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Lawsuit: Louisiana students were tricked into going to church instead of a college fair
The Plaintiffs were forced to listen to Christian propaganda during the school day
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Almost exactly one year ago, thousands of high school seniors in Baton Rouge, Louisiana took a field trip to what they believed was a “College & Career Fair.”
They were actually transported to a massive church service called “Day of Hope.”
All the warning signs were there ahead of time, but because the students and their families trusted school administrators—or at least figured they could get free food and a day out of class—they ended up wasting their time listening to Christian propaganda instead of learning more about their futures.
It wasn’t just unethical. It was illegal.
Here’s the beginning of what Baton Rouge Magnet High senior Alexis Budyach described after returning from the trip:
There are so many red flags in that recollection:
It was called a “Day of Hope,” a phrase that carries religious connotations.
Students were segregated by gender when the substantive portion of the program began.
The speakers for the girls included a pastor who promoted virginity, another woman who suggested girls shouldn’t date around but just wait for God to bring them the perfect guy, and a nurse who told a traumatic story about her son taking his own life.
Once the kids came back together, they heard a sermon from a man named “Donk” who claimed to overcome his own paralysis, got sentenced to life in prison, then somehow got out. (“Donk” is the nickname of Pastor Trell Webb, who tells a very similar story here.)
There appeared to be an altar call at the end of the session for students who wanted to commit to Christ.
According to The Advocate, which had an in-depth report about this event, it’s not like the red flags were evident only after students arrived.
The event took place at Living Faith Christian Center—a church—and was sponsored by a local Christian non-profit group called 29:11 Mentoring Families. The “29:11” is a biblical reference. The group says its goal is to “redirect our students to Jesus Christ who defines their future and to change the world,” and they’ve put on similar “Day of Hope” religious events in the past.
Even more troubling was how casually the district dismissed any concerns:
In response to the concerns, the East Baton Rouge Parish school system issued a statement late Wednesday defending the event as “an elevation of a traditional college and career fair.” The statement also defended the school district’s partnership with the local nonprofit that put on the event, 29:11 Mentoring Families, saying the group is providing “additional support services for students in our district.”
“We look forward to seeing what our over 2,100 student participants will continue to achieve with the resources and knowledge gained from this event,” according to the statement.
Just because the public school district had a partnership with a local Christian mentoring program didn’t give it the right to foist Christianity on unsuspecting children. If we were talking about any non-Christian religion, this would be obvious. But because it’s Christianity, all the adults in positions of power seemed to think it was no big deal.
Brittney B., a teacher and mother of a senior, was also at the event and shared even more details, including video and the field trip form (which only listed the address for the church without using its name):
After inside the church, boys were instructed to go outside while the girls were left in the church for “girl talk”. My transgender child was discriminated against for walking out. I stayed and listened to the discussion. They talked about rape, forgiving the offender in life, suicide, prayer leadership, and many more dark controversial topics. We had females in the bathrooms crying due to the topics of discussion. Mean while the boys were left outside in the extreme heat. The boys then were escorted in and the girls outside. The boys topic was titled “real talk”. From the beginning no topics were discussed but began male chauvinistic competition for monetary reward for winners. Then proceeded to compete for push ups for more money. They were hyped up and egged on.
After the gender separate sessions took place, I learned that the children were told in order to recieve a “meal ticket” they were told to complete a voter registration. When I went to confront the unethical situation running councilman Darryl Hurst was the one handing out voter registration to the long line of students hoping to get fed pizza at the end of the event. Later was told the pizza was provided by another non profit and it was an “incentive”. It was a propaganda that was having children even under the age of 18 to fill out personal information without parent approval.
When the final event took place, all students were brought into the church. A female student was picked out and told by a man leading the closing, “I’ll give you $100 if you can get through me and to the stage” (this was after they were talked about domestic violence and male control)
None of this would’ve been okay at a voluntary Christian youth camp. It’s so much worse during a public school field trip.
She also mentioned the fact that students had to wait outside in hundred-degree heat and were incentivized to register to vote in order to receive a “meal ticket” (which is both coercive and manipulative).
And yet even after the event ended, the school district was bragging about how amazing it was without mentioning the religious angle:
When The Advocate reached out to Tremaine Sterling, who runs 29:11 Mentoring Families, Sterling said these “Day of Hope” events had been going on for years without a problem, practically admitting the Louisiana school district’s complicity:
In an email, Sterling said his organization has been holding events like the Day of Hope for students in Baton Rouge and surrounding areas for over 10 years. This year, he said, they moved it from Bethany North to Living Faith. The focus, he said, is providing “resources and tools to young people as they prepare for their next steps after high school.
“We’ve received countless messages online and in person of support and appreciation for this event from attendees, and we are excited to continue offering this event in the future,” Sterling wrote.
These people weren’t interested in what kids did after high school. They didn’t help them plan for college or guide them toward a potential career path. They just pushed conservative Christian messaging on the students, wasting their time and offering them a different way to ruin their lives.
The kids deserved so much better than whatever this church was offering.
The fact that so many adults involved in the planning of that event knew they needed to hide the true nature of this program suggested they were well aware of the legal problems associated with it. They were counting on students to keep their mouths shut. Thankfully, though, a few people courageously spoke out.
And now two of those students and their parents are suing the ever-loving shit out of everyone involved.
The lawsuit, filed this week, describes the “harmful and traumatizing church service” that the Plaintiffs were tricked into attending. (All four Plaintiffs use pseudonyms out of fear of “harassment, intimidation, and the threat of retaliation.”) Two of the Plaintiffs were high school seniors last year who attended the 2022 event. Their mothers say they never would have “consented to exposing their children” to this event had they known the details in advance.
On the other end of the case are the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board (EBRSB), the district’s superintendent Sito Narcisse, current and former members of the school board, 29:11 Academy, and the group’s president Tremaine Sterling.
The lawsuit restates a lot of what we already knew, but it adds that this partnership has been going on since 2016. It alleges that the two sides were “engaged in a conspiracy to expose public school children to overtly sectarian and religious experiences.” It says the event cost the district $9,800 in public funds.
It also points out that Sterling himself lied about the nature of the event, saying on a local news program on September 16, 2022 that, “we’re going to have college fairs, career days, workforce people; young people will have an opportunity literally to get hired on the spot.”
Sterling said he and an EBRSB administrator met with the district’s principals to explain the event beforehand, but the lawsuit says that was a lie; at least one principal “knew nothing of the event in advance.”
Furthermore, the lawsuit says, “students were allowed (and in some circumstances, encouraged) to harass LGBTQ+ student attendees, throwing water on them and taunting them.” It also alleges that a student who needed to go to the bathroom was denied and told to “urinate in a bottle on the side of the building.”
If students wanted to call their parents about the problems at the event, that wasn’t much of an option either. The church had “poor cell phone service,” the Plaintiffs say, preventing kids from relaying their concerns in the moment.
The Plaintiffs are seeking compensation for the “mental anguish” they suffered as a result of this event and calling for the courts to prevent the district from ever “presenting, supporting, funding, facilitating, or promoting another ‘Day of Hope’ event” again. They’re also calling on an end to the partnership between the district and the Christian ministry.
This lawsuit has been a long time coming, but it seemed inevitable as soon as the first details about the event came out. The Plaintiffs are incredibly courageous to bring this forward and they’re raising a lot of fair questions about why the adults in charge didn’t appear to do a damn thing to put a stop to it before or during the event.
The district has not yet issued any public statement in response to the lawsuit. All we know is that prayer won’t get them out of this problem.
(via Religion Clause. Portions of this article were published earlier)
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