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Covert Proselytization in America’s Public Schools

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State writes today about “The Power Team,” a group of Christian evangelical weightlifters who sneakily recruit for their religious group in public schools across the United States:

The Power Team,” a Texas-based group made up of over 20 athletes, has convinced many schools to open the doors to their antics. The Team’s feats-of-strength performances include bending steel and smashing stacks of concrete blocks and other items. According to the group’s Web site, Team member John Kopta, a 6-foot, 250-pound former wrestler and body-builder, crushes “countless tons of ice and concrete with his fist, forearm, and head.”

The evangelical Christian group employs its acts to recruit students to attend religious gatherings after school. Indeed, Team President Todd Keene boasts on the organization’sWeb site that his group performs at more than 1,000 school assemblies a year, reaching “hundreds of thousands” with its evangelistic message.

The Web site proclaims that the Power Team’s mission is, “To reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ which an ordinary church meeting or event cannot. Drawing people through the use of performing visually explosive and spectacular feats of strength by incredible athletes who share with them the life-changing message of the cross.”…

“The Power Team is a thoroughly religious organization that describes itself as a ‘strength based ministry specializing in growing churches through Family-Focused Evangelism,” Americans United Litigation Counsel Aram A. Schvey wrote to officials of the Colville School District.

Schvey’s letter noted that allowing the group to “encourage students to attend Christian events, which The Power Team calls, ‘crusades,’ after school” is constitutionally suspect.

Public schools serve students of many faiths and none. School officials should never open the door to this kind of covert evangelism. The Power Team has every right to try to win converts and build churches, but they shouldn’t try to do it at school.

“The Power Team” is nothing new, at least to me. When I was a student at a rural public high school in New York State back in the 1980s, we got two or three of these outfits a year coming through — power-lifting teams, rock bands, somebody who got their hands blown off by a phosphorus grenade in the Vietnam War yet still played the piano, and so on.

After doing their performances, they would talk about the power a person could receive from the right inspiration. They’d say, “I’d like to tell you more about that inspiration, but I can’t go into some things here, you know what I mean,” and then invite everybody to come to the meeting at so-and-so church that very night.

Our public high school would cancel classes so all the students could be corralled into seeing this nonsense. This was the same public high school where our French teacher would get up in front of the morning school assembly to sing Easter hymns.

I sensed something was wrong, because I’d read the Constitution. But I didn’t know who to talk to about it. I wish I’d known about Americans United — I’d have been on the horn with them in a minute. It’s too late for my generation that was forced to sit through religious proselytization, but it’s good to know about this assistance should my own children bump into these kind of shenanigans now. Thanks to Americans United for bringing this escapade to the nation’s attention.

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