HARRISBURG, Ill. — A Baptist youth minister is no longer allowed to reach students at an Illinois high school after a professing atheist organization lodged a complaint, asserting that his presence violated the U.S. Constitution.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) had sent a letter to the Harrisburg School District this past February after an unidentified community member advised the group that the minister was leading a Christian club of sorts during the lunch period at Harrisburg Middle School.
Students had been sent home with permission slips to occasionally meet with the Baptist leader during lunch breaks, who also provided students with pizza and soda.
But FFRF told the district that the concept was “predatory” and urged officials to ban the youth minister from the premises.
“It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the district to offer religious leaders access to befriend and proselytize students during the school day on school property,” the letter, written by attorney Ryan Jayne, read. “This predatory conduct is inappropriate and should raise many red flags.”
“The district cannot allow its schools to be used as recruiting grounds for churches during the school day,” it stated.
FFRF asserted that the minister’s presence violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
“This practice demonstrates an unlawful preference not only for religion over non-religion, but also Christianity over all other faiths,” the letter contended. “Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion.”
Superintendent Michael Gauch responded to the correspondence by advising that he would submit the matter to the Board of Education, which would then decide whether or not to allow the youth minister to continue meeting with students during the lunch period.
As FFRF did not receive an update for several months, it sent a second letter in June. On Aug. 24, the organization announced that it had received notification that the youth minister is no longer welcome.
“Please be advised that the Board of Education did consider the matter of a local minister meeting with students during lunchtime last semester,” Gauch wrote. “Following the school board’s directive, school administration instructed the local minister that he would no longer be allowed to come onto school property and meet with students during the lunchtime or anytime during the instructional day.”
FFRF applauded the outcome.
“We were taken aback when we learned about a minister being allowed to preach to middle school kids on the premises during school hours,” Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement. “We’re pleased we played a part in getting this outrageousness ended.”
As previously reported, the first textbook used in the American colonies even before the nation’s founding, “The New England Primer,” was largely focused on the Scriptures, and was stated to be popular in public and private schools alike until approximately the early 1900’s. It used mostly the King James Bible as reference, and spoke much about sin, salvation and proper behavior.
“Save me, O God, from evil all this day long, and let me love and serve Thee forever, for the sake of Jesus Christ, Thy Son,” it read.
Many of the Founders’ children learned to read from the primer.
Harvard University, the first university founded in America, possessed the motto “Truth for Christ and the Church.” It was named after minister John Harvard.
“Let every scholar be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ, which is eternal life. Therefore, to lay Christ in the bottom as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning,” the institution declared.