Curtail religious group’s activities, FFRF presses Neb. schools

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking a Nebraska school district that has agreed to allow a religious group to preach to its students to cancel the proselytizing gathering — especially given that it’ll be taking place in the middle of a pandemic.

Even with Covid-19 raging all around us, the Todd Becker Foundation is continuing its mission to go into public schools, gather students together and preach to them about Jesus. It is currently making a concerted push into Nebraska and intends to put on an assembly for students at Mullen High School (in Mullen, Neb.) during the school day on Wednesday, March 17. The foundation is a Christian ministry that travels throughout the Midwest organizing assemblies in public schools with the explicit purpose of converting students to its brand of evangelical Christianity. This evangelical mission is laid out in no uncertain terms on its website: “The foundation’s purpose is to motivate high school students to discover their potentials and ultimately discover themselves by placing their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.”

The in-school programs that the foundation arranges use a passage from the bible to impart a strong religious message. Immediately following the in-school presentation, students are approached by foundation staff and local church representatives, who ask students about their respective religious beliefs and “share with the student the gospel of Jesus Christ and point them to the hope of a new beginning found in Christ.” Not only do they discuss their religious beliefs with students, students are “brought to a decision to surrender their life to Christ, or to walk away from Him.”

Nebraska’s public schools should never allow this sort of organization to carry out such activities, but this is an even bigger issue during a pandemic when students should not be gathering for unnecessary and unconstitutional reasons. That’s why Mullen Public Schools cannot currently allow its schools to be used as recruiting grounds for religious groups, FFRF emphasizes to the district.

“It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Superintendent Chris Kuncl. “It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the district to offer religious groups unique access to its students, which signals school endorsement of religion.”

Even if the school permits students to opt out of this assembly, allowing religious programming in a public school is still unconstitutional, FFRF adds. The Todd Becker Foundation has in the past provided a signed assembly agreement indicating that no one acting on behalf of the foundation would engage in religious “proselytizing” during its presentation. This type of agreement does not protect the district from the legal ramifications of any religious promotion — and the Todd Becker Foundation does engage in proselytizing. It includes a bible verse in its presentation, which focuses on where students will go when they die. Foundation members discuss Christianity and the bible with students after the formal presentation. Students are also invited to come back to the explicitly Christian evening presentation.

FFRF has contacted other districts that have been targeted by the foundation, many of which rent out their gym to the foundation but do not allow the group to have access to their students — and one of the responses shows the way school districts should be handling this evangelical group.

“I want to assure you that McCook Public Schools [Neb.] does not allow any organizations to enter our school for the purpose of proselytizing our students during the school day,” reads the emailed reply. “And while it is true that the Todd Becker Foundation is using the McCook High School gym, the single event is not a school event/function and will take place well after the students have been released for the day; also, the event will not be promoted by the school and no students or staff will be prompted, asked or directed to attend. I believe it is also important to point out that we are billing the Todd Becker Foundation for the usage of our facility and any expenses incurred just as we would any group or organization who wants to use our buildings.”

Mullen Public Schools and all other schools in Nebraska need to take their cue from a fellow Cornhusker and stop scheduling daytime assemblies for their students.

“The Todd Becker Foundation’s activities are outrageous enough in normal times,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “During a pandemic, they go way beyond the pale.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members across the country, including over 100 members in Nebraska. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional separation between state and church, 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.

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FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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