What Does It Take To Remove a Pastor Who Hangs Out at a Middle School?

You want to see Christian privilege in action?

Get this: At Summit Middle School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a pastor from a church called The Chapel was allowed to hang out in the cafeteria while students were there, pass out pamphlets (that may or may not have been religious in nature) to them, and chat with them as they ate. This was not just some random guy; in fact, the students “recognize[d] him as a religious leader.”

And the school just let it happen.

A scary-ass banner for The Chapel

The only reason we know about this is because one of the students recently brought home anti-abortion literature she got from the pastor and that’s when her parents began questioning what the hell was going on.

[Parent Linda Buchanan] said the school principal told her the minister was not supposed to approach any of the children, but “if they approach him he can speak to them.”

She said she and her husband, who moved to Indiana from Atlanta about two years ago, had never seen anything similar during their years attending public school and felt the practice was wrong. Other parents the couple contacted were also unaware of the practice, she said.

“We’re not a bunch of heathens,” Linda Buchanan said. “We’re not anti-religion, we’re anti-religion in public school.”

With the help of the ACLU, the family filed a lawsuit against the school on Friday morning at 8:45a.

15 minutes later, the Southwest Allen County school district’s attorney sent the ACLU an email:

ACLU attorney Ken Falk said the school district’s attorney phoned him at around 9 a.m. to say the district was ending the practice.

In other words, it took a federal lawsuit being filed for the school to finally do the right thing. The administrators didn’t have the courage to do it on their own. How’s that for leadership?

Does anyone think the school would have allowed a Muslim to do the same thing? An atheist?

I doubt it.

It’s incredible how many administrators are like this: They’ll let pastors use their schools as recruiting grounds for new Christians, and they won’t put a stop to it until someone complains. It’s irresponsible, unprofessional, and a complete betrayal of the parents’ trust. There are public schools that allow the Gideons people to come in and hand out Bibles, and public schools that invite church groups to speak at assemblies about why things like homosexuality and pre-marital sex are evil.

Meanwhile, the pastors take advantage of this illegal merging of church and state because, of course, they think they’re above the law.

Patrick Fischl, the pastor allegedly at the center of the controversy, hasn’t made any public comments about the case.

(Thanks to Katie for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Kevin

    Good Lord. Really? I thought “public” school meant it belonged to the public. PUBLIC access. With homes and morals falling apart, we need to chase pastors off school property? Today’s atheism is less about equality and respect, and MORE about limiting the free speech of Christians.

    • Stev84

      Because Christianity is such a shining example of morality…

      It’s not like any of these kids hasn’t ever heard of your religion. They don’t need to be converted. If they want to go to church, they know where they are.

    • Pickle

      Public school means that its paid for by the public (through you tax dollars) not that its open to any adult that wants to come in and push their agenda. Under your definition I assume you’d be ok with Muslims and Buddhists and every other religion to come in and hand out literature to children?

    • Pickle

      Public school means that its paid for by the public (through you tax dollars) not that its open to any adult that wants to come in and push their agenda. Under your definition I assume you’d be ok with Muslims and Buddhists and every other religion to come in and hand out literature to children?

    • pRinzler

      Free speech gets limited all the time, even beyond shouting fire in a crowded theater.  There are very appropriate reasons to limit free speech.

      Do you really want to open up school cafeterias to all religions (all the numerous types of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Wicca, Hinduism, etc.) and why not all political parties while we’re at it, and how about environmental groups, etc., etc.  Do you see where this leads?

    • Amy Davis

      Now you’re arguing semantics, Public schools don’t belong to the public. I can’t waltz in during lunch and start talking about saving the whales, planned parenthood or why the biblical myth is absurd.
      Public schools are there to teach children academics, the arts, maybe throw in a little phys. ed.
      I can tell you if they tried to pull this crap in my school I’d be the first one in there. Can you IMAGINE setting up a booth in the lunchroom and talking about atheism? Talk about a sh*tstorm!

    • Octoberfurst

       Oh so you would be fine with Muslims clerics, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, Catholic Priests, Scientologists, et al all hanging out in public school cafeterias handing out tracts and preaching their version of scripture to kids?  That would be Ok with you?  Do you not understand the whole church/State seperation thing?  Don’t you think kids have the right to just eat their lunch without being proselytised? I figure if they wanted religious instruction they know how to go seek out clergy.  Jeez!

      • http://www.facebook.com/abb3w Arthur Byrne

        Actually, this shouldn’t be treated as a rhetorical questio (and don’t forget the occasional “evangelical atheist”). Creating a limited public forum, open to all (probably also needing to allow Democratic and Republican party political advocates), might also stand up to constitutional muster — though it would probably prove in short order to be “too disruptive” to the school’s primary mission of education, and ended.

    • Sven

      “With homes and morals falling apart…”

      I hear this meaningless statement so frequently from Christians.  What does A have to do with B?  If children get more religion in schools, their parents won’t divorce, is that it?

      Today’s Christianity is less about equality and respect, and more about special privileges for Christians.

      • phantomreader42

        Hass christianity EVER given a flying fuck about equality or respect? I mean christianity as a whole, the actual actions andd effects of the institution. I’ve seen individual christians who show some capacity for basic human decency, but in the aggregate you end up with support for bigotry, torture, mass murder and child abuse.

    • Earl G.

      You know what, strange ADULTS, period, are not typically allowed in schools.  If  you’re not staff or student, you can’t just waltz into a public school.  

      • Sware

        I could not agree more.  At my kids school there are signs on the doors stating no one is allowed in without a pass from the front office.  
        It would not make it OK to break this rule just because they say, “I’m with the church.”

    • Kevin

      Has it been established that this pastor was openly proselytizing? I thought atheists were all about proof. I guess assuming the worst about Christians AND their motives is the exception. And “public schools don’t belong to the public?”  Really? Then to whom DO they belong?
      Stop your whining and save your ammo for real cases of discrimination or church/state violation. 

      • Octoberfurst

         So why was the pastor hanging out in the cafeteria then? Does he just enjoy the ambience?  Perhaps he enjoys snacking on tater tots. Or maybe he is just a perv. I dunno, what do you think?
          Frankly what I think is that you shouldn’t be so deliberately naive.

      • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

        This WAS a “real case of church/state violation” you blinkered douchecanoe. I can’t tell if you’re being deliberately obtuse or if you really are that categorically deficient in rational thinking skills. Preacher. In Public School. Recruiting for Jesus. How much more obvious does it have to fucking be?!

      • Coyotenose

         nice job of ignoring the many cited flaws in your argument after people were kind enough to point them out for you.

      • RobMcCune

         Another chrisitian who doesn’t understand what the word public means in regard to government functions. Public means they are owned by the public through their government, and provide benefits to the public. We know that this pastor was given access to students other members of the community didn’t have, bear in mind schools don’t just allow any one to wander into the school cafeteria at lunch time. It’s not like a public park, even though they use the same word, try to understand that. As for evidence how about The Chapel has a middle school minister listed on their website. If you don’t think using public schools to proselytize is a violation of the establishment clause, then what is?

      • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

        Ok, I’ll bite. So he wasn’t preaching to the kids. That leaves what reasons for his being there?

        From where I sit it’s either he’s a pedo out stalking fresh meat, a zealot overstepping and preaching and that’s about it. So either he was there to preach or stake out kids to diddle. Both are disgusting, much like your oblivious attitude.

      • TiltedHorizon

        “Has it been established that this pastor was openly proselytizing?”

        If I want my kids to have faith I’ll take them to church. If I want my kids to find “truth” I’ll put them in a psychology class. For ALL other matters I choose the when & where to teach them. A pastor handing out anti-abortion literature (i.e. proselytizing ) at a Middle School, without MY prior knowledge, represents an attempt to sidestep a subject that I, as the parent, have dominion of. 
         

      • phantomreader42

        Kevin, is being willfully ignorant and incapable of reading for comprehension a core tenet of your religion, or just your own personal stupidity?

      • phantomreader42

        So, Kevin, when a religious leader is hanging around small children handing out propaganda, we should assume his actions have nothing to do with religion? Yeah, I’m sure the guy’s just your common garden-variety pedophile.

      • Baby_Raptor

        If it wasn’t a real case, then why did the administration make it stop? If it was legal, they’d have let it go to court, one would think. 

    • allein

      Really? Do you want just anyone to have “public access” to the building while your kids are in school? I don’t care what they’re there for, if they are not a school employee and don’t have a legitimate school-related reason for being in the building, they should not be hanging around other people’s kids. Being a pastor doesn’t give you the right to go anywhere you want.

    • phantomreader42

      Kevin, why should your cult, and ONLY your cult, be allowed to hijack government agencies to preach your delusions to a captive audience of other people’s children?  Why is your faith so weak that it can’t survive without constant government endorsement and funding?  

    • http://www.facebook.com/abb3w Arthur Byrne

      Being a “public” school does not make it a public forum — traditional or limited. Of course, if you do want to introduce such a public forum, it has to be open to all the public, including any Mormons, Scientologists, or Atheists who want to avail themselves. That seems likely to prove unduly disruptive in short order; but feel free to bring up the notion to your local school board.

      And if you’re going to protest homes and morals “falling apart”, it’s probably worth noting once more that a lot of such “falling apart” metrics (per capita rates of divorce, teen pregnancy, rape, et cetera) tend to correlate to areas with higher religiosity.  Some others don’t — but those (such as church attendance rates) tend to be explicitly religious in nature.

    • Phil

      Why is it when Christians proselytize, it’s free speech.   When anyone else does it, it’s pushing an agenda, indoctrinating innocent children, hastening the end of western civilization, attacking the family, etc.

      It’s not good to be an ignoramus, Kevin.  It’s even worse to be a royal pain in the ass.  

    • mobathome

      Don’t feed the troll.

    • amycas

       Exactly, it belongs to the public. So  my tax dollars and yours are spent on it. Meaning it shouldn’t be endorsing your religion over any other.

    • Baby_Raptor

      The fact that not every single person in the country’s morals align with yours does not mean that morals are falling apart. Try being less insulting.

      And nobody cares about your speech as long as you follow the laws. This guy wasn’t. The law doesn’t say that christians can do whatever they want, as much as ya’ll want to believe it does.

  • Octoberfurst

     What is it about church/State seperation that these idiots don’t understand?  Even back in my religious days I would have thought that was inappropriate. So why did the administration think this was a good idea in the first place?
      I agree with Hemant that there is no way that the school would have allowed a Muslim cleric to hang out in the cafeteria passing out Muslim literature or even let an atheist in to pass out anti-theist tracts.  Christians think they are so privileged in this country. I am sure that the minister will go on some Christian radio station and whine how persecuted he is or some such nonsense.  He’ll become a “hero” in the Religious Right community. Just wait and see.
     

    • Amy Davis

       What is it about church/State separation that these idiots don’t understand? 
      - As long as “In God We Trust” is printed on our money people will never understand. Seriously, for those who just go with the flow and don’t put a lot of thought into anything important it’s just not something they even consider. Make it something against their beliefs and then it’s some big thing. You’re right, would love to see the reaction if the Unification Church came in and did the same thing.

    • http://mamamara.wordpress.com/ Mara

      Exactly! Even back when I was a believer, I was infuriated by religion in the schools. If I’d seen any religious figure allowed to hand out things in schools, I’d have gone ballistic.

    • allein

      Even aside from church/state separation, a strange adult, unaffiliated with the school, allowed to just  hang out in the cafeteria and talk to students about any topic, without even notifying parents that he’s there and why, would be an issue for me. 

      • newavocation

        Oh but he is GOD’s representative just like one of Santa’s elves.

  • Graham Martin-Royle

    Considering how many cases keep coming to light of peadophile religious preachers from all faiths, I would have thought it prudent for any school to ban any preacher from it’s premises.

    • Robster

      That’s why the clerics are so successful indulging their child rape ambitions. Even with all the evidence, the endless parade of victims, criminal clerics, catholic lying and the rest of the whole sordid show, those wearing dog collars are thought to be virtuous and therefore trustworthy. We are slow learners, at least some of us are.

  • Marymarysquared

    You people are clueless and NEED Christ.

    • pRinzler

      Airtight argumentation, extensively documented, compassionately delivered.  What more do we want?

    • http://IAmDanMarshall.com/ Dan Marshall

      You people are clueless and NEED reason.

      (see how that works?)

      • Octoberfurst

        Excellent reply!

      • http://www.facebook.com/abb3w Arthur Byrne

        Some additional empirical  data might also help.

    • Octoberfurst

       Well gee whiz I’m convinced! Such stunning logic! I’ll bet you spent hours coming up with such repartee.

    • Matto the Hun

      I hope she brings the same “enlightened” message to Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc boards as well. I’m sure that would go over great!

    • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

      You’re an arrogant asshole, Marymary^2, just like so many of your “loving” Christian fellow cultists.

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

      Well bless your heart.

    • Devin Sexson

      I already have Christ. I keep the little bastard in a cage in my basement and feed him rusty nails. 

      I know that sounds sadistic, but he likes rusty nails, he really likes them. 

    • mobathome

      Don’t feed the troll.

    • Pureone

      Somebody’s crabby and NEEDS a beautiful cuddly  invisible pink unicorn.

    • Robster

      What on earth would require us to have a need of the baby jesus? If he ever existed, he’s been dead for almost two thousand years so he won’t be up to much. If anything he was a magician or fraud of some sort, so of not much use to anyone.

      • Ellis

        he was probably a madman or just a charlatan.

    • Baby_Raptor

      Grew up with him. Once I got enough of a taste of life that I started seeing past the bullshit, I ran like hell. 

    • cipher

      My pastor told me your pastor’s clueless.

  • allein

    I am confused by the icons on that banner…a plus sign, a school(?), a house, and an airplane? What do these have to do with a church worth dying for? (Leaving aside how disturbing those words are.)

    • Earl G.

      Wait, wasn’t there another religion worth dying for that involved dying by flying airplanes into things?  I just can’t seem to recall …

      • allein

        Hmm…sounds vaguely familiar.

    • Robster

      There is a religious trend of flying airplanes into buildings and as a byproduct probably houses. They probably had to put a church there to get the sign tax free.

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    Aside from the religious aspects, why was this guy just hanging around allt he time? Did he have a kid in the school? Even if he did, I don’t see why they’d let him sit around doing nothing. Our local public schools require everyone to sign in, and run a background check on volunteers. I can’t imagine they’d allow a stranger who has no personal involvement in the school hang out there just for the heck of it. Why would anyone think it’s a good idea to have some random guy skulking around school premises all the time?

    • allein

      But…he’s a man of god! He wouldn’t do anything objectionable!

      • Earl G.

        He must be very devout; he keeps inviting students to ‘pray with him’ in the janitor’s closet.

  • http://profiles.google.com/korinthian Sutra Stevens

    This sites slogan should be “How would they have reacted if a Muslim/Atheist did that!?” Because it’s said constantly around here.

    I like the site and all, but that’s just a trend I’ve recognized.

    • allein

      Constantly? I’ve seen it said when it was relevant. How do you think the Good Christians would react if it was a Muslim cleric hanging out in a middle school cafeteria handing out literature to students? How about a Wiccan? See the post about the Louisiana school voucher program and Muslim schools for an example. The government official who supported vouchers for Christian schools suddenly had a big problem when she realized it applied to other religions as well. I think in many cases it’s appropriate to point out, because the people who support these things so vehemently rarely think about how they would feel if the tables were turned.

      • http://profiles.google.com/korinthian Sutra Stevens

         Yeah, all the time. Thanks for contributing to the point.

        • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

          Your point is a vacuous one. The “Muslim/Atheist” test is very useful in what this site advocates in the context of the United States, a Christian-privileged society. Using the test puts the lie to Christians who assert that being forced to obey the law amounts to persecution of Christianity.

        • phantomreader42

          So, are you stupid enough to actually believe that christians are not being giveen special privileges over non-christians? Or are you just a lying sack of shit?

        • Devin Sexson

          Oh…

          You made the same (seemingly pointless) point twice in a row. 

          Must be bogus. 

    • Devin Sexson

      Uh….

      Are you saying that because a point has been made numerous times it can’t be valid? 

      Or is there some actual reason that you object to the point? 

  • Dathers

    Astounding how much time Atheists spend talking about something they DONT believe in… sad actually… your understanding about why this pastor, or any Christian official, would be allowed this unfair privilege is a morbid and immature perspective of culture, desire, and the essence of the human spirit, good or bad. What rock in our decrepit society do you live under?

    • mobathome

      Don’t feed the troll.

      • Dathers

        Don’t worry mobathome, I’m likely not to return to a blog that complains more than my little sister. But since you’re trying so very hard to illustrate your reasoned propriety, for future clarity on the idiocy of that comment, you just did.

        • Coyotenose

          Astounding how much privileged douchebags can’t be bothered to read for comprehension before they start blathering their long-discredited arguments.

          Don’t forget to stick the flounce, whinebox.

          • Dathers

            Privilege douchebags? If you mean to draw some association btwn me and those idiots in the article, the I hate to disappoint but I well agree with the notion that Christians are a grossly overprivilaged bunch in this country. But what of it? Are you surprised? Do believe it to be any different anywhere else in the world?

            And for crissakes, long discredited arguments? Coyotenose, the next time you need to churn out some gammon and spinach from your oft unreasoned anxiety, you can use far fewer words to do so.

            • Brian Scott

              I don’t understand the point you’re making. Are you saying we shouldn’t complain about this? That because we do complain we’re clueless about societal mechanisms of privilege? I’m sincerely asking you to clarify.

              • Dathers

                @ Brian Scott my point is a criticism of the central purpose of this post: that there is an association between this behavior and Christians or christian behavior or even religious behavior. That is what is so naive, and yes, clueless.

            • Coyotenose

              - Defending privileged douchebags;
              - Claiming to be above the argument and thus superior;
              - Whining about the mean words being too hard to understand while posting again and again and again;
              - Not sticking the flounce.

              No points awarded.

    • allein

      Replace Christian with Atheist in this particular case and I would have the same reaction.

    • phantomreader42

      Astounding how stupid, lazy,willfully ignorant, dishonest,  and unoriginal christian death cultists always are.  Not a single worthwhile argument, not even an attempt to understand the situation at hand, just regurgitating the same old incredibly stupid lie.

      • Dathers

        Well nicely done phantomreader42. 1. I’m not a Christian. 2. I initially made no arguments, just statements of criticism. 3. I didn’t make any statements of truth, only opinion, so I couldn’t have made any “stupid lies”. 4. And of course, not fleeing here….Jesus, the mind boggles….

        • cipher

          Ah. A concern troll. Yes, the mind does boggle.

          I thought you weren’t going to bother returning. Someone apparently needs to have the last word.

        • phantomreader42

          Ah, so you say you’re not a christian, but all you have to offer is the same repetitive, willfully ignorant bullshit we keep hearing from the stupidest of christians. And you don’t even have the excuse of being a brainwashed sheep too terrified of the cult’s imaginary boogeyman to allow yourself to think of anything original! You CHOOSE to be a worthless, incompetent waste of air and bandwidth, without even being offered a fantasy reward in return! The mind boggles.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jerome-McCollom/100000327150215 Jerome McCollom

      We believe in the Christian rightwing trying to impose their beliefs on others. What is so hard to understand about that, anyway?

    • Baby_Raptor

      Could you make that into something besides an attempt at Insulting Word Salad? Maybe if we could understand it, we’d answer you.

      Then again, it probably wouldn’t break through the hypocrisy.

    • cipher

      The one rock you Christians have yet commandeered. Don’t worry; I’m sure your leaders will get around to it soon.

    • Deven Kale

       Astounding how much time Catholics spend talking about something they DONT believe in… sad actually…

      In reference to Marc Barnes over at Bad Catholic, who spends more time talking to and about atheists than he does Catholicism, or anything else for that matter.

    • Edmond

      We are actually talking about something that we DO believe in: separation of church and state.  If that’s something that YOU don’t believe in, that’s fine, but I don’t think you’re justified in insulting the people who do.

      A public school is a government institution.  It is not a recruiting ground for faith groups.  People do not send their kids to school for spiritual guidance, or to have the beliefs of one particular religion preached to them.  There are other places for that.  It is highly inappropriate for this kind of thing to take place in a school setting.

      Religion and spiritual beliefs are highly personal, and should (ideally) be decided by the individual, or at least as a family, according to the family’s values.  They can then seek out their spiritual needs from places that specialize in them.

  • Deven Kale

    In my view, I don’t think they would have let anybody in there with the children unless it was a Christian pastor. Could you imagine some guy with a vacuum cleaner business allowed into that cafeteria? Maybe somebody from the local radio station? No, if anybody’s going to have something like this at a school, it’s going to be either an assembly, or maybe at some special event after regular school hours. I can’t imagine anybody at all being allowed to just chat with the kids during their lunch hour any old day they felt like it, except a Christian pedoph-, errr, pastor.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jerome-McCollom/100000327150215 Jerome McCollom

    Only 15 minutes to change the policy. Shows you the power of the ACLU. Reasons like this is why I am a member of that great organization. Not only do they fight on the right side of these issues, but the other side fears them.

  • cipher

    From the “Doctrines” page on The Chapel’s website:

    We believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is to be the salt of the earth

    (http://www.thechapel.net/index.php?pageId=152)

    That must be the reason the pastor is hanging out in the cafeteria; he’s concerned the kids aren’t getting enough salt.

    • allein

      Heh, if they’re buying the school lunch, odds are they’re getting way more than they need..

  • Bakinstrips

    The district superintendent knew this was going on since 2009. Yet he implicitly supported this ILLEGAL practice the entire time. How can he willfully break the law and retain his position? One of his most important responsibilities is to uphold the law and do the right and legal thing.

  • baypines5@aol.com

    Why are people comforted by Christ in their time of need? I have never seen people in crisis cry out to atheism to comfort them. I have never heard of atheists answering a prayer.  

    • Deven Kale

      “Why are people comforted by Christ in their time of need?” Because delusions can be very comforting. Just ask people who hear voices in their own head, they can be either helpful or harmful, sometimes even both at the same time. That doesn’t mean they’re real though.

      Atheists answer prayers all the time. Somebody needs some help with something and tells others, as well as praying for it. The atheist hears they need help, and just help because it’s the right thing to do. Some atheists still enjoy helping others, such as myself, even without the promise of some eternal reward.

      • baypines5@aol.com

        God bless you for serving as his hands and feet.

        • Deven Kale

          Fuck you too, you smug bastard. I really get tired of people like you who completely ignore what it is that somebody actually says, like that I help people for no reason other than to help them, and turn it into something religious. I care nothing about your god, his limbs/extremities, or what anybody does with them. I believe I made that clear when I said I’m an atheist. I am not serving as “his hands and feet,” I’m serving my fellow man when I can. Don’t be an asshole by turning that act into something it’s not.


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