Let's Do Lunch!: Religious Right Attacks Kids Making New Friends In School
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Oct 15, 2012 at 11:13:51 AM EST

My son started high school in August, and I was glad that he has a tight circle of friends who went with him. They are helping one another navigate what can be a challenging transition for teenagers.

I want my son to appreciate his pals, some of whom he has known since elementary school, but I also want him to keep the door open to making new friends. I can't speak for everyone, but I know that in my case, I forged friendships in high school that are still going strong more than 30 years later.

In an effort to gently prod youngsters to meet some new people, many schools are taking part in "Mix It Up at Lunch Day" on Oct. 30. The idea is for students in public schools to eat lunch with someone they don't know. They just might find they have some things in common.

The program was launched by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) 11 years ago. It sounds pretty positive. But to the American Family Association (AFA), Mix It Up at Lunch Day is yet another manifestation of the "gay agenda."

The New York Times reported that the Tupelo, Miss.-based Religious Right group is urging parents to demand that their school drop out of the event or keep their kids home on Oct. 30. The AFA has labeled the event "a nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools"

Now, there is one slight problem with the AFA's conspiracy theory: None of the activities suggested for Mix It Up at Lunch Day address gay students. In fact, the SPLC conceived the day as a blow against school cliques. The idea, the SPLC's Maureen Costello said, is to get young people associating with someone they might know little about.

"We've become used to the idea of lunatic fringe attacks," Costello told The Times, "but this one was complete misrepresentation."

Costello said the program was designed in part to reduce bullying in school. That was enough to set off the AFA. In recent years, the AFA and other Religious Right groups have taken the lead in standing up for the pro-bullying caucus in public schools. It seems as if any attempt to crack down on bullying is really an assault on fundamentalist Christian students, who have a God-given right to harass students who are gay or perceived to be gay.

"Anti-bullying legislation is exactly the same," Bryan Fischer, the AFA's  director of issue analysis, told The Times. "It's just another thinly veiled attempt to promote the homosexual agenda. No one is in favor of anyone getting bullied for any reason, but these anti-bullying policies become a mechanism for punishing Christian students who believe that homosexual behavior is not something that should be normalized."

Fischer makes his living being the AFA's in-house crackpot - and I'm sure there's a lot of competition for the slot there. He has asserted that church-state separation was invented by Adolf Hitler, opined that slavery wasn't so bad because it gave African Americans the opportunity to live in America and backed U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) after his infamous comment that women can't get pregnant if they are victims of "legitimate rape."

But it's anything related to gays that really gets Fischer worked up. He was certain that allowing gay people to serve openly in the military would pretty much destroy the armed forces. That hasn't happened - in fact, the transition has been quite smooth, military officials say - but Fischer is still confident that the end of Western Civilization is nigh. (Our friends at Right Wing Watch have a comprehensive Fischer archive. Take a look if you're so inclined but be warned - you're going to want some Pepto-Bismol nearby.)

Unfortunately, the raving of this man and the tin-foil hat brigade at the AFA have had an effect. About 200 schools have dropped out of Mix It Up at Lunch Day.

I wish these school administrators would grow a spine. Rather than kowtow to the AFA, they should follow the example of Kevin Brady, who runs the Avon Grove Charter School in West Grove, Pa. The school serves about 1,600 students, including a large number of special-needs kids. Some of those youngsters felt isolated, he said, and Mix It Up at Lunch Day was helpful to them.

Brady told The Times that the AFA's message had "absolutely no resemblance to what we do." He said the school explained the program to parents, and now he doesn't expect any students to be kept home on Oct. 30.

"I think they feel they have been taken for a bit of a ride," Brady said of the parents who reacted to the AFA's email.

Indeed they were - it was a ride to the Religious Right's hateful and paranoid wilderness. All it takes is a little courage to slam on the brakes.

This doesn't surprise me in the least.  Bullies stick together and anything that prevents them from hurting the innocent is anathema to them.

I like the program.  There is another that is also quite effective in ending bullying (and it also works against all forms of persecution and reduces violence) - the "Camp Anytown" program discussed by H. Roy Kaplan in his excellent book Failing Grades (2007).  

They share a common theme... getting kids to know each other and to discover what the Other's life is like.

BTW... his program sometimes changed bullies into decent people.

by ArchaeoBob on Mon Oct 15, 2012 at 11:29:22 AM EST

First and foremost, give your kid my best, I escaped high school for university two years ago and have never looked back, here's hoping he has a better time of it than I did.

Secondly, and I am probably wrong about this, but I was under the impression from the SPLC that the program was more designed to deal with racism. Speaking only for myself, I saw in the schools I attended the students tended to form groups based on race, so by forcing them outside their comfort zones they would be more like to meet people with a different background to themselves. As said I'm probably wrong, but yeah the AFA is weird.

by Hirador on Wed Oct 17, 2012 at 05:31:09 PM EST

The AFA people are just beyond crazy.  Unfortunately, they also have influence, and so the rest of the non-crazy world has to rebut their comments.

Personally, I think the Mix It Up event is fantastic -- and it would be great if it was used more than once a year and in settings other than simply schools.  Kids -- but also adults -- tend to be nervous about walking up to people they don't know and engaging them in conversation, and yet, I think that a lot of them actually would like to do so -- to branch out and not be constrained by cliques (which, of course, also exist in work places and neighborhoods, even if they act nominally better in the adult world).  Look at how people act when they are on vacationing or visiting some new place: they talk to people.  They don't have to worry about what their friends would say, so they enjoy the moment and they talk to people.

Bravo Mix It Up.  And a big old Raspberry to AFA.

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