October 18, 2013

Another View: Defense of Maine public school presentations downplays proselytizing

Claims that Life Choices’ assemblies were simply ‘anti-bullying’ overlook the pervasive religious themes.

By Rachel Myers Healy

Last month, Debbie Phillips gave presentations in Maine public schools that had the purpose and effect of promoting Christianity. She claims the assemblies were simply “anti-bullying,” and the Christian Civic League has defended her, arguing that Phillips’ multiple references to Christianity during the assemblies were “reference to historical fact” (“Maine Voices: To ACLU of Maine bullies: Discussing faith is not promoting religion,” Oct. 11). We disagree for many reasons.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Myers Healy is the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine’s communications director.

First, there is the interview Phillips gave on a local radio show. Speaking about the goal of her presentations, Phillips said she hoped “people will walk away with the idea that God can use anything, and he will if we surrender everything to his merciful hands.”

Further, there is the website of Phillips’ organization, Life Choices Presents. While the site omits direct reference to religion, it includes links to other pages that betray its true aim, including Exodus International, an “ex-gay” group that closed down after issuing a public apology to gay people for “years of undue judgment,” and First Priority of America, whose motto is “The hope of Christ in every student.”

Finally, there are the first-hand accounts of parents, teachers and students who attended Phillips’ presentations, including a Massabesic High School student who described a 4-foot-high, illuminated cross on stage throughout the assembly there.

While Phillips may have carefully crafted her presentation to avoid specific directives to students to embrace Christianity, her message is clear.

Students have every right to practice the religion of their choice, or no religion at all. However, the Constitution prevents public schools from promoting particular religions. Mandatory, religious-themed assemblies fall into that category.

Teaching students about the dangers of bullying is admirable. But proselytizing to students under the guise of teaching “good life choices” is simply unconstitutional.

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