An anti-gay fundamentalist Christian group successfully infiltrated an Iowa public high school assembly a few months ago – a move that angered some parents.
Last spring, the Todd Becker Foundation (TBF) gave a presentation during the school day to Logan-Magnolia Junior/Senior High School in Logan about the dangers of drinking and driving. That lecture cost the school $1,500, money that school Superintendent Tom Ridder felt was well spent.
It was a “really, really good message,” Ridder told The Des Moines Register.
That seems fine, right? It would be, if this weren’t a form of bait and switch. And it’s a pretty simple (but effective) con: TBF makes a secular presentation on a topic relevant to students. Then they invite those students to another gathering that takes place after school hours. When the students come to that second assembly, TBF uses it as an opportunity to proselytize.
It's unacceptable for any group to proselytize during a public school assembly.
This sort of thing happens all the time, and TBF has been doing it for years. We know because Americans United has tangled with the group in the past.
In this case, TBF actually passed out religious literature, including DVDs and books, right after its drinking and driving talk, which lead some students to think the after-school gathering was formally endorsed by the school.
The after-school event, which was held on campus, was as bad as you might imagine. TBF told students that homosexuality is immoral and invited students to “kneel at the front of the room and welcome Christianity into their lives,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa said in a complaint.
Unfortunately, no one should be surprised by any of that. But TBF went a step further by telling Mormons that they are the wrong kind of Christians. Parent Annette Deakins, who attended the talk along with her son, Kody, told the Register that when her son approached a TBF member after the presentation, he was given a 500-page book that details why Mormons are wrong. Deakins’ daughter Shya was also given an anti-Mormon DVD.
“I’m not OK with that,” Deakins, a Mormon, told the newspaper.
This is exactly the sort of behavior that is to be expected from TBF. And there is no excuse for officials like Ridder to claim that TBF “would not have come into the building” if he had known that they were going to proselytize and demean various groups.
Although TBF is a vague-sounding name, its website makes clear that there will be an evangelizing component to any TBF assembly.
“That same evening, another separate assembly is put on where the touring band ‘Chye’ puts on a concert and an entirely different story and message is presented,” the TFB site states. “This evening event is largely a faith-based, Christian message.”
How much clearer can it be? And no school district can reasonably claim it doesn’t have access to Google.
Beyond that, Americans United sounded the alarm about TBF’s activities years ago. In 2010, AU said the Nebraska-based group “focuses heavily on religious conversion,” and any school that invites TBF in may be violating the U.S. Constitution.
As for TBF, Becker told the Register, “There was a clear separation between the daytime and evening events – and no reasonable observer could have confused the private speech of the Todd Becker Foundation team with actions or speech of school officials.”
Some observers very clearly felt otherwise.
“It definitely blurs the line,” Staci Hupp, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Education, said.
Preventing future incidents like this is really, really simple. If you are a public school administrator who is approached by TBF (or you are considering hiring TBF for an assembly), spend about one minute doing research online. That’s all it takes. Anyone who would read TBF’s website would know that the group’s message is totally inappropriate for a public school.
If you’re a parent and you get wind that TBF or a similar group is coming to your child’s school, please let us know. If we hear about one of these assemblies in advance there is a good chance we can prevent it from happening.