Civil liberties groups say that You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International – a ministry/punk band that brings its Christian message to public school kids – is causing schools to run afoul of the constitutional principle of separation of state and church.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, who says such a separation is a “myth,” will be headlining a fundraiser for the group in November.
“We’ve made complaints about them in the past,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. “And there are similar groups out there that use assembly subterfuges to gain access to a captive audience of school children.”
She said it’s incumbent on schools to research YCRBYCH before booking them for school activities.
“It is hard to believe schools don’t know what they’re getting into; all they have to do is a cursory check of the websites,” she said. “School Districts often pay exorbitant honoraria as well, so it adds economic injury to constitutional insult.”
She added that by not being honest about their evangelical mission such ministries are effectively turning public schools into evangelical recruitment centers.
“This is a devious strategy, used also by many ‘pizza evangelists.'” she said.
That term refers to evangelical ministries that seek to gain access to public school students by offering incentives not of a Christian nature, such as extreme sports, contests to win a car or pizza parties. The most common cases include these incentives along with a “secular” anti-drug assemblies, much like YCRBYCH does.
“Usually they don’t mention God or Jesus per se in the mandatory assemblies but they hand out invites to an after-hours event, often held at schools, which is open soul-winning,” said Gaylor. “It amounts to the public schools – whether officials are duped or not – recruiting for evangelists.”
While YCRBYCH admits that its public school program is designed to save souls, Gaylor says she’d doubt it’s effectiveness even if it was completely secular. “It’s dishonest and unethical, and we also question the value of the so-called secular program itself, which is often alarmist and painted in broad strokes, and can plant ideas, such as suicide, in immature minds.”
Alex Luchenitser, a senior litigator for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, has concerns about the group’s activities – and those of similar organizations, like Power Team, a well-known evangelical ministry that uses martial arts to engage kids.
“They’d put on a secular program in the schools and then would invite kids to a separate religious event,” he said.
When asked if religion is part of YCRBYCH assemblies, the group’s front man, Bradlee Dean, was less than clear. “Morality is, which is the fruit of religion,” he said. “Our testimony of Christ is spoken of if someone asks us ‘what changed you?'”
But in public, YCRBYCH has admitted on several occasions that it’s trying to win souls in public schools. On the ministry’s radio show, one member of the ministry – talking with Dean – said they share with public school children “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.”
That doesn’t sit well with Luchenitser. “That this group is doing this is quite outrageous and a very clear violation of the separation of church and state,” he said. “And the fact that they seem to be intentionally misleading the schools is very disturbing to say the least.”
YCRBYCH’s “Principal Packet,” a pamphlet sent to school administrators about the ministry, doesn’t mention that it’s a ministry or that the program is religious in nature; it doesn’t mention God or Jesus Christ.
Luchenitser said that if the group is actually misleading the schools, it’s schools that could find themselves in legal trouble. “I think that because of the misrepresentations, it could subject the schools to legal liability,” he said. “Parents could turn around and sue the school.”
If the schools can prove they were mislead, they in turn could sue the ministry, he said.