The Freedom from Religion Foundation–who grabbed headlines over Thanksgiving and Christmas with its letters opposing public nativity scenes and Christmas ceremonies around the country–has sent a letter to the superintendent of an Arkansas school district.
The group is complaining about youth pastors visiting students during lunch at Conway’s public schools.
It’s common for youth ministers in this country to join students from their church for lunch at school. It’s a way ministers can continue to build friendships with their students and be a positive influence. The U.S. Constitution does not make schools a “Christian-free zone,” but that’s what Conway is doing while it “reviews the legality of the visits.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is worried students might hear about Jesus because of these visits. Of course this raises other questions. What if a student’s parents are in the ministry? Can a pastor not visit his kids at school because he happens to work at a church? If other parents can, why can’t he?
And why limit what they can and can’t talk about? People who are passionate about sports would be free to discuss football or basketball. Why can’t people who are passionate about their faith discuss it?
According to news reports, parents gave permission for ministers to visit their children at school, and no parent had complained about the visits. The school has policies governing the issuance of visitor passes and allowing family and friends to visit students at school. None of the ministers were accused of violating these policies or of any other impropriety. With that in mind, there’s really no reason they should be discriminated against because of their faith and place of employment.
It’s worth noting in 2011 the Freedom From Religion Foundation successfully petitioned schools in Conway to block Gideons International from distributing Bibles to students.
You can see a copy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s complaint here.
Update: The Arkansas Project has posted interviews with representatives of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and with Arkansas Representative David Meeks about the controversy here.