FFRF urges Minn. district to cease inviting preacher

Image Source: Life Promotions website

A Minnesota public school district must cease inviting the religious organization Life Promotions to recruit young students for its religious mission, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging.

Multiple concerned district parents have reported that New Ulm Public Schools has hosted assemblies by a preacher named Bob Lenz. Lenz is associated with Life Promotions, an evangelist organization that seeks to convert young people to Christianity. While these presentations may appear to be secular, Lenz uses them to recruit students for religious events later in the evening.

A parent reports that during one of these in-school assemblies, flyers were handed out inviting students to an evening session featuring an illusionist and offering free pizza. The evening performance began with Lenz saying "Here’s what we couldn’t tell you at school…” and proceeded with an overtly religious message. The kids had to chant and pray. Bibles were handed out.

Additionally, this complainant reports, children’s personal information was collected by the group, and they have not received a satisfactory explanation on how this information will be used. The parent believed this would be a continuation of the school event, but it wasn’t. Though the children could have left anytime, as young teenagers in a full gym of their peers, they didn’t feel comfortable leaving; they felt stuck. The complainant’s oldest child came home in tears.

Allowing public schools to be used as recruitment grounds for this evangelist group is not only patently illegal, it turns schoolchildren into outsiders in their own community. It is well-settled law that public schools may not advance or endorse religion, FFRF’s letter of complaint points out to the district.

“It is inappropriate to take away instructional time from students to expose them to a proselytizing speaker, regardless of any secular message he claims to be promoting,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to New Ulm Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Bertrang. “Students, particularly younger students, are a vulnerable and captive audience, and the district cannot allow Lenz to take advantage of students’ captivity to recruit or proselytize to students.”

FFRF also underlines that Christian missionary groups such as Life Promotions infiltrate public schools by camouflaging their purposes. It is incumbent on public officials to do due diligence when approached by outside organizations with vested interests in pitching their messages to a captive audience of public school students, FFRF urges.

“In this case, it would only take a cursory glance at Life Promotions’ website to verify Lenz’s religious agenda,” Line adds. The Life Promotions website lays bare Lenz’s proselytizing agenda. The site explicitly states that the group “partners with ministries to promote life in Christ and present the Gospel through faith-based community outreaches.” A promotional video claims that America’s youth are experiencing a “spiritual poverty,” lamenting that less than 18 percent of youth attend church regularly.

“Two out of three people who begin their relationship with Christ and fill that spiritual void will do so before they’re 18,” says the video, assuring watchers, “We can reach them before it’s too late.” The video also touts that Lenz travels the country “sharing life principles and the love of Jesus.”

FFRF is requesting that the district refrain from hosting guest speakers who use the opportunity to recruit students for religious events and ensure that no future assemblies featuring outside groups contain an underlying proselytizing message or agenda.

“School administrators are neglecting their duty as public officials when they allow outside adults carte blanche access to recruit their students for a religious purpose,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor comments. “It is an egregious violation of the rights of conscience of both students and their parents.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 30,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 600 members and two chapters in Minnesota. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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