In 2014, five Christian moms started holding religious meetings at Middleton High School in Wisconsin called "Mama's Lunches," which the students later renamed "Jesus Lunches" because that's what the parents talked about with the kids.
The Jesus Lunches grew in popularity in Fall 2015 with hundreds of kids showing up for the adult-led preaching and free hot lunches, according to AllGodsPeople.com.
The Gideons (a Christian organization) donated free Bibles to help evangelize the kids, local churches provided money and volunteers, a local apple farm gave fruit, and the Madison Christian Giving Fund pitched in $5,000 to pay for the lunches.
However, the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District sent a letter to families of students on April 13, pushing back against the proselytizing lunches, which moved to a local park in Fall 2015.
The letter, published in the Middleton-Times Tribune, noted that school principal Dr. Stephen T. Plank asked the parents to stop holding the lunches, but the moms refused to even though the school leases the park and enforces "school policies during school hours/days."
The letter also detailed the district's multiple concerns regarding the Jesus Lunches:
- ... Food of any kind that is served to students must be approved by the school/district to ensure food safety, cleanliness, and health. In addition, many students are subject to food allergies, so additional protocols must be followed to safeguard students with these conditions.
- ... Adult visitors to school/school campus must follow Administrative Policy 860 Visitors to the Schools, which requires registering in the school office, or the greeter’s station. This is a requirement of all visitors to our schools/school campus during school hours, whether or not they are parents.
- If students are interested in organizing student led activities, MHS staff are happy to work with them and will convey the district and school policies that govern activities. This, however, appears to be an event initiated by adults without approval by the school.
According to the school district, the Christian parents disregarded the policies and "have threatened legal action."
"Many students have conveyed to us their concern about a group offering free food to incentivize participation in a religious event on campus," the school district's letter concludes. "The result of which has a divisive impact on our learning community. As such, we will continue to work with the parent group to find an amicable resolution."
The Christian moms released a statement by their attorney on the Jesus Lunch Middleton Facebook page on April 13:
Fireman’s Park – a public park owned by the City of Middleton – remains accessible to everyone in the public for the purposes of assembly and free speech.
By law, the lease agreement between the city and the School District of Middleton does not privatize the park. Christian parents who provide a free lunch and share their religious beliefs with park visitors retain their First Amendment rights to do so, notwithstanding unfounded protests from the school district.