The Freedom From Religion Foundation is flagging a serious constitutional violation occurring in an Ohio school district.
A concerned area resident informed FFRF that Indian Creek Middle School has been allowing a pastor on campus during the school day to preach. Bobbyjon Bauman, a pastor and president of the Valley Youth Network (which describes itself as “a network of concerned people and organizations who seek to reach out to area students with the gospel of Jesus Christ”), reportedly proselytizes students every Friday during school lunch under the guise of an “FCA [Fellowship of Christian Athletes] Bible Study.” Bauman has bragged on social media: “This is truly a miracle that 165 kids were able to hear the gospel in the public school (voluntarily) at lunch time!!!” He has also explained that school Principal Holly Minch-Hick encourages students to come hear him preach and that he has distributed bibles to students.
It is improper and unconstitutional for the Indian Creek School District to offer religious leaders access to befriend and proselytize students during the school day on school property, FFRF contends. It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion.
“Allowing church representatives regular, or even one-time, access during school hours to proselytize is a violation of the Establishment Clause,” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line writes to Indian Creek School District Superintendent T.C. Chappelear. “The courts have protected public school students from overreaching outsiders in similar situations.”
When a school allows church representatives to recruit students for the church, it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message — in this case, a Christian message. This practice alienates those non-Christian students, teachers, and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being endorsed by the school. A school’s assistance of this practice constitutes “a utilization of the tax-established and tax-supported public school system to aid religious groups to spread their faith,” to quote the Supreme Court.
FFRF was a successful litigant in a case where a public school district allowed religious groups access to students during the school day. In Doe v. Porter (2002), FFRF challenged the practice of allowing religious instruction by an outside group in Dayton, Tenn., public schools. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the unconstitutionality of that practice.
The program at Indian Creek Middle School appears to be administered without parental knowledge or consent. Students are young, impressionable, and vulnerable to social pressure — particularly pressure exerted from an adult. This program usurps the authority of parents, some of whom surely don’t want their children approached by religious leaders at a school lunch.
And it makes no difference that students are not required to attend these preaching sessions. Voluntariness does not excuse a constitutional violation, as the Supreme Court has affirmed.
FFRF is calling on the Indian Creek School District to immediately discontinue allowing Bauman, or any other preachers, access to students during the school day.
“The school district cannot permit such a blatant imposition of Christianity on a diverse student population,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Preachers can’t be allowed to inflict their religion on hapless middle school kids.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization that represents more than 32,000 members and has 20 chapters across the country, including more than 800 members and a chapter in Ohio. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.