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Lead Us Not Into Penn Station:Provocative Pieces

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November 2-4, 2018

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

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Ten Commandments to stay

1BolivarMissouri

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is sounding the constitutional alarm about shockingly religious indoctrination events that have occurred at a number of Missouri public high schools.

Bolivar High School and Stockton High School have recently invited Bob Holmes, the "one man volleyball team," to give presentations to their student bodies. Holmes was at Bolivar High accompanied by representatives of the Agape Baptist Church of Stockton, Mo., who took pictures and video of the event. A post on the "Agape Baptist Church of Stockton Missouri" Facebook page from March 16 says: "the Lord allowed us [the Church] to get into Bolivar High School, Stockton High School, and Stockton Middle School through Bro. Holmes ministry to the public schools." This same post refers to him as "Evangelist Bob Holmes," "a friend of Agape for many years now."

The assembly was held in the Bolivar High School gymnasium on Feb. 20 from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., which is during regular instructional hours, and at the Stockton High School on Feb. 22 during the school day and in the evening. At the Bolivar High event, Holmes took several opportunities to preach his Christian faith to the captive student audience, proclaiming that "Jesus Christ is my lord and savior, and I'm not ashamed to tell you that." He also recounted a highly distasteful twist on a story about a troubled teenager who turned her life around after accepting Jesus as her savior:

"Another girl was molested in thirteen foster homes. And because she got forgiven by the Lord Jesus, she went to every one of her child molesters and said, 'I forgive you because I got forgiven by my wonderful savior.'"

It is irresponsible that this story makes it appear that victims of child sexual abuse must "forgive" assailants. At the end of the Bolivar High assembly, Holmes invited everyone to hear "part two" of his message the following Thursday night at Stockton High School. The event at Stockton High School was also advertised through flyers posted on the walls of the Bolivar High School. The same flyer was posted on the Agape Baptist Church Facebook page on Feb. 16, as well.

Neither Holmes' announcement nor the flyers mentioned that the evening Stockton High School event was a full-scale Christian revival in cooperation with Agape Baptist Church. Holmes preached a sermon here that recounted the crucifixion in gruesome detail. He also told the students they "have a soul that's going to go on forever, and ever, and ever, either in heaven or hell. And I see you hanging over a lake of fire ready to fall in unless you find forgiveness." He closed his evening Stockton presentation by asking the audience to bow their heads in prayer and receive Jesus as their savior. The Agape Baptist Church Facebook page declared: "The Lord used Bro. Holmes in a great way and as a result, 81 people left the evening rally having accepted Christ as Lord and savior."

At both events, Holmes declared his intention to bring his message to every public school in Missouri. At Stockton, he announced that "there are some people right now that are working" to make this happen, including "the principal that I was at [sic] in Bolivar and here."

Considering this glut of information, coupled with Holmes' endorsement and accompaniment by members of Agape Baptist Church, it is inexplicable how the Bolivar and Stockton events could have been approved.

"It is inappropriate to take away instructional time from students to expose them to a Christian missionary, regardless of any secular message the speaker claims to be promoting," writes FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara to the school districts. "A child's religious or nonreligious upbringing is a personal matter between the child and their parents. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that public schools may not be co-opted, either by staff or outside adults, to proselytize students." 

FFRF requests that there be no more school sponsorship of inappropriate and unconstitutional assemblies. The state/church watchdog is seeking specific assurances that Bob Holmes will not be welcomed to speak at any district schools in the future and is requesting copies of records pertaining to the school districts and Holmes.

"It's absolutely outrageous that someone with the track record of Bob Holmes has been invited at a number of Missouri high schools," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "His proselytizing is so over the top in a public school setting that this isn't even a close call for school officials."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 32,000 members across the country, including nearly 400 members in Missouri. FFRF's purposes are to protect the constitutional separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

1ToddBeckerFoundationFB

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging an Oklahoma public high school to cancel an upcoming event that an evangelical group is organizing there.

Newcastle High School has scheduled an assembly by the Todd Becker Foundation during the school day on Wednesday, April 4. The Foundation is a Christian ministry that puts on assemblies in public schools with the purpose of converting students to its brand of Christianity. This 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 Foundation fulfills this mission by arranging an in-school program that uses a passage from the bible to impart a strong religious message to students (without explicitly telling them that they should follow Christianity). The assembly focuses on two questions: "Where is your life headed?" and "Where will you go when you die?" The second question alone illustrates the deliberately proselytizing nature of the program.

Immediately following the presentation, students are approached by Foundation staff and local clergy. The Foundation members and clergy ask students about their religious beliefs and "shar[e] with the student the gospel of Jesus Christ and point[] them to the hope of a new beginning found in Christ." Students are then "brought to a decision to surrender their life to Christ, or to walk away from Him." 

While students are encouraged and manipulated into talking with Foundation members about very personal issues in their lives, such as physical or emotional or drug abuse, the single solution offered by the Foundation is Christianity.

"It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion," FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line writes to Newcastle Public Schools Superintendent Tony O'Brien. "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 allows students to opt out of this religious programming, permitting such programming in a public school is still unconstitutional, FFRF points out. When children choose not to attend such an event because of the proselytizing nature, their absence is obvious, and the ostracism they suffer is precisely what the courts have sought to prevent.

Last December, The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent letters of warning and a report to 350 school districts across the United States cautioning against allowing the Todd Becker Foundation into public schools to convert students. 

The Todd Becker Foundation has been providing a signed agreement indicating that no one acting on behalf of the Todd Becker Foundation would engage in proselytizing during the presentation. This type of agreement does not protect the district from the legal ramifications of religious promotion that occurs during or immediately following the assembly. More importantly, the Todd Becker Foundation does engage in proselytizing. The Foundation includes a bible verse in its presentation, focuses on where students "will go" when they die, Foundation members discuss Christianity and the bible with students after the formal presentation, and students are invited to come back to an explicitly Christian evening presentation.

"It's for good reason that the Todd Becker Foundation has been a major focus of our work recently — it engages in despicable behavior involving a captive audience of students," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Access to our students is the last thing it should be granted."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit with more than 32,000 members across the country, including in Oklahoma. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on nontheism.

1Bill de BlasioNew York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is continuing his long campaign of religious pandering. This week, city schools will close for Good Friday.

In past years, Good Friday has typically fallen during students' week off for Spring Break. This year, that's changed. Students get Spring Break and Good Friday off. The New York City school calendar lists March 30 as "Spring recess: schools closed" for Good Friday and then the same goes for the entire next week, April 2-6. 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation successfully challenged state-mandated Good Friday holidays in court in its home state of Wisconsin. The judge struck that law down because it left, "absolutely no doubt that the purpose of the Wisconsin Legislature . . . was the promotion of religion."

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down Good Friday holidays, too.

Schools can be closed for legitimate secular reasons, including the probability that so many students will be absent that remaining open would be counterproductive or costly. But that does not appear to be de Blasio's motivation. When de Blasio closed schools for the Muslim Eid holiday it was because "their religion needs to be respected as all other religions are respected." New York City schools also close for the lunar new year — a nod to Chinese and Korean students — and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, to placate the Orthodox Jewish community, which makes up a strong voting bloc.

Schools should not be run in accordance with any religious faith, let alone every religious faith. De Blasio should be basing his school closing decisions on secular notions, not religious pandering — even if this means making certain devout constituents unhappy.

Photo via Wikipedia by Kevin Case Under CC BY 2.0.

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