After Maine School District Allows Christian Ministry to Preach to Students, the ACLU Demands an Apology

When a group called Life Choices Ministry says it wants to offer schools in your district an assembly on subjects like broken relationships and abstinence, how aloof do you have to be to not realize they’re subtly trying to preach Christianity?

And how do you miss the red flags when their sponsors included Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby?

And how are you not tipped off when you see a list of endorsements coming from the likes of President George W. Bush, Speaker of the House John Boehner, and Rep. Todd “legitimate rape” Akin?

And did you miss how the ministry’s website includes a number students can call if they’re “struggling with homosexuality” — a number that leads to, of all places, Exodus International, a group that long claimed it could turn gay people straight?

Somehow, Biddeford school district Superintendent Jeremy Ray missed or ignored all those warning signs when he, along with principals Charles Lomonte and Jeremie Sirois, gave a green light to Pastors Debbie Phillips and husband John Phillips to speak to the students.

Debbie Phillips

Guess how that worked out?

Exactly as anyone with half a brain would expect it to go:

The Life Choices Ministry presentation at Biddeford Middle and Biddeford High included multiple references to “Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior,” “God,” and “being killed for Christ.” In addition, the assembly included video footage of dead high school students, taken from the Columbine massacre, as well as a graphic account of the murder of one of the students at Columbine (Rachel Scott, the niece of the presenter). Finally, the assembly included a song promoting abstinence-only sexual education, entitled “Don’t Give Your Love Away.”

Thankfully, the ACLU of Maine is on top of this. They’re not suing. Yet. It might just be an honest mistake… (cue laughter). But all they want right now is an apology from the administrators involved:

We request that you issue an immediate apology to the students and faculty at your schools for violating their First Amendment rights, and that you commit to not inviting the Life Choices Ministry or any similar entity to minister to students in your charge again. Please respond to this letter by November 4, 2013, or else we will be forced to pursue other avenues.

The Superintendent hasn’t budged yet. Instead, he’s giving half-assed pseudo-apologies that involve phrases like “if anyone was offended”:

“These presentations were promoted as relating to the tragedy at Columbine and as supporting tolerance, school safety and respect toward others,” he said. “The programs did address these issues as well as student self-worth and the dangers of bullying. These are important messages relating to student safety that the school department is committed to sharing with students.”

Ray said he is sorry if anyone was offended by the presentation and “it wasn’t our intent to do anything wrong.”

I’m sure there were some worthwhile messages in there, but that doesn’t excuse the blatant illegal proselytizing. You can’t ignore the elephant in the room. (“Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”)

Even if the presentations were paid for by private sponsors and not the district, that doesn’t take away that fact that teachers had to lose class time so that students could attend the Christian presentation.

Incidentally, the same presentation was given to another Maine school a day before the Phillips visited Biddeford — and it was sponsored by a local church. Days before the assemblies took place, Debbie Phillips appeared on a local radio show hosted by the man who paid for her group’s Biddeford visit and even admitted the religious nature of her presentations (referencing her niece, Rachel Scott, who was killed during the Columbine massacre):

“You can’t tell the story of martyrdom without heaven showing up. That’s just going to happen.”

The district is getting off easy here. The ACLU is doing them them a huge favor by asking for nothing more than an apology and a promise to never do this again. It would be foolish for Ray, Lomonte, and Sirois to act like everything was perfectly fine and their decision-making is sound. They’re as culpable of allowing this to happen as the Phillips are for lying about the true nature of their presentations.

They have until November 4 to respond to the ACLU. If they’re smart — and the evidence we’ve seen here suggests otherwise — they’ll apologize before the end of the weekend.

(Thanks to Jasper and Jane 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.

  • Jasper

    Why do they always retreat to “offense”, as though that’s the sole problem?

    • WillThor

      Because “that offends me” is often as far as their own arguments go when they’re trying to fight someone else’s actions, so the assume that’s where everyone else is starting from when their own actions are questioned?

  • jdm8

    It’s OK to flagrantly violate laws because: Jesus

    • Kevin_Of_Bangor

      Thankfully this doesn’t happen often in Maine and when it does the higher ups are quick to make it right and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    This was in my local paper yesterday.

    I was called a commie more than once, asked why I hate God, was told I have demons inside me and something bad happened to me when I was a Catholic, which I have never been.

    I was told the ACLU is anti-Christian, that I am anti-Christian. I spent many hours commenting. Not hard to figure out who I am if you do read the comments.

    And I forgot to add many people played the Muslim card over and over.

    Here are some of the replies to me.


    You need to change your name to Kevin_of_Bangor Anti Christ.

    Oooooooooooh! And you anti-christ types are better huh.

    Tell us a story Kevin. Why do you hate God so much. Tell us why. that way we will understand why you promote being wrong so strongly.

    You’re hatred for White Christians is evident.

    Really Kevin, show me, any where, any where in the constitution that it says you can’t pray in gov. Buildings , schools, it does not say that, but you are Kevin of Bangor, so you will just twist the words around to fit your need! Commie!

    I never said one couldn’t pray in any of the above buildings

    And if it was Muslims praising Allah a false Prophet you would not have said a word. All I ever see you is rail on Christians.

    Kevins hatred for religion stems from something that happened to him while a Catholic. Its to bad because he would have made a great religious leader. He has demons now instead..

    • Keith

      Man, how many Tums did you have to choke down after all that?

      • Kevin_Of_Bangor

        I’ve been told I enjoy self torture.

        • Mackinz

          You are a stronger man than I, Kevin. I cringe at the mere thought of watching Wendy Wright, but I think you have watched her inane insanity the full way through.

          Seriously, I applaud you.

    • UWIR

      I’m a bit disturbed by that site asking for my location.

      • Kevin_Of_Bangor

        It pulls your location from your IP, lots of websites do it, nothing to be afraid of.

  • UWIR

    “how aloof do you have to be to not realize they’re subtly trying to preach Christianity?”

    I don’t think “aloof” means what you think it means.

    “And did you miss how the ministry’s website includes a number students can call if they’re “struggling with homosexuality” ”

    So, if someone is trying to be homosexual, but isn’t doing it very well, they can get help doing it better?

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Aloof generally refers to emotional distance, so it works. A person who has distanced themselves won’t recognize the subtext. “Naive” is still a better choice, just because it doesn’t draw readers away from the point.

      • Linda Lee

        I would go with brainwashed or wanted to promote religion.

  • UWIR

    Rachel Scott’s father, Darrel Scott:

    Guns don’t kill people, atheism kill people

    And then after his bigoted lies, he had the gall to start an “anti-bullying” group, Rachel’s Challenge.

  • randomfactor

    Real apologies do not contain the word “if,” in my opinion.

    • allein

      Classic notpology. “I’m sorry that you are upset.”

    • Christian Kemp

      I also suppose the word “Ministry” in the title didn’t tip them off either.

  • Mick

    If the lawyers tell them to apologise they will. They’ve already got what they wanted: A story to tell the folks in church next Sunday: “Look at us. We’re brave little soldiers in the army of the Lord; the best Christians ever.”

    • Kevin_Of_Bangor

      As I said, this was posted in my local paper and the comments stating the school was wrong where given the most support. Maine is not a very religious state.

  • Spuddie

    “Ray said he is sorry if anyone was offended by the presentation and “it wasn’t our intent to do anything wrong.””

    In other words, the only people who would be offended are those who are not psycho-christian like us. But we shouldn’t be expected to give a flying crap about their opinions. After all, they aren’t like us. How were we to know that their feelings matter.

    • Captain Cassidy

      Indeed. Even by not-pology standards, this was a really weak not-pology–hiding behind the magic shield of intent as if now we’re not allowed to be angry or outraged. What, all they have to do is waft their palms heavenward and shrug with a sheepish grin, and now we have to let them off the hook? I think not.

  • CarysBirch

    What was the other school, does anyone know? I used to live in Biddeford and I live in the general Augusta area now…

  • nking32

    In college I was taught that an apology meant you’re automatically accepting legal obligations to compensate, which undercuts the writer’s assertion that the ACLU is being munificent by only “asking for nothing more than an apology and a promise to never do this again.”

    • Pattrsn

      Sounds like an extremely bizarre way for the ACLU to behave when they have such an easy win anyway. Especially since the school would have to cover their legal costs.

    • dmoneal

      True to your first point, but I don’t think the ACLU would be asking for compensation. Unless you consider their compensation being the apology and promise to stop the behavior. Either way, they’re doing the board a favor by offering not to take the litigious route if they can.

      And nice word-of-the-day-type use of munificent. You don’t see that every day in blog comments! (not being sarcastic, seriously.)

  • Matt Davis

    The poll on that website is strongly biased against us. Please, everyone, go and vote “Yes”!

  • Timmah

    As soon as you see Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby on the sponsors list, your Atheist Spidey-sence should be going of like crazy.

  • Luciferadi

    I’ve never seen a Chick-Fil-A or a Hobby Lobby and I’m from New Hampshire, so it’s possible they don’t have them in Maine, either. (Not that there weren’t plenty of other red flags in the brochure.)