On Nov. 30, a fundamentalist Christian evangelist with a group called the Todd Becker Foundation appeared in a public school in Caledonia, Minn.
What happened there is a familiar story: The school thought it was getting a lecture on issues that can affect teens, such as alcohol abuse. What it got instead was a sermon.
To his credit, Superintendent Ben Barton admitted that things were not handled well. “We should’ve done a better job in vetting the speaker,” he told the local newspaper.
Indeed. And with technology in this day and age, there’s really no excuse for not properly vetting speakers like this. Attorneys with Americans United have tangled with the Todd Becker Foundation before. We have warned public school officials in other states to keep its speakers out. All of this information can be found by anyone in a matter of seconds through a simple web search.
Groups like the Becker Foundation roam the country, offering to give presentations at public schools. Their representatives pose as experts on topics like substance abuse and suicide, but often they have no expertise in these areas. They are simply evangelists looking for converts. (Remarkably, the groups sometimes manage to get public schools to pay them.)
Their in-school presentations are often problematic, but these groups usually give an evening event in the schools as well. Attendance at these events is voluntary, but it’s heavily promoted during the day. Sometimes kids are offered a bribe of free pizza, or the event is portrayed as a party.
In fact, it is essentially a revival meeting. In Caledonia, speaker Keith Becker told attendees, “If you are a homosexual, you need to come down from the crowd, get down on your knees and give your life over to Jesus, or you will go to hell.” He told them that Jesus is the only way to achieve eternal life.
This sort of thing is fine for a church; it has no place being facilitated and promoted by a public school.
In Caledonia, school officials accepted responsibility and apologized to the community. If they had done their homework beforehand, that wouldn’t have been necessary.
Other public schools need to sit up and take notice.