Friday, March 23, 2018

ACLU Nebraska Warns Schools Against Religious Speakers

September 18, 2010 by  
Filed under Monthly Articles, World News


Husker football assistant coach Ron Brown said he’s not intimidated by a letter ACLU Nebraska sent to public schools warning them not to invite him to speak because he promotes his religion.

“It’s an intimidation issue, and I’m not intimidated, and I won’t be backing down,” Brown said Wednesday. “So when I walk into public schools, I will share what I believe to be the truth.”

The ACLU said it has gotten a number of complaints in the past year when speakers invited to address subjects such as rejecting drugs and alcohol also included specific religious messages — in violation of the First Amendment.

“In other words, public school children are being required to attend sessions during the school day that include encouragement for them to adopt certain religious beliefs, and these speakers are paid for by public taxpayer money,” the letter says.

Marilyn Moore, Lincoln Public Schools associate superintendent of instruction, said she agrees with the legal positions in the letter and will share it with LPS principals, in part, to remind them of the district’s policies about speakers.

“We shouldn’t let that happen,” LPS Superintendent Steve Joel said of hosting such speakers. “We shouldn’t, and we won’t.”

The letter names Brown, who helped found a Christian ministry called Mission Nebraska, and Keith Becker, with the Kearney-based Todd Becker Foundation, who speaks against alcohol abuse and drunken driving.

“Both of these speakers are inappropriate for invitation to a during-the-day school event in your district because both men have made it clear that their intention in speaking in the school is to call for students to develop a relationship with Jesus Christ,” the letter says.

Brown said complaints from the ACLU are nothing new.

“It’s only about the 40th time it’s happened.”

But he said he and Becker have great messages.

“When the schools ask me to speak, they don’t tell me what to speak on other than drugs and alcohol,” he said. “Nobody says don’t say anything about God or do say something about God.”

When he knows he’s going to share his faith, he said, he asks the school to make attendance optional.

“Yeah, I go into schools. And I share my faith in Jesus Christ,” he said. “I got one speech. I don’t have two speeches. Because integrity means one. … I don’t have a secular school speech, or a Christian school speech, or a football speech, or a church speech.”

Becker could not be reached for comment. The foundation’s website says 175 public school districts in Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and South Dakota have hosted its presentations.

The presentation centers on Keith Becker’s brother Todd, who died in an alcohol-related crash when he was a senior in high school. The site says the organization is mindful of public school boundaries but notes it uses a Bible scripture “to better illustrate the story of Todd’s choices.”

The foundation hosts evening concerts with Christian themes following presentations in schools, according to the website. On it, several principals, including some from Nebraska, praise the group’s presentation.

Moore said she doesn’t know whether Becker or Brown have spoken at Lincoln schools, but Becker’s website lists a 2008 visit to Lincoln High School.

LPS policy doesn’t directly address the topic of speakers and religion. Moore said that’s likely because not using a school setting to advance a religious belief is such a basic premise.

District policy does say resource speakers should be told what objectives they are being asked to help achieve. It also says teachers should clarify, raise questions or interrupt as needed.

While the ACLU letter warns specifically against inviting Brown and Becker, it notes “there are numerous organizations that seek to bring a religious message into the schools under the guise of life advice.”

ACLU Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller said in a statement that some people who have complained “described the revival show atmosphere that happens in the school gym.”

Districts that invite Brown or Becker and then have someone complain could be the target of ACLU legal action, the letter says.

Brown said he thinks that’s a shame.

“As a citizen of the United States, as a person who can freely disclose what he believes to be the truth, I have not only the right but the responsibility to tell kids what I believe.”

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