Wis. officials cave to school bible thumpers

By Bill Dunn for the Freedom From Religion Foundation

Photo by Chris Line
Bill Dunn picketing Jesus Lunch. Photo by Chris Line

I’ve never been less impressed with city of Middleton, Wis., and Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District officials than during the current flap over Christian adults evangelizing students next to the high school in Fireman’s Park during school hours. It’s been going on since 2014 but only recently came to light when students opposed to the so-called Jesus Lunch got fed up with it enough to object publicly. It’s now clear that adults, including the media, have dropped the ball, with kids caught in the middle.

Most recently, the city council voted unanimously without discussion to approve the school district’s request to terminate the lease and, in effect, throw dissenting students under the bus and subject them to tyranny of the majority. Pontius Pilate would be proud.

Media couch Jesus Lunch in terms of a mom-and-pop operation, which is far from the truth. No news story has pointed out that courts generally apply a looser standard for student-led events than for those initiated by adults. There is no unrestricted right for adults to cry “hellfire!” in a crowded shelter within a stone’s throw of a public school, but elected officials have been mum, letting unelected administrators and lawyers offer their arguably flawed interpretations of the situation.

Four Jesus Lunch moms came to the podium at the May 3 council meeting to basically smile and say hello to the audience. They said not a word in defense of their event. See, we’re all just friendly attractive moms! (I won’t call them Stepford moms although someone else did.)

As they walked past, I asked, “Do moms makes all the lunches?” Several hundred are served every Tuesday. One woman said “no” and another said “yes we do.” After the meeting I asked them again and was given a definite yes, that they make them at Scott’s Pastry.

Mom and pop? “Every week it takes approximately $1,700 to feed these students!” says their website. “Our mission is to spread the Gospel to high school students through serving them and allowing them to explore God’s grace. Food for the body, nutrition for the soul.”

Photo by Chris Line
Photo by Chris Line

This is not student-initiated. This is a highly orchestrated effort by certain area Christian churches that is causing discord inside the school. Several websites coordinate efforts. Religious swag is passed out every week. Vehicles in the parking lot have been leafleted with 12-month calendar cards with a gospel message. City and school officials are well-aware of how students of different faiths and no faith are being marginalized and excluded, but still the Jesus Lunchers say they are the victims.



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Lunchers say that’s not their intent, to which opponents say it doesn’t matter what your intent is — this is what’s happening. One week lunchers were offered small cups of a blue liquid and asked after they drank it, “What if Jesus took away your sense of taste?” The mystery liquid was mouthwash. A Jesus Dad read this and passed out copies of it: “This fearlessness we have from Christ does not mean we need to be divisive for the Gospel, but instead love others as Jesus loves us — putting others ahead of ourselves just like Christ did on the cross.” Talk about not walking the walk.

Google “Fishing in the public school pond,” an article by Colorado pastor Greg Stier, who details ways Christians can insinuate themselves into schools: “If you want to ‘catch’ teenagers for Christ, then you must go to the ponds where they are swimming 7+ hours a day, the public school campus.”

A TV station reported after the council vote to end the lease that lunch organizers “hope this change will resolve any controversy over the event.”

It will only if people bury their heads in the sand and local officials continue to let students be bullied. Of all the schools in the Madison area, why did they pick this one to hold Jesus Lunch in? I think the answer is pretty clear.

Photo by Chris Line
Photo by Chris Line

Bill Dunn lives in Middleton, Wis., is former editor of Freethought Today and remains on the Freethought Today staff.

 

FFRF is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping state and church separate and educating about nontheism. For more information and a copy of our paper, Freethought Today, please click here.

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