Rep. Michele Bachmann will be headlining a fundraiser in November for controversial ministry You Can Run But You Cannot Hide (YCRBYCH).
Based in Annandale, Minn., the group has made a name for itself as an anti-drug Christian punk rock band that organizes motivational student assemblies to bring Christ to public schools. But over the last several years, parents and school administrators have complained that the ministry misrepresents itself, claiming that the group is not transparent about its Christian mission. And since schools pay using public funds, some are concerned that the group is violating the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state.
Bachmann will be the keynote speaker at a fundraiser for the group on Nov. 12 at a Bloomington hotel. Bachmann’s office did not return a request seeking comment about the event.
It won’t be Bachmann’s first time at a YCRBYCH fundraiser. At a Minneapolis hotel in October 2006, she offered a powerful prayer for the ministry and praised the group’s work of sharing the gospel in public schools.
“Lord, I thank you for what you have done at this ministry… how you are going to advance them from 260 schools a year, Lord, to 2,600 schools a year,” she said. “Lord, we ask thy faith that you would expand this ministry beyond anything the originators of this ministry could begin to think or imagine. Lord, the day is at hand! We are in the last days! The day is at hand, Lord, when your return will become nigh. Pour a double blessing, Lord, a triple blessing on this ministry.”
In an April 2009 broadcast on Christian radio station KKMS, the group acknowledged that it is going into public schools to evangelize.
“We are doing assemblies here, folks, just so you understand, we do public high school assemblies,” said one of the group’s members. “We are speaking to kids in our schools about the constitution, suicide prevention and our own testimony of how Christ turned our lives around in public schools so we can get the light into kids hands in public schools.”
Complaints around the Midwest
In school districts around the Midwest, school administrators have taken heat for inviting the ministry into schools.
In 2003, the group came to a Benton, Wis., high school. “They had a captive audience for their message, and that wasn’t right,” Benton Principal Gary Neis told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald. He was reportedly so upset that the ministry strayed from its anti-drug message that he held another assembly to apologize to the students.
“They talked about influencing and brainwashing people. Be wise to the fact that is what they were doing. They were using the same tactics,” Neis told the students at the assembly. Neis said he contacted other schools in the area and found that they had no idea that YCRBYCH was a Christian ministry.
In 2005, at a Eureka Springs, Ark., high school, students walked out of the assembly; afterward, the principal took heat from parents. According to the local paper, The Lovely Citizen, Eureka Springs superintendent Reck Wallis, said, “I take responsibility. We had no idea about their religious, right-wing message. They misrepresented their program. We want [Eureka Springs schools] to be open and all inclusive. … They won’t be back.”
At Pequot Lakes High School in central Minnesota in 2007, the group stirred controversy when students reportedly ran out of the assembly crying after the group showed graphic images of abortion and told the students that God wanted women to be subservient to men. John McDonald, Pequot Lakes High School Principal, told WCCO, “We were expecting something a bit different,” he said. “The thing we apologized to students for is the program wasn’t to the expectation that we thought it would be.”
Also in 2007, the group performed in Phelps, Wis., causing an uproar among parents and administrators. “The school district administrator said she didn’t know You Can Run But You Cannot Hide was a Christian group until I told her,” said Paul Guequierre, a reporter for WJFW TV-12. “She showed me the lit from the group and there was no mention that the group was Christian.”
Indeed, the group does not mention God, Jesus, Christianity or any religion in the “Principal Packet” that it distributes to school administrators. According to the four-page document (pdf), founder Bradlee Dean’s “message hits on issues such as drugs, alcohol, suicide, our country, our veterans, our freedom, the Constitution, friends we choose, the influence of media, and day to day choices we make.” (The program’s website only references God once, in a promotion for founder Bradlee Dean’s book.)
When questioned by the Minnesota Independent about claims that the group doesn’t disclose the religious nature of the assemblies, Dean said, “78 percent of the American people are professing Christians. Are they, in their line of work, to wear ‘I am a Christian’ shirts?”
“It sounds like there is a lean toward discrimination in what you are asking,” he added.
Separation of church and state
While many have challenged that the group causes schools to run afoul of the separation of church and state, both Bachmann and YCRBYCH deny that the constitutional prohibition exists.
In fact, Bachmann urges people to give money to the organization for the stated purpose of bringing Christ into public schools.
“[Public schools] are teaching children that there is separation of church and state, and I am here to tell you that is a myth. That’s not true,” Bachmann said at the group’s 2006 fundraiser in Minneapolis. “And they explain to children in the public school system what a myth that is. And that’s what I love about this ministry … We want kids to come to the truth and that’s why this ministry is so absolutely vital. We need them in every public school classroom across the state to tell young people, ‘You Can Run But You Cannot Hide.’”
Schools pay the group thousands of dollars to put on the assemblies. “On average we ask $1,500 to $2,000 an assembly,” Dean told the Advocate, a paper in Annandale, Minn. (The group’s Web site says a three-hour assembly ranges from $3,000 to $5,000.)
Dean has similarly claimed that the Constitution does not call for church-state separation.
“Did you know that the phrase ’separation between church and state’ is nowhere in the Constitution, nor in the Declaration of Independence, and nowhere in the Bill of Rights?” he asked listeners of his radio program, called “School of Hard Knocks,” which is broadcast on KKMS.
Dean says that the ministry is being targeted by the government because it tells the truth. On his April 11 radio program, he recalled an incident a week earlier which he claimed an employee of the ministry was chased by a helicopter.
“There was a blue and white helicopter that flew down on top of her van as she was going to this [Wright County] Republican party convention. And then he swooped back down on her again.”
Bradlee said that helicopters frequently dive-bomb their tour bus with “helicopters flying up to the bus and pulling off.” He said, “What they are trying to do is criminalize the righteous.”
At the ministry’s 2007 fundraiser at the Minneapolis Hyatt, Dean elaborated on his fears of the government, as reported at the time by the Minnesota Independent.
“We passed out over 100,000 [religious] tracts in public high schools because God said,” Dean said. “Not because some tyrannical government wants to try telling us what we can say and what we can’t say, because we know what the Constitution says. We know who the problem is, nothing’s changed in two thousand years.”