Oct 22, 2012

Should public schools allow clergy to come onto campus and proselytize students?

Of course not.

So it’s good to learn that an Indiana public school has cancelled a youth pastor’s lunchtime visits to Summit Middle School in Ft. Wayne. It’s just too bad that it took a lawsuit in federal district court to reach that reasonable result.

According to an Associated Press account, John and Linda Buchanan brought the legal action after a minister from a local church regularly stopped by their 11-year-old daughter’s school. The pastor reportedly handed out materials and moved from table to table, talking with the children.

Linda Buchanan told the AP that she and other parents were surprised to learn about the religious outreach and felt it was clearly wrong.

"We're not a bunch of heathens," Linda Buchanan said. "We're not anti-religion; we're anti-religion in public school."

The Buchanans’ lawsuit was filed with the help of the Indiana ACLU at 8:45 last Friday morning, and at 9:00 an attorney for the Southwest Allen County Schools called the civil liberties group to say that the clergy visits have ended.

I’m glad school officials took the right course of action. But I’m perplexed as to why it took federal litigation to get to this point.

Public schools serve children from many different faith traditions as well as some whose families follow no spiritual path at all. To allow a clergyman from The Chapel, an evangelical Christian church in Ft. Wayne, to have special access to students violates the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit.

It is also a clear violation of the Constitution. The public school system, as an arm of the government, may not favor one religion over others or favor religion over non-religion.

Imagine the uproar if clergy representing Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Scientology or some other faith were given access to public school students.

Churches and other houses of worship are perfectly free to operate youth ministries. But they must not take advantage of the captive audience at public schools to win recruits.