By Christopher Line
Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow
Freedom From Religion Foundation
An evangelical Christian group is outrageously labeling FFRF as a “hate group.”
Last week, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a report to 350 school districts across the Midwest warning them about the Todd Becker Foundation, an evangelical Christian ministry that uses our public schools to proselytize to students. The report details how the foundation enters public schools under the pretense of a secular assembly so that it can try to convert students to its brand of evangelical Christianity.
Today, the Todd Becker Foundation responded to FFRF’s report via Facebook, not by denying any of the claims in the report, but by claiming that FFRF is an “anti-Christian hate group.”
Needless to say, we at FFRF are not “haters.” We are admirers of the First Amendment, which entitles all of us to think what we like, criticize religion or irreligion and freely debate religion’s merits. But the First Amendment that affirms free speech and freedom of religion also requires the government, including public schools, to stay out of the business of religion. FFRF does not hate the Todd Becker Foundation but we do indeed abhor its practice of preying on vulnerable youths, and its routine violation of the public school’s duty not to evangelize minors.
A hate crime, according to the FBI, is a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” A hate group is generally defined as basing its principles on beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for immutable characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.
Unfortunately, we are seeing a trend toward classifying any criticism of religion or religious groups as “hate speech.” Under the First Amendment, we’re all free to criticize religion or irreligion. But religion has a particularly thin skin. Remember that the New Testament Jesus said, “He that is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30).
It’s amusing to note that the Todd Becker Foundation generously absolves FFRF of the supposed sin of our legal outreach to uphold First Amendment law. It turns out . . . the devil makes us do it! Yes, it is clearly Satan who is “using this group to inhibit the work of God.”This is also an ironic accusation from a group that reportedly shares anti-gay and anti-Mormon messages and materials at its assemblies and that included a story in one of its newsletters in which it bragged that it was able to end a lesbian relationship between two high school students.
Earlier this week, the Todd Becker Foundation also began scrubbing its Facebook page of photos that show foundation members praying with and proselytizing to students while in public schools. Luckily, we at FFRF have saved these photos and will not let the foundation’s actions continue to fly under the radar.
The Todd Becker Foundation is free to preach in spaces such as street corners, churches, and private facilities, as much as it likes. But it is not free to inveigle its way into schools under the phony pretense of preventing teenage drunk driving tragedies in order to proselytize. Our public schools are not recruiting grounds for evangelists. We’ll continue to fight to keep proselytizers out of our public schools, even if it means that some religious fundamentalists will refer to us as a “hate group.”
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