ACLU Challenges Religious School Assembly in Maine

Here’s yet another example of a school bringing in an outside group to put on a school assembly that is ostensibly just about vague things like “self-respect” but that really turn out to be little more than sermons telling students about how God will fix all their problems.

Last week the student bodies at both Biddeford High School and Biddeford Middle School attended an assembly put on by a group call Life Choices. School officials say the program was promoted as being about the Columbine school tragedy, school safety and tolerance.

But the ACLU of Maine says it went too far.

“Talked about martyrdom and people dying for Christ and these are views of course that people have a right to have, but student should be able to go to school and not have those views presented”, said Zach Heiden of the ACLU of Maine…

“After attending I can understand how people could have been uncomfortable with some of the religious references and we’re deeply sorry if that offended anyone”, said Biddeford School Superintendent Jeremy Ray.

School officials say they reviewed the Life Choices website before the presentation. On it they say there were valuable messages that students can use such as self respect, setting life goals, and respecting others. They say nowhere on that website were messages with religious overtones.

Of course they don’t. They know that would raise red flags. But this kind of thing goes on all the time, under the guise of encouraging abstinence or teaching kids to stay off drugs. Then they get there and it’s Bradlee Dean giving a sermon about the evils of homosexuality and abortion.

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  • doublereed

    What does the school have to do, then?

  • lldayo

    I find it refreshing that the school acknowledged the fact that the assembly had religious overtones and seems genuinely concerned about them. This may have just been a case of not doing enough research on the group. Hopefully, no lawsuit comes of this.

  • grumpyoldfart

    I wouldn’t be surprised if they school officials knew exactly what they were buying and I wouldn’t be surprised either, if they are still congratulating each other about the clever way in which they managed to sneak a Christian message into the assembly before anyone could stop them.

  • John Pieret

    What does the school have to do, then?

    It should do “due dilligence” when selecting outside groups to give mandatory assemblies to the students. Things the school could have done include asking for videos of previous assemblies Life Choices had conducted and asking for a list of schools they had worked at and contacting those schools concerning the appropriateness of Life Choices presentations for public schools. Poking around Life Choices’ website is a start but probably not enough.

    I doubt the ACLU will sue if the school was genuinely surprised and promises to do better screening in the future, and as long as the school doesn’t have a history of doing this sort of thing.

  • jackal

    What does the school have to do, then?

    From the cited story:

    After being contacted by some concerned parents the ACLU fired off a letter to school officials demanding an apology for parents and a commitment from the school not to put on a similar program again.

  • kantalope

    Please tell me more about how middle schoolers should be martyring themselves for Jesus again. Because nothing says, ‘I respect others,’ like a suicide vest.

  • Modusoperandi

    Lay off! School assembly is hard. All those pieces. That Allen key. And you always end up with dowels left over!


    kantalope “Please tell me more about how middle schoolers should be martyring themselves for Jesus again. Because nothing says, ‘I respect others,’ like a suicide vest.”

    This is America. “Martyrdom” is losing an election or not be allowed to deny your employees contraception.

  • Modusoperandi

    …or, in the case of High Schoolers, not being cheered for bullying The Gays.

  • timberwoof

    So the shooting at Columbine was an opportunity for martyrdom?

  • No One

    A quick google came up with:

    The school officials are lying.

  • kantalope

    @10 No One

    Lulz the banner for the website the banner is “Outreach, share god’s love”

    “They say nowhere on that website were messages with religious overtones.” Except, you know, everywhere on the website.

  • Michael Heath

    Ildayo writes:

    I find it refreshing that the school acknowledged the fact that the assembly had religious overtones and seems genuinely concerned about them.

    The school demonstrates no such credible defense. Go the webpage and see for yourself. It’s clear has an anti-abortion rights political agenda, where they too share the same attribute of this population at-large. They misinform to promote outcomes that are not in the best interests of their target demographic.

    I’m not a careful observant of the abortion rights fight and even I could see through their bullshit, like how they dishonestly describe the morning-after pill. A school administrator should have a far higher standard to meet when it comes to who will get access to his school’s students; school superintendent Jeremy Ray demonstrated no serious purpose to this extremely important duty.

  • John Pieret

    There are apparently any number of websites that call themselves “Life Choices” or some variation thereof. This seems to be the one the school reviewed (it matches the site shown in the news report):

    Most of the website does not mention God or Jesus. Where you get a hint of it is between the “Our Presenters” page, where the first two are the mother and aunt of “Rachel Joy Scott, the first student murdered in the Columbine massacre” and the “Remembering Rachel” page, where there is talk of “her personal relationship with Jesus Christ;” her serving “as a deacon often organizing events for local youth to witness and share her love for God;” her “personal goal of traveling outside the United States to share her faith and love for Jesus Christ;” and the like. Another hint is the “Help for Parents” page that has links to a “Focus on the Family” website and another openly Christian site, “Teen Challenge.” A third site there, “Turn-About Ranch,” offers a “Christian Track” in its program. I found all that in maybe 15 minutes.

    If the school reviewed the website, the people who did it either didn’t do a very thorough job or didn’t really care just what the message would be.

  • John Pieret

    Incidently, the school apparently forked out 2 grand for this assembly:

    And a little Googling on the “Founders,” John and Debbie Phillips, show that they head “Life Choices Ministries.”

  • John Pieret

    And here is a description of “Life Choices Ministries”:

    JOHN AND DEBBIE PHILLIPS OF LIFE CHOICES MINISTRIES WILL MINISTER AT PASSION AND FIRE WORSHIP CENTER THIS THURSDAY NIGHT AT 7:00PM John and Debbie Phillips are the Uncle and Aunt of Rachael Scott whose life was taken in the Columbine massacre 5 years ago. John and Debbie and the Life Choices team minister in high schools all across the nation, bring the message of abstinence and the gospel into high school assemblies.

  • Marcus Ranum

    setting life goals

    Yeah, as in “this life doesn’t matter, it’s just a cruel warm-up game for skydaddy’s sadistic pleasure.”

  • David Hart

    Modus @ 10: If your school needed any Alan Keyes in its assembly, you know you’ve got problems 😛