Lunchtime lunacy: a helping of hogwash with your ham, kids?

BUT for a lawsuit brought by an Indiana couple, a pastor would no doubt still be dishing out Christian codswallop to a captive audience of students at Summit Middle School in Fort Wayne.

John and Linda Buchanan, whose 11-year-old daughter attends the school, sued the Southwest Allen County school district in US District Court in Fort Wayne, claiming the practice violated the First Amendment. The family was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.

Less than half-an-hour after the suit was filed last Friday, the school announced it will no longer allow a local youth minister to address students during their lunch hour.

The lawsuit claimed that the pastor from a church called the Chapel, which has a very scary sign,  regularly took up “a prominent location” in the lunchroom and spoke to students required to eat there. The minister was allowed to hand out materials and move from table to table, talking with children, the claim states. The suit does not specify whether the materials were religious in nature.

The complaint alleged:

Many of the children recognize him as a religious leader. No other persons who are not associated with the school are allowed to stand in the lunchroom like this. This is coercive and represents an endorsement of religion.

Linda Buchanan, 44, said that she became aware of the practice after her daughter brought home religious anti-abortion literature from a school health fair. She said the school principal told her the minister was not supposed to approach any of the children, but:

If they approach him he can speak to them.

She said she and her husband, who moved to Indiana from Atlanta about two years ago, had never seen anything similar during their years attending public school and felt the practice was wrong. Other parents the couple contacted were also unaware of the practice, she said.

Linda Buchanan added:

We’re not a bunch of heathens. We’re not anti-religion; we’re anti-religion in public school.

ACLU attorney Ken Falk said the school district’s attorney, William “Tuck” Hopkins, phoned him to say the district was ending the practice. Falk said the lawsuit would be dropped once the civil rights group receives formal notice from the district.

Neither the church nor the youth minister involved were named in the lawsuit, but Linda Buchanan said the group was the non-denominational church The Chapel. Patrick Fischl, who is listed as The Chapel’s middle-school minister on the church’s website, did not return a phone call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Courts have repeatedly restricted interaction between schools and religion since 1962, when the US Supreme Court ruled that school officials cannot require students to begin each school day in organized prayers by saying a state-composed prayer.