are non-Christian, and it is outrageous to suggest, as RemedyLIVE does, that failing to be Christian is an "issue" on par with other serious problems afflicting teenagers.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has made certain that "Break the Grey" events hosted by two Wisconsin school districts will not engage in religious promotion. Break the Grey is scheduled to hold assemblies at Hayward High School and Hayward Middle School in Hayward, Wis., on October 25 and at South Shore Junior/Senior High School in Port Wing, Wis., on Oct. 26. After FFRF alerted the two school districts, it received assurances that the group would not be permitted to promote their evening religious event or otherwise evangelize students.
FFRF is asking for similar assurances from the Indiana school districts or for the events to be cancelled.
"A captive student audience cannot be compelled to listen to Christian-themed counseling," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Indiana public schools should realize that this is unconstitutional."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with more than 23,000 members, including almost 400 in Indiana.