BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. — Three youth pastors in Washington have been barred from visiting an area middle school after being accused of speaking about Christianity to students during the lunch period.
This past Thursday, parents of students who attend Woodward Middle School in Bainbridge Island attended a board meeting to discuss the issue, with over 20 people commenting about the matter, according to reports.
“We can’t ignore this,” School Board President Mike Spence told KomoNews.com. “There are just too many serious issues to consider here.”
Spence said that while he is aware that he can’t bar religious groups from the campus, he is concerned about the “separation of church and state.”
“That’s pretty dangerous,” he stated. “It’s a pretty slippery slope I guess I would say.”
The youth pastors, however, deny evangelizing at the school and state that they just wanted to be an encouragement to the students.
“My purpose is still to show each student that they are valued and they have worth,” youth pastor Danny Smith read from a prepared statement during the meeting.
According to reports, Smith became emotional in discussing the matter, as his voice quivered and his hands shook.
“The only time church may have come in is when they say ‘What do you do?’ my response is, ‘I’m a youth pastor,'” he explained further to KIRO-TV. “Even sometimes I say I’m a leader because most of the kids don’t know what a youth pastor is.”
Smith was one of several volunteer cafeteria monitors who would oversee the students during the lunch periods. However, some parents complained to the district about the presence of the youth pastors, calling it “creepy.”
But the school principal sent out an email remarking that he has no knowledge of any evangelizing taking place. Nonetheless, he advised that the youth pastors have been barred from returning to the school until an investigation is completed surrounding the matter.
“I have not had a single report of any of our volunteers proselytizing or recruiting students on campus,” he wrote. “However, we are taking the concerns brought forward seriously. To ensure that volunteers in our school have been complying with all district policies, we will be having a non-district employee talk with students, staff and parents for the purpose of fact-finding and determining if anyone has violated our policy.”
The youth pastors may be allowed to return pending the results of the investigation.
A similar situation occurred last year in Indiana, where a youth pastor was barred from speaking to students about spiritual matters during the lunch period. As previously reported, the decision had stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of the parents of an 11-year-old girl.
“We’re not a bunch of heathens,” the girl’s mother told reporters. “We’re not anti-religion; we’re anti-religion in public school.”
But Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel said that the school’s actions were unacceptable.
“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,” he stated. “He has every right to be able to be there, just like anyone else.”