Christian men’s group forced to cancel event at Tennessee public school

Thursday, April 1, 1999

A group of Christian evangelicals called the Mighty Men was forced to cancel a scheduled performance recently at a middle Tennessee public school after some local citizens complained about the group's religious intentions.

Officials at a middle school in Lebanon, Tenn., had invited the touring Mighty Men, who perform “strength stunts,” sing about Jesus and give religious testimonials, to perform midday March 26 on school grounds. The school district canceled the group's performance after the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union raised constitutional concerns.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the Tennessee ACLU, said that her group was made aware of the event by people in the district who said they were disturbed about the group's religious underpinnings.

“Based on what this group does and the fact it was going to be presented by the Lebanon city school, we believed it would be a blatant violation of the separation of church and state to allow the event to happen,” Weinberg said. The ACLU asked Andy Brummett, the school district superintendent, to cancel the event, Weinberg said.

Members of the Mighty Men proclaim in the group's mission statement that they are devoted to “showing the world the glorious power of God.” According to that statement, founder Peter Misercola and his group have been “commissioned” by Jesus to travel the country and spread their “good news.”

Weinberg said Brummett decided to cancel the performance after learning that students had not invited the group. Brummett discovered that an adult sponsor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes had invited the Mighty Men to perform their religious feats of strength. Calls placed to the superintendent's office were not returned.

Canceling the event “was a good first step by the superintendent,” she said. “We will monitor the situation and assist the school to make sure religious freedom is ensured for all students.”

Weinberg said the student group of Christian athletes would invite the Mighty Men to perform for them after school.

If the school district permits student clubs to meet on campus before or after school, then the group of Christian athletes ought to be able to invite the Mighty Men to perform, Weinberg added.

In 1990 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Board of Education v. Mergens that the federal equal-access law was constitutional. Under the law, if a public school had allowed extracurricular student clubs to meet on campus, then it could not legally bar religious ones.

Moreover, five years later the Clinton administration issued guidelines on student religious expression in the public schools that included a section on the rights of students to gather for religious meetings on campus. “Student religious groups at public secondary schools have the same right of access to school facilities as is enjoyed by other comparable student groups,” the guidelines say.