Why the prayer breakfast is moving to Broad Street UMC

Letter causes prayer breakfast to be moved


Broad Street United Methodist Church will play host to the 41st Annual Clinton YMCA Youth Prayer Breakfast, because of a complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The Madison, Wisconsin-based foundation objects to the prayer breakfast being held at Clinton High School.

The youth prayer breakfast will be March 4 - 8, 7 a.m. at Broad Street. The public is invited, and Clinton High and Middle Schools students are especially welcome to participate in the five-morning program; their breakfast is included (see The Chronicle Spotlight Page Feb. 27 for speakers and additional information).

The Freedom From Religion Foundation claims it is illegal for the prayer breakfast to be conducted in a school.

Its Senior Counsel, Patrick Elliott, writes to District 56, “The District cannot continue to allow community-wide religious events during the school day.”

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes cannot conduct activities during high school “flex time,” and people are not allowed to come into the school to regularly attend FCA activities. 

District 56 cannot rely on the federal Equal Access Act to justify hosting prayer breakfasts in school, Elliott wrote, and his letter explains why. “Outside adults may not regularly participate in, organize, or lead student religious activities. ... The prayer breakfast was held over 5 days and nonschool persons attended and participated each day.”

For four decades, the Clinton Family YMCA has conducted a youth prayer breakfast week, under the direction of its executive director Gene Simmons. The event moved from First Baptist Church, Clinton, to Clinton High School so cafeteria staff (instead of civic clubs members) could prepare breakfast as they do each morning in the school cafeteria. Those students who want to then move to the gym for a program, no instruction time is lost. Students who want to can board a bus at Clinton Middle School, just a couple hundred yards away, attend the gym program and ride a bus back to their school.

When the program was at First Baptist, the district provided bus transportation from the church to the schools. No public money funds the Clinton YMCA Youth Prayer Breakfast.

Still, the Freedom From Religion Foundation objected on May 17, 2018. Its letter says Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor are co-presidents (www.ffrf.org), and there are 33,000 members nationwide.

Writing about the 40th annual breakfast, March 5 - 9, 2018, the lawyer’s letter says, “It appears that the District was directly involved in putting on these religious events. While the prayer breakfast was co-sponsored by the YMCA and school Fellowship of Christian Athletes groups, it was promoted on both school calendars. We understand that it took place during the school day during ‘flex time.’ We also understand that students and persons who are not staff are typically not permitted within the school prior to 7:30 a.m. ... We write to request that the District refrain from coordinating or permitting similar community-wide religious programs during the school day in future school years.

“It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that a public school may not advance, prefer, or promote religion.”

Freedom From Religion told District 56 to respond in writing with “the measures you are taking to address this matter.”

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