There’s a religious liberty standoff underway in Middleton, Wisconsin.
On one side is a group of Christian moms armed with Chick-fil-A sandwiches and 400 homemade brownies. On the other side are public school administrators who believe that Jesus and plump juicy chicken breasts are “divisive.” The controversy surrounds an off-campus lunch event involving students at Middleton High School known as “Jesus Lunch.”
The high school allows students to eat lunch off-campus. In 2014, a small group of parents began meeting with their children in a nearby park — providing home cooked meals along with a Christian-themed, inspirational message. The small weekly gatherings in the fall and spring eventually morphed into a popular gathering spot for hungry kids — with nearly 500 turning out for all sorts of goodies — ranging from Chick-fil-A sandwiches and fresh fruit to hundreds of homemade brownies.
“We show up every week just to show the love of Jesus,” parent Beth Williams told me. “Our mission statement for Jesus Lunch is ‘food for the body, nutrition for the soul.’” Superintendent Donald Johnson and Principal Stephen Plank called the off-campus religious gatherings “divisive” and they want the weekly non-denominational meetings shut down.
“We believe that religious or political events do not have a place in our school or on our campus, except when sponsored by a student group in accordance with our rules, which require prior approval,” the pair wrote in an email sent to parents on April 12.
The district accused the moms of violating all sorts of rules — especially in the area of food preparation. They implied the parents are putting their children in danger by hosting the weekly picnics. “The policies in question include food handling, visitors to campus, and expectations around student organized events,” the administrators wrote. “We are in no way interested in opposing religious practice in otherwise legal circumstances.” The district said parents are ignoring “food handling standards.”
“Food of any kind that is served to students must be approved by the school/district to ensure food safety, cleanliness, and health,” they wrote. “In addition, many students are subject to food allergies, so additional protocols must be followed to safeguard students with these conditions.”