HOLLISTER, Mo. — Students in a Missouri school district are pushing back after a professing atheist organization recently sent a letter to district officials, demanding that an area youth pastor be prohibited from leading prayers during the lunch period.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) had sent a letter last month to Hollister Superintendent Brian Wilson after a parent complained abut a video posted on social media that showed a youth minister leading students in prayer.
“The video depicts an adult leading the entire lunchroom in a prayer with all of the students surrounding him in a circle,” attorney Patrick Elliott wrote. “The parent’s child also reports that students were directed in a similar prayer all of last week and this week as well during the seventh-grade lunch.”
The pastor was found to be a member of the Tri-Lakes chapter of KLIFE, which according to its website, “works alongside churches and families in the community to teach and encourage kids to be strong in the Lord in spite of all the negative pressures they face as teenagers.”
“When the school grants KLIFE ministers access to students, it advances KLIFE’s mission of proselytizing. In many cases, we have found that similar youth programs use schools to befriend students with the goal of spreading a religious message and recruiting members for their youth groups,” FFRF wrote. “No religious organization should have direct access to students at school.”
FFRF referred to the ministry’s activities as “predatory conduct.”
But Wilson told the Springfield News-Leader that the prayer was student initiated, and that students have been praying together during the lunch period for some time. He said that one student asked the youth minister to lead the prayer that day, and he obliged, not knowing that it would pose any issue.
FFRF posted a video of the prayer online, which it titled, “Pastor invades MO public school to pray with students.”
In response to the situation, not only are students at Hollister Middle School gathering during the lunch period to pray as a form of pushing back, but students at other schools are doing so as well. Pictures are surfacing online with the hashtag #praywithhollister.
“Ever wonder what kind of impact a group of kids showing glory to God looks like? It’s amazing,” wrote Emily Richardson of Buffalo High School. “I’m completely speechless and amazed as I watch a room full of kids publicly pray to God during lunch!”
“Blessed to be a part of a school where so many students stand up for a student-led prayer during lunch,” posted Carley Smith, who posted a photo as well.
But FFRF says that although the youth pastor has agreed not to lead the prayer again, the organization does not believe he should even be around students and are seeking to have him and other pastors ousted from area public schools.
“Youth pastors have had unrestricted access to students during the school day to be able to befriend [students], and ultimately recruit them for their religious groups,” Elliott told local television station KOLR. “We’ve been talking with the parents [in Hollister] and considering our legal options.”