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What kind of an Organization is Life Choices? Does it belong in your Public School?

This morning, I read in the Bangor Daily News and at WGME that Pastor Debbie Phillips of an organization called “Life Choices” was brought to the public middle and high schools of Biddeford, Maine. What happened, what kind of an organization is Life Choices, and does it belong in your public school?

What happened in Biddeford public schools?

Biddeford School District Superintendent Jeremy Ray has confirmed that “It’s clear there were some religious references in the programs. And I can understand why such references could offend some students and staff…. This was clearly not our intent. The School Department does not support or endorse any religious message.” The Maine ACLU received parent reports that Pastor Debbie Phillips “included multiple references to ‘Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior,’ ‘God,’ ‘being killed for Christ’ and … ‘martyrdom’.”

What kind of an organization is Life Choices?

Southern Maine’s WGME station declares that “we couldn’t find any mention of a religious association” on the Life Choices website, lifechoicespresents.org, to which the in-school presentation refers. Clearly WGME didn’t look very hard. On a web page specifically for students — http://www.lifechoicespresents.org/students.html — “Life Choices” encourages students to review multiple openly and avowedly Christian websites encouraging students to engage in the proselytizing missionary work of coverting others to Christianity. In addition, the “Life Choices” student web page directs students to avowedly Christian anti-gay groups, avowedly Christian anti-abortion groups, and the ultra-conservative and the avowedly Christian Focus on the Family.

Interestingly, the student web page promotes a particular group, “First Priority of America,” whose mission is to convert “every student” in schools to Christianity:

This is our vision: The Hope of Christ in Every Student in America. It is our belief that many students don’t reject the Good News of Jesus, they have never heard it! Gone are the days of Grandpa and Grandma taking the kids to church with them; grandparents sit in church alone. Students get their view of church from media. Scary! I wouldn’t go either. So let’s bring the gospel message to them. First Priority does this by following our Mission Statement: Uniting the Local Body of Christ to Influence the School with the Gospel.

First Priority lists Life Choices as one of its ministry partners:

Life Choices Presents School Assembly Program

Life Choices is a fast-paced, motivational, multi-media event. Using videos, music, sketches, and real life experiences, Life Choices Team delivers a transparent, applicable, and heart felt program. Many of the First Priority Local Cities take advantage of the Life Choices Experience as a boost of for their campus clubs, or to meet a situation their school is facing head-on with the gospel of Jesus.

The Alabama Baptist reiterates Life Choices’ participation in the First Priority “every student” mission, and describes specifically religious elements of the Life Choices presentation:

In the past six years, the ministry has held more than 550 programs, reaching 500,000 students in 30 states.

One thing Life Choices incorporates into its presentations is a symbolic reminder of the positive decisions Scott made in her life — a cross bearing her photograph. At one point during the program, students are invited to place items on the cross symbolizing areas in their life they have struggled with but are now ready to be delivered from…. Mandy Pate, a Hueytown High School student, placed her ID badge on Scott’s cross, along with a note signifying a decision she made during an assembly….

Life Choices is unique in comparison to other programs that come into public schools because it is able to share faith in the middle of the day in mandatory school assemblies. “No other faith-based school assembly program that we know of shares the gospel during the day,” John Phillips said. “We are able to present the gospel in a nonproselytizing way. “There was revival on a gym floor at school,” John Phillips said of the program at Bagley Junior High School in Dora March 10. He later told Nimmo, “Your little girl helped make national history today.”

Eternal history, as well, it seems. After John Phillips and a member of his staff prayed with a Bagley Junior High student — a proclaimed atheist who had lost all hope in life — to receive Christ, the three lifted their heads to find at least 70 students holding hands in a circle around the auditorium. One by one, student after student began to pray over the PA system, publicly confessing personal sins, sins of the school as a community and the effects of the separation of church and state in the school system.

The MidWest Revival Network states the matter more succinctly: “John and Debbie and the Life Choices team minister in high schools all across the nation, bring the message of abstinence and the gospel into high school assemblies.”

Groups like this have existed for decades — sneaking in religious messages at mandatory public school assemblies, telling students at those mandatory assemblies to visit their website or an offsite event, and then using that website visit or offsite event to convert students to Christianity.

Does Life Choices belong in your public school?

The answer to that depends on whether you support the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which the Supreme Court has ruled prohibits the use of public schools for mandatory religious proselytization activities. Students have the right to independently decide to convert to Christianity. Constitutionally speaking, our nation’s public schools do not have the right to herd students into a mandatory assembly at which conversion experts ply their trade.

Postscript: Yes, Pastor Phillips…

Confronted with her behavior at the Biddeford middle and high schools, Pastor Debbie Phillips has tried out a classic maneuver: blaming the organization that exposed her. Said Pastor Phillips, “Life Choices brings a message of hope and encouragement to students and teachers alike. I’m just curious if the ACLU has a program to help teens.”

Yes, Pastor Phillips. The ACLU has multiple programs to help teens. They’ve had them in place for decades. See here, here and here for just a few examples. Not one of those ACLU programs proselytizes on the basis of religion.

4 comments to What kind of an Organization is Life Choices? Does it belong in your Public School?

  • Bill

    Jeez this is depressing. Sigh…sometimes it’s so embarrassing to be a Christian.

  • Dave

    Jim, on reading your post I became curious as to what the Constitution, Maine Constitution that is, has to say about this. The Preamble is rather G-dward, thanking and “implor[ing] G-d [for his] aid and direction…”

    Article 1, Section 3 of the Declaration of Rights has a most curious if not quaint wording in the last sentence: “All religious societies in this state … shall at all times have the exclusive right of electing their public teachers and contracting with them for their support and maintenance.”

    Could this be from a time when perhaps most public education was provided by the churches? I know here in the South that was the case historically. Anyhow, this would seem to make legal room for what you describe above, incredible as it may seem. In many places I can’t imagine this going on, but not every place has a constitution like this.

    • Jim Cook

      That would be true if the Maine Constitution were the supreme law of the land. It isn’t. The U.S. Constitution is, and all laws beneath must conform to it.

  • Dave

    Indeed. What seems odd about this is the language that remains in the Maine Constitution that indicates Mainers are unaware of the incorporation of the 14th ammendment. Such language has in large part disappeared from constitutions in Southern states due to the loss of a war, but my theory here is that it remains unchallenged in once conservative Maine because of having received less scrutiny than the law in other conservative states. Dunno, just musing.

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