Evangelicals' Stealth Mission to Sneak Jesus into Our Public Schools
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These groups share common tactics: They approach school officials with an offer of an engaging assembly on a topic that looks secular, such as suicide prevention, drug awareness or anti-bullying strategies.
Speakers may have scant credentials to address these topics. That’s not surprising, because they are really just fundamentalist evangelists looking for a way to preach to a captive public school audience.
The Becker Foundation is a good case in point. The group was founded by Keith Becker, whose younger brother was killed in a drunk-driving accident in 2005. Todd Becker, a high school senior at the time, was a passenger in car driven by another student, who was legally intoxicated when the wreck occurred.
Todd Becker’s fate is undeniably tragic, and Keith Becker, who converted to Christianity after his brother’s death, uses the tale for maximum emotional impact. But that’s not all the group does.
In a letter sent to Pastor Jenkins, the Becker Foundation was upfront about its desire to convert students to fundamentalism. The missive reads in part, “Following the actual assembly, students who are particularly impacted and in need of help or counsel are then, one-on-one shown the truth of scriptures and presented the truth of eternal salvation in Jesus Christ. We then provide the student with a Bible and other Christian reading materials.”
AU’s Legal Department promptly sent a letter to Wallace County school officials and followed up with a phone call to Superintendent Robert Young, who assured Americans United that he would tell the group not to preach to the students or attempt to lure them to an evangelistic service later in the day.
Young apparently followed through, but not all references to the evening revival were scrubbed. Jenkins noted that fliers promoting the religious service were posted all over the school.
AU attorneys considered the Wallace County matter closed – but they were aware that the flap in Sharon Springs was just a skirmish. Reports continued to filter in from the Midwest about Becker Foundation staff members preaching in public schools.
In its letter to the Becker Foundation, AU’s Khan and Smith warned Keith Becker that the organization must stop its improper evangelistic activities in public schools. Failure to do so, they cautioned, could result in legal action against the foundation as well as the schools.
The AU legal team cited a long line of court decisions that hold private entities liable when they knowingly join with government to bring about constitutional violations. Thus the Becker Foundation’s religious presentations in public schools violate church-state separation and could put the organization at legal risk.
“[We wish] to put you on notice,” said the AU letter, “that private, non-governmental entities such as the Todd Becker Foundation may be held legally liable for violating parents’ and students’ constitutional rights when acting jointly with a public school to present an assembly containing religious content.”
Attorneys for the Becker Foundation replied, insisting the group has done nothing wrong. Students do not have to attend its assemblies, attorney Jefferson Downing insisted, and the events that take place during the school day are free of religious content.
In response, AU noted that the Becker Foundation’s claim is belied by its own Web site. The site quotes the principal of a high school in Dawes County, Neb., who expressed discomfort over religious content in the presentation.
“The part that I thought was not in keeping with public education was the apparent religious ties,” wrote the principal. “I would have liked for that portion to be brought in at the evening meeting and not have it been at the complete student meeting during the school day. I felt uncomfortable with it and I know there were several other teachers who felt the same way.”