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Heartburn Over Jesus Lunch

Just don't try this in Fireman's Park! (Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com)

There’s so much wrong with this story from Middleton, Wisconsin, that it’s hard to know where to begin.  Let’s start with the lede:

An ongoing debate over the propriety of a weekly Christian gathering dubbed “Jesus Lunch” at Middleton High School led to crowds of supporters and protesters facing off at a park shelter adjacent to the school Tuesday afternoon.

Around 500 students, parents and community members gathered at Fireman’s Park, where the lunch is held, to serve and eat lunch as well as express their thoughts on the controversy for about 10 reporters covering the event.

Jesus Lunch was started in 2014 by a small group of parents whose kids attend Middleton High School. The lunches involve parents passing out free food to students and having discussing about Christianity. According to students who attend Jesus Lunch, parents give faith-based motivational speeches and send positive messages their way. On one occasion, parents handed out Bibles and Christianity pamphlets.

Kids at this school have the right to go off campus for lunch. Some choose to go to this park. And on one day each week, moms serve food and have a religious gathering.

It seems to me that there’s a legitimate constitutional issue here. The park, adjacent to the school, is public property, but the school has some kind of lease with the city to use it during the day; under the terms of the lease, school rules apply. It is unclear to me if the public has access to the park during the day. If so, how can the school impose its rules on people who are not students? On the other hand, if someone were to get food poisoning at this event, would the school be legally responsible for it?

Second, it is not at all clear that the school has a right to restrict the use of the park by a religious student group. If the park is open to the use of other groups, then it has to be open to Christian groups. On the other hand, it is not clear if the distribution of religious tracts is constitutionally permissible on school grounds (which the park may or may not be).

So, I agree that there is probably a real issue here. But get a load of this:

Amanda Powers, a freshman at the UW-Madison and Middleton alumnus, showed up to protest the event. She said she is still close to many students at the school and the lunch is exclusive and divisive.

“I’m here to support my friends and peers that feel marginalized. There is a park right down the street that is public property that the parents could have rented out, but instead they chose to go against school laws and policies and stay here,” Powers said. “This is dividing the student body, hurting minority students and creating unsafe spaces for those that aren’t Christian.”

The perfect SJW mindset, right there. Why?

1. “Feeling marginalized” is sufficient cause to shut down someone else’s free speech;

2. “Dividing the student body” is sufficient cause to shut down someone else’s free speech, because conformity is what they desire, even though they use the term “diversity”;

3. “Hurting minority students” — in what way? Nobody is required to attend this thing. Which minorities? Are there no black, Hispanic, or Asian Christians in the school? This is SJW cant;

4. “Creating unsafe spaces” — this is the most Orwellian concept in the SJW ideology. Nobody can possibly believe that this Christian lunchtime pep rally makes the school unsafe for non-Christians. If it does, then let’s see the evidence. I am certain that Amanda Powers simply doesn’t like the people who do this, and considers is “unsafe” if someone, somewhere, has to be aware of people in their community that they don’t like.

Here’s hope:

Middleton student Anna Diamond disagreed with that sentiment.

“I’m Jewish and don’t feel like I’m being oppressed. People think the lunch is oppressive but it’s not; no one is forced to come here at all, students have a choice,” Diamond said. “The parents are not trying to get people to convert and they are very peaceful. We should all be allowed to have our beliefs and right to preach as long as it’s not offending or hurting anyone.”

Good for you, Anna Diamond, though it must be noted that a rabbi is quoted in the story saying that her son has complained that he has been “taunted” by students who go to the thing. If that is true, then punish those students for breaking the rules. If the event is constitutionally protected, why does the bad behavior of some Christian students mean the event shouldn’t happen at all.

Elsewhere in the story, protesters grumble that nobody would be happy with “Muslim Lunch” at the park. Well, maybe a lot of people wouldn’t, but so what? If the Muslims have a right to be there having lunch and talking about their faith, what’s the big deal? If they want to hold an Atheist Lunch, fine by me. It annoys me that the first response so many of us have to speech we don’t like is to try to shut it down, instead of first attempting to increase the diversity of speech.

But then there’s this from the story:

For some students, Jesus Lunch has filled the void of not being able to attend church. Brady Thomas, a senior, said his involvement in athletics interferes with church since many games are held on Sunday.

“The lunches have been really motivating and it gives me hope. It helps me regain my faith since I can’t go to church often,” Thomas said.

Oh, come on. If sports are more important to Brady Thomas than attending Sabbath services, then his faith is not very strong. Brady Thomas can go to church often; he simply chooses to prioritize athletics over God. It’s not the non-Christians and the anti-Christians who are forcing Brady Thomas to prefer sports to Jesus Christ.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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