Pizza Proselytism

Not In Public Schools

It is beyond dispute that the First Amendment gives religious groups the right to seek new converts.

Church members can go door to door with magazines. They can hand out fliers in public places or mail out special invitations to worship with them. If you're not interested, you are free to shut the door, discard the fliers or ignore the invitations.

The right to spread religious messages is protected but nothing in the Constitution gives faith groups a right to expect government help in winning souls.

Yet that is exactly what the so-called "pizza evangelists" discussed in this issue of Church & State seek to do. (See "Extreme Evangelism," page 4.) They want an arm of the government the public school system in this case to assist them in recruiting youngsters for fundamentalist Christian revival meetings. At those events, the kids are often pressured to make faith professions and sign cards stating that they have converted.

Government promotion of religious services is unconstitutional. Public schools that work knowingly with "pizza evangelists" to further the sectarian aims of fundamentalists are violating the law.

But there is another aspect to be considered: Giving these evangelists access to public school students violates parental rights. In this country, parents get to decide what religion if any their children are exposed to. What house of worship the parents choose, and whether they choose one at all, is no business of the public school system.

Fundamentalist Christian parents would undoubtedly be outraged if non-Christian proselytizers were brought into public schools to promote events where youngsters would be urged to embrace other faiths. In light of that, they need to remember the Golden Rule and treat their neighbor's children as they would like their own to be treated.

Fundamentalists tempted to back the activities of "pizza evangelists" also need to remember this: These groups have been accused of promising to stick to secular topics in schools and then lapsing into sermons, of not telling school officials that they plan to promote offsite religious events and of claiming to be experts in areas when they are not. Deception is a poor way to save souls. What is that commandment about not bearing false witness?

"Pizza evangelists" have the right to come to your door and try to persuade you they are correct about religion. Instead, they want public schools to make a special delivery for them. That must not be permitted.