Religious FreedomPrint

No Jesus at Lunch in Wisconsin

Eric Buehrer

Gateways to Better Education helps public schools teach about the important contribution the Bible and Christianity make to the world. Eric Buehrer is the president and founder.

School officials in Middleton, Wisconsin, are upset at a group of moms who are eating lunch with their high school children and their friends. Middleton High School allows students to go off campus for lunch. Since the school is next to a public park, a group of five moms started meeting their children at the park for a picnic lunch once a week. The problem? They are Christians and they dare to talk about their faith, and the group has grown to 300 or 400 students.

The school district would like the public to think that they are only concerned about the safety of the students. But, from the school principal’s remarks to local news outlets, clearly the issue is about religious expression.

Middleton High School principal Steve Plank told a local news outlet, “Some students feel excluded or left out. We have students of different faiths, Muslim students or Hindu students or Jewish students who feel like this is happening and it’s not for them.”

First of all, it’s just lunch with 3-5 minute Christian message. Second, it’s a public park (and the moms have a permit from the city to use the park). Third, students are free to eat and leave without listening to the brief thought-for-the-day. Fourth, the high school students freely choose to attend; and fifth, the 300-400 students who attend are only 15-20% of the 2,065 students at Middleton High Schools. The other 1,600-1,700+ students are eating somewhere else.

Last week, the school district posted a statement on its website that it was consulting with its legal counsel to see if it was responsible for the students attending the picnics since the district leases the park for its use (even though the park remains a public park for all to use).

What responsibility? If they are concerned about food safety, are they willing to monitor the other 1,900 students’ sack lunches in the lunch room? Are they saying no student can even go to the park when they leave campus for lunch, even if it is to eat their own lunch?

Clearly, the issue isn’t the health and safety of students; it’s about district’s concern that students may somehow be traumatized by voluntarily choosing to hear a Christian message during their free time off school property.

Predictably, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, whose offices are just down the road in Madison, Wisconsin, have now protested the students’ choice of lunch time activity. According to their press release, they offered dessert and handed out uplifting and tolerant pamphlets such as “What’s Wrong with the Ten Commandments” and “Why Women Need Freedom from Religion.”

To help the moms and students, Gateways to Better Education has offered them Free to Speak pamphlets (a joint project of Alliance Defending Freedom and Gateways to Better Education) explaining public school students’ freedom of religious expression.

What was a simple activity involving food and fellowship has now become yet another opportunity for the politically correct to claim that they are traumatized, and for activists to rail against people of faith.