School officials urge parents to halt free 'Jesus lunches'



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MIDDLETON, Wis. (AP) — School administrators are asking parents to stop hosting free lunches accompanied by discussions about Christianity outside a high school in Middleton, citing legal concerns.

A handful of parents have been organizing the noontime meetings, which students call "Jesus Lunches," outside Middleton High since 2014. As the meetings grew, organizers moved them to Fireman's Park across from the school.

Superintendent Donald Johnson and Principal Stephen Plank emailed the parents this week asking them to end the lunches. They say the district leases the park during school hours, so its rules apply. That includes rules about food safety and food preparation, food allergy procedures and visitor policies.

"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 email said. "In addition, many students have conveyed to us their concern about a group offering free food to incentivize participation in a religious event on campus."

A statement from organizers provided by parent Beth Williams said the group is legally allowed to gather at the public park, which is accessible to everyone for the purposes of assembly and free speech, the State Journal (http://bit.ly/1NpGmnC ) reported.

"Fireman's Park, a public park owned by the city of Middleton, remains accessible to everyone in the public for the purposes of assembly and free speech," the statement said. "By law, the lease agreement between the city and the school district of Middleton does not privatize the park."

The school officials' email to parents said organizers have threatened legal action against the school district.

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Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj

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The Associated Press

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