The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: (202) 466-3234,Joe Conn,Rob Boston,Sandhya Bathija

Nebraska Group's Evangelistic Rallies At Public Schools May Result In Lawsuit, Says Americans United


A Nebraska religious group that holds evangelistic rallies during the
school day in public schools may be held legally liable for violating
the Constitution, according to Americans United for Separation of Church
and State.

In a letter
today, Americans United warned officials of the Todd Becker Foundation
that they can be held responsible for infringing on the religious
neutrality of public schools and the religious liberty rights of

The Kearney, Neb.-based organization sponsors presentations that
include sermons and religious music, as well as invitations to convert
to fundamentalist Christianity. According to its Web site, the
foundation's "sole purpose" is "to draw young people into a
life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ."

The Foundation claims to have put on presentations at 150 schools
across the Midwest. The events are ostensibly about the dangers of drunk
driving, but the program content usually focuses heavily on religious

Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director,
"Families, not public school officials or co-conspirator evangelistic
groups, should make decisions about children's religious instruction.
This is the clear command of the U.S. Constitution.

"I am surprised and disappointed that irresponsible school officials
and pushy proselytizers are joining forces to violate the rights of
students and their parents," Lynn continued. "If this pattern persists, a
lawsuit is almost certain. The Supreme Court ordered public schools not
to meddle in religion decades ago."

In its May 4 letter to the foundation, Americans United asserted, "It
is clear that a public school violates the Constitution when it allows
an outside group to give religious presentations at a school event. It
is equally clear that private entities face liability when they join
with government in bringing about those constitutional violations."

AU attorneys warned that future foundation presentations in public
schools must be "wholly secular."

"If you choose not to heed this request," the letter notes, "we
hereby put you on notice that you can be held legally liable to the same
extent as public school officials."

The Americans United letter was signed by AU Legal Counsel Ayesha N.
Khan and AU Staff Attorney Ian Smith.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.