The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling on an Iowa public school to cancel an unconstitutional religious assembly scheduled for next week.
Mount Ayr High School reportedly has scheduled an assembly by the Todd Becker Foundation during the school day on Wednesday, Jan. 9. The Todd Becker Foundation is a Christian ministry that travels throughout the Midwest putting on assemblies in public schools with the explicit purpose of converting students to its brand of evangelical Christianity.
According to the group’s website, its purpose is to “draw young people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ” and to “motivate high school students to discover their potentials and ultimately discover themselves by placing their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.”
The Todd Becker Foundation fulfills its mission by putting on an in-school program that uses a passage from the bible to impart a strong religious message on students. Immediately following the in-school presentation, students are approached by Todd Becker Foundation staff and local church representatives. Foundation members and church representatives ask students about their respective religious beliefs and “share with the student the gospel of Jesus Christ and point them to the hope of a new beginning found in Christ.” Not only do they discuss their religious beliefs with students, students are “brought to a decision to surrender their life to Christ or to walk away from Him.”
It is well-settled law that public schools may not advance or endorse religion, nor may they use instructional time to allow outside groups to proselytize to students.
“The Todd Becker Foundation is only focused on one thing, evangelizing,” FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line writes in his letter to district Superintendent Joe Drake. “When students are provoked through the assembly into talking with Foundation members about very serious issues in their lives, such as physical or emotional abuse, drug or alcohol use, or other serious concerns, the only solution offered by the Foundation is Christianity.”
FFRF has asked the district to cancel this event immediately and fulfill the obligation of protecting its students’ First Amendment rights.
"These shocking school assemblies are not only problematic from a constitutional perspective, but they are a deeply disturbing and harmful assault on the students' right of conscience," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
This isn’t the first time the Todd Becker Foundation has caused controversy in Iowa. When the Todd Becker Foundation presented in Iowa in 2016, it led to the ACLU of Iowa issuing a warning letter to every superintendent in the state after the Foundation reportedly shared anti-gay and anti-Mormon messages at an Iowa High School. After the incident, the superintendent stated, "If I had known that would have been the case, they would not have come into the building.”
FFRF has also submitted an open records request to the district, requesting items related to the assembly, including contracts and correspondence between the district and the Todd Becker Foundation.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 32,000 members across the country, including nearly 200 members in Iowa. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.