MIDDLETON, Wis. – The Middleton school district has voluntarily given up its daytime lease of a city park near Middleton High School, signaling its intention to stop opposing a group of local mothers who serve weekly “Jesus Lunches” at the park.
But a radical atheist organization, the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, has vowed to continue to oppose the Jesus Lunches, because they occur close to the high school, allowing “religious messages to enter the hallways and classrooms,” according to WKOW.com.
Middleton school Superintendent Donald Johnson sent out a mass email Tuesday, acknowledging that the school district may have no legal right to prevent the Jesus Lunches, despite the fact that it leases Fireman’s Park from the city of Middleton during school hours.
He indicated that the district was willing to end its lease of the park, so it no longer has any connection to the Jesus Lunches.
The Middleton City Council responded by accepting the cancellation of the lease at a meeting Tuesday night, according to Channel3000.com.
The school district has leased the park for 16 years so it has the authority to regulate the behavior of students who go there, Channel3000.com reported. District officials have been trying to shut down the Jesus Lunches for weeks, going as far as blocking off the parking lot to Fireman’s Park one Tuesday and confronting the mothers as they arrived with food.
“City attorney Matt Fleming has indicated that the city believes the District’s authority to enforce school rules in Fireman’s Park is questionable, and that the city has no interest in litigation to resolve the ambiguities in the language,” Johnson wrote in the email, according to WKOW.com. “Further, discussions have indicated that even enhanced language that clarifies the issues in question may still result in legal expenses that are not in the best interests of any of the parties involved.”
Fleming, the Middleton city attorney, said the dissolution of the lease clears the school district of any sort of accusation that it allows religious activities on its property.
“Terminating the lease doesn’t change the situations from the city’s perspective,” Fleming told WKOW.com. “It reduces the perception of people that this is school district property.”
The school’s decision to give up its lease signals a huge victory for the local mothers who serve food and share Christian messages with hundreds of students every Tuesday.
Last week Phillip Stamman, an attorney who represents the Jesus Lunch mothers, speculated that the school district might try to prohibit the lunches at the park during the lease renewal process with the city.
Stamman told EAGnews that any such move would have prompted a lawsuit, which he indicated to Fleming.
“(Fleming) decided it was not worth the resources to try to exclude a portion of the public from using this park,” Stamman said.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has been on hand to protest the lunches in recent weeks, indicated its continued opposition.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, the group’s co-president, told WKOW.com that she’s concerned about nearly religious activity sparking Christian discussion among students within the high school. She also said the Jesus Lunch should be cancelled or moved because some kids choose not to participate, leading to divisiveness among students.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has been encouraging divisiveness by offering free pizza to students who show up at the park and join its protest against the lunches.
“Middleton High School would have to go to a closed campus lunch hour, otherwise the divisiveness of the Jesus Lunch is going to continue or just get worse,” Gaylor told the news service.
Stamman responded that the protests against the lunches have been “more divisive than anything else going on.”