Wayne, Indiana — A school district in Wayne, Indiana has banned a local youth pastor from speaking to students about spiritual matters at lunchtime.
The Southwest Allen County School District recently issued a new policy prohibiting religious leaders from approaching students in the cafeteria following the receipt of a lawsuit from the ACLU, which alleges constitutional violations.
The suit was filed on behalf of parents John and Linda Buchanan, who moved to the area two years ago from Atlanta, Georgia. Their 11-year-old daughter attends Summit Middle School, which is visited regularly by a youth pastor from a local non-denominational church called “The Chapel.”
According to reports, the pastor walks from table to table, engaging in casual discussion with students and distributing literature to children who wish to receive it.
However, one day, when the Buchanan’s daughter came home with a pro-life brochure and told them about the youth pastor, they promptly lodged a complaint.
“Many of the children recognize him as a religious leader. No other persons who are not associated with the school are allowed to stand in the lunchroom like this. This is coercive and represents an endorsement of religion,” documents filed in federal court state.
“We’re not a bunch of heathens,” Linda Buchanan added to reporters. “We’re not anti-religion; we’re anti-religion in public school.”
Less than an hour after the lawsuit was filed, the Southwest Allen County School District announced that it had changed its policy, so that the lawsuit should now be moot.
“Hopefully, this thing is over and it won’t be anything that will create any problems for students at Southwest schools,” said attorney William Hopkins on behalf of the district.
However, some believe that the school has no right to ban the youth pastor from the campus.
“More often than not, what you find is these schools allow people to come to speak to people there and have lunch with those that they know and are associated with. And in that particular situation, they can’t exclude a youth minister just because he’s a minister — because he is sharing a religious or Christian message with the students,” said Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel. “He has every right to be able to be there, just like anyone else.”
While a legal challenge has not yet been filed on behalf of the youth pastor, Staver says it is possible.
“If the pastor is the only one that’s excluded, then the pastor may well have a lawsuit against the school for being singled out and excluded,” he explained.
The pastor was not sued in the original challenge filed by the Buchanans.