BROKEN BOW — Although an atheist nonprofit organization that claims to protect the separation of church and state alleges in a letter to Broken Bow Public Schools that the school violated the U.S. Constitution, a Christian organization’s assembly went ahead as planned Wednesday.
BBPS allowed the Todd Becker Foundation to present during an afternoon school assembly. According to the foundation’s website, the organization’s school assemblies tell the story of Todd Becker, a Kearney High School student who died in a drunken driving accident in 2005.
The assembly “challenges students to take the narrow road, according to the scripture, Matthew 7:13,” the website says.
Freedom From Religion Foundation based in Madison, Wis., requested in an electronic letter dated Tuesday that the school not have the assembly. It also sent a letter earlier this year to BBPS and about 350 other school districts in 11 states that had been hosts for the Todd Becker Foundation in the past.
“It is unconstitutional to allow the Todd Becker Foundation, a religious ministry, to proselytize to your students,” the letter to BBPS claims.
BBPS denied the request and sent a written explanation to Freedom From Religion Foundation. BBPS Superintendent Tom Bailey said the school went forward with the assembly after conferring with its legal team.
“We had an agreement with the Todd Becker group that they would not do or say anything in a religious mode, and they honored that,” Bailey said. “And so therefore, we had no reason to indicate that we would stop their performance.”
Keith Becker, the foundation ministry director and Todd Becker’s older brother, said his organization abides by the U.S. Constitution.
“We quote Scripture during our assembly to teach the value of steering clear of drinking, like my brother did, steering clear of partying, steering clear of drugs, sex before marriage, to help kids reach their potential in life,” Becker said.
“There is nothing unconstitutional or unlawful in using the Bible to teach values,” he said of the U.S. Department of Education’s Guidelines of Religious Expression in Public School.
At an evening Christian concert and message, Becker said, “We absolutely do bring God into the school.”
“We have a constitutional right just like the Boy Scouts Club or any other (organization) to use school facilities outside of school hours,” he said.
Freedom From Religion Foundation legal fellow Christopher Line claimed in a phone interview with the Hub that following the school assemblies, the Todd Becker Foundation invites clergy to the assemblies to recruit students.
Becker said he and his staff are available to talk to students after the assemblies, but it’s upon the student’s freewill.
“We have without any doubt, all the time, we have kids who are hurting, who are searching, who hear Todd’s story and they come up and ask, ‘I don’t wanna end up like Todd. Can you help me?’” Becker said. “And we help them, and we help them from the basis of our Christian faith.”
The foundation also invites churches to the assemblies, but Becker said clergy and members of the churches are attending as private individuals. If a student feels more comfortable talking to a member of the community, including clergy who may attend, or a school official, they are free to do that too, according to Becker.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation had also requested records from BBPS, including contracts or agreements between BBPS and the Todd Becker Foundation, any correspondence (emails, letters and brochures) between BBPS and the Todd Becker Foundation, BBPS policies regarding the promotion of religion and allowing outside visitors to have unmonitored conversations or visits with students, and financial records regarding the presentations by the Todd Becker Foundation at the school.
Bailey said the school will comply with the records request. He added that private community organizations approached the school about allowing the Todd Becker Foundation to present, and the private organizations had paid for the performances.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union have also warned public schools in the about potential lawsuits if they allow the Todd Becker Foundation to speak at their schools.
Becker said his organization has been challenged by Freedom From Religion Foundation for about 10 years.
“Don’t be deceived. They have an agenda that is starkly in contrast to ours. We have a First Amendment right, just like they do to free speech.” Becker said. “They want God out of public schools. We have a desire to seek kids in public schools to not tragically end up like my brother Todd.”