The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization that advocates for the separation of church and state, says Go Tell Ministries, an evangelical church, has been promoting a Christian revival event during assemblies in several public schools in Pearland, Texas.
Go Tell Ministries reportedly promoted the revival (a large meeting where people are converted to Christianity) during in-school assemblies at a high school on April 3, as well as at a junior high school and other Pearland schools on April 4 and April 5, according to an April 20 FFRF press release.
The religious revival, "Bay Area Go Tell Crusade," scheduled for April 7 through April 9 at Challenger Columbia Stadium in Webster, Texas, was deceptively promoted as a "pizza night," according to the FFRF.
FFRF believes school district employees distributed tickets for the religious event at the schools.
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The Houston Chronicle published a picture (below) of a ticket for the event, which does say "Pizza Night," and "Chance to win an iPhone 7."
The school district reportedly scheduled the assemblies, in part, because of a suicide at a Pearland high school.
The FFRF says the district needs to bring in counselors instead of an evangelical organization that is using a tragedy to push its religious cause.
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Pearland Independent School District Director of Communications Kim Hocott told the Houston Chronicle that Go Tell Ministries' On Track Assemblies were secular and featured motivational themes, adding, "It was a great message for our kids."
Hocott went on to say that the law protects the distribution of materials at non-school events, and there are similar legal protections for presenters at school assemblies, who are not screened for their outside religious practices.
The FFRF press release says "an in-school assembly is not a non-school event; it is a school-sponsored event and any message made at the event bears the stamp of district approval."
The FFRF also states that the school district "supplied Go Tell Ministries with unique access to students through an in-school assembly."
"The assembly is government speech, and under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, that speech cannot advance one religion over others or promote religion over nonreligion," the FFRF added.
Hocott told the Houston Chronicle how "unfortunate" it was that a "good secular message" was being "criticized."
"In the wake of suicides and other very serious student issues, it is unfortunate that the attempt to give students a good secular message about helping one another, making good choices, and getting help when you need it -- is criticized because the presenters have activities outside of the school which are religious in nature," she said.
In an April 19 letter to Pearland Independent School District Superintendent Dr. John Kelly, FFRF lawyer Sam Grover stated that the FFRF's objection is the in-school promotion of the off-campus Christian revival.
“In United States v. Lee, the Supreme Court extended the prohibition of school-sponsored religious activities beyond the classroom to all school functions, holding prayers at public high school graduations an impermissible establishment of religion," Grover wrote. "Thus, promotion of Go Tell Ministries’ ‘crusade’ event as part of an in-school assembly violates the Establishment Clause.”
The FFRF is calling on the Pearland Independent School District not to allow outside groups to promote religious advertising during school assemblies.