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SACS sued over lunch visits by minister

– The ACLU of Indiana filed a federal lawsuit late Thursday against an Allen County school district on behalf of a parent concerned about a pastor’s visits to a middle school cafeteria.

Attorneys for Southwest Allen County Schools said the issue came to their attention a few weeks ago and had been addressed by the time the lawsuit was filed.

Filed by Linda and John Buchanan on behalf of their daughter, a student at Summit Middle School, the lawsuit alleges that a youth pastor from a local church is allowed to stand in a prominent location in the school and engage children in discussion. Such actions are a violation of the U.S. Constitution, according to the lawsuit.

“Many of the children recognize him as a religious leader,” ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk wrote in the lawsuit. “No other persons who are not associated with the school are allowed to stand in the lunchroom like this.”

Allowing the minister to attend lunches with the students when no other person not affiliated with the schools are able to do so represents an endorsement of religious beliefs, according to the lawsuit.

Linda Buchanan said in court documents she had been made aware of youth ministers at other schools within the district conducting the same visit.

William “Tuck” Hopkins, the school district’s attorney, said the issue was raised not long ago with the district’s superintendent.

The district then informed the minister or ministers in question and said they would no longer be allowed to visit the schools.

The decision was made to stop allowing the visits Thursday, before the lawsuits were entered into the U.S. District Court records system. Hopkins said that last week school officials scheduled a meeting for Friday with the Buchanans to discuss the matter, but the meeting was canceled by the parents.

Hopkins said such issues are usually resolved before a lawsuit is filed.

The lawsuit seeks an early hearing in the case, as well as a court order preventing the district from allowing religious leaders to appear in the school during the school day “in a position where they are free to communicate with children,” according to court documents.

As of Friday afternoon, no documents were filed seeking a dismissal of the lawsuit or its removal.

Multiple messages left with the ACLU on Friday seeking comment were unreturned.

rgreen@jg.net

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