We all know that Jesus was born, died and was risen to forgive our sins. But did you know he died to get you out of detention too?
I didn’t learn about that fact until I ran across the blog post of a Minnesota teacher who spoke about how God called him to minister to the children at his school. He’s been called to share God’s message and bring youth into the fold, apparently by bribing them with alternatives to regular school discipline.
According to his blog post, “God Opens a Door,” Lewiston-Altura High School teacher Brian Menk felt called to do more God and Jesus. When he was introduced to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a youth ministry organization that sneaks religion into schools through student athletes and their coaches, he had come up with a great way to work for God and get recognition from his peers:
Now, here was one of those situations that was undoubtedly provided by God, and truth-be-told, my first feelings were not how I would like them to be. I started to have thoughts of how good this would look for my own reputation in my school and community. To put is another way, my first thoughts were very selfish.
Well after convincing himself he wasn’t doing this for selfish reasons or pride, the teacher decided that he was going to pursue an FCA chapter at his school for the right reasons: pushing back against that pesky First Amendment in the public school where he worked.
After wrestling with my conscience and realizing that this was an opportunity to bring glory to God and bring Jesus into the lives of kids, I decided to move forward with it.
According to his blog post, Menk, his wife, another teacher and nearly a dozen students at the school trained for several months before hosting their first Bible studies on Friday mornings before school in Menk’s classroom. They also held these “huddles” in the gym as part of bigger kick-off events and volunteered in the community, all the while taking pride in thumbing their nose at the Separation of Church and State:
The point is, our students were giving, serving, praying, loving, challenging, and growing……all while giving glory to God. Keep in mind, this was all happening in a public school.
None of this is new to anyone who has encountered an FCA group, which has chapters at high schools all over the country including the Midwest. But what is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes?
According to their website, the FCA was officially founded in 1954 when the organization’s bylaws were approved and it received recognition from the state of Oklahoma. The vision of Don McClanen, an Oklahoma basketball coach, his idea was to have professional athletes “professing their Christian faith in order to change the youth culture in America.” Today, the organization focuses more on student-athletes and coaches professing their faith to their classmates and students and boasts more than 12,000 huddles, or chapters, in more than 45 countries.
The FCA boasts 27 high school huddles in Northwest Wisconsin and 18 high schools in Southeast Minnesota. The Wisconsin FCA has hosted an annual coaches breakfast at the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association’s clinic and both states promote coaches’ retreats and the FCA Coaches Academy. This program is based on the “biblical truths” behind the organization’s 3Dimensional Coaching program which is designed to promote a faith-based coaching method and even has a secular version the organization uses to softball the concepts to non-fundamentalist coaches.
A 3Dimensional Coach realizes the power of the coaching platform to inspire, motivate, and produce positive change in his or her sphere of influence. He/she is acutely mindful of the moral, social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs of his/her athletes. The FCA Coaches Academy is a three course training curriculum designed to help coaches become transformational in the lives of their players by learning to coach in all three dimensions from a faith-based perspective.
In the 2001 decision of Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the United States Supreme Court ruled that faith-based organizations can meet and proselytize in schools as long as it is the students who are leading the activities. Reading much of the content on any FCA website shows that these clubs are at best walking the razor’s edge and worst blatantly violating it, especially in the work to get coaches to preach more to their athletes. And then there are Menk’s actions in getting people to participate in the Lewiston-Altura FCA huddle.
Bragging in his blog post, Menk highlighted two of the ways he ignored the separation of church and state. He recounted the story of a seventh-grade female student he found serving her morning detention in the school office. Menk doesn’t mention why she was serving detention, but apparently he, with the support of school staff, decided the standard disciplinary rules need not apply if said student attended his club for Christ instead.
Most adults tell children that Jesus died for their sins in order to scare them into believing in their imaginary buddy in the sky, his angry, jealous daddy and the nebulous Holy Ghost that likes to enter people and impregnate virgin teens in the Middle East. I have to admit this is probably a better way to indoctrinate kids to your club: come learn about Jesus and we’ll get you out of detention, kid.
The second incident he bragged about involved another seventh-grade student, this time a male. Menk discovered the student full of tears and fearful of being at school after just two weeks of class. No specifics are given, but it is obvious to me that this kid is either being bullied, suffering from social anxiety, or some other combination of factors that are seriously impacting his ability to be happy, healthy and to learn.
Instead of working to resolve these issues by combating the bullying or getting the student counseling or other support he needs, Menk and the school secretary figure they have a better solution: Jesus. Instead of actually working to address the student’s issues, they used it as just another recruiting opportunity to get another warrior for Christ. Somedays I feel telemarketers and used car salesmen have nothing on those who are spreading the “good word.”
Now, these are only the two incidents that have been admitted publicly. Who know what other stories or recruiting tactics Menk, school staff and others have used to connive and convince people to attend their club. But when I came across this blog post making the rounds on Facebook, I knew I had to take action as I knew this teacher was violating the law and bragging about it in the hopes of inspiring others.
When someone breaks into your home, you call the cops to investigate. When someone breaks a civil law, you call a lawyer or non-profit. In this case, I called the Madison-based Freedom from Religion Foundation and let them know about the incidents.
It took them no time to see what I had already seen, that Menk was far from a neutral participant in the club and that his actions and others were violating federal laws such as the Equal Access Act. In fact, according to the organization’s lawyers, Menk violated the law simply by forming and recruiting the club instead of letting the students form it themselves naturally.
No kid should feel pressured to join a club in exchange for a chance to get out of some other school activity, even if it is detention. No kid should feel pressured to join the club in order to try and fit in at school and should have teachers and school staff who work to address their issues instead of trying to recruit them to their religion.
Luckily, the school realized it had messed up in giving Menk carte blanche to run his Jesus club. They didn’t pull Menk from being a part of the FCA, but they did admit the school policies on religion need to be enforced to make it less likely he and other staff members could use their authority to preach to students.
I’m not too convinced the district learned a lasting lesson, however. Along with contacting the district’s attorney, the Lewiston-Altura Superintendent Jeff Apse apparently thought it appropriate to reach out to the Alliance for Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as an extremist organization and a “legal advocacy and training group that specializes in supporting the recriminalization of homosexuality abroad, ending same-sex marriage, and generally making life as difficult as possible for LGBT communities in the U.S. and internationally.” This hate group also apparently represents the interests of the FCA and other religious groups fighting against religious freedom.
While the school did not ultimately use the ADF’s services, I find it appalling a public institution would consider that approach and the letter the district sent to parents, staff and students seems more upset that it got caught, trying to mollify the religious zealots upset a secular organization called them out, and promising to make sure the FCA was touched as little as possible by the changes put in place to follow the law.
But like I am sure a lot of the FCA coaches tell their kids, a win is a win, and it shows people in the secular community the importance of speaking up. You can challenge illegal behavior when you see it and there are organizations like FFRF or Secular Coalition for America that will help you fight for your rights and freedoms. So keep fighting, free thinkers!