he casual passerby strolling past Apopka High School on a Sunday morning would note a buzz of activity, unusual for a public school on a weekend. The sign lauding the local Chick-Fil-A as a “partner in education” is odd enough, but the  mass of people piling into the auditorium should send up red flags of alarm.

Every Sunday, Apopka High School becomes Venue Church. The evangelical Christian organization has a pithy motto, “Partnering with schools and communities to serve students and families to gain the privilege of sharing the love of Jesus for eternal impact.” Venue occupies three public school spaces in Orange County, Florida, including Apopka. The church brazenly declares its goal to “plant a congregation in every central Florida school zone in the next ten years.”

Todd Lamphere, Venue’s pastor and co-founder, is listed as the school football team’s “life coach.” Venue is active in organizing “mission trips” for the students of the school. He asks, “Who could argue with God in public schools?” This writer believes that she could provide Mr. Lamphere with a sizeable list, should he require one

Public School 9th Graders at Venue prayer meeting.
Photo via Venue Church. Fair use. 

The “partnership” between Apopka High School and Venue church is part of an alarming growing trend. Churches, particularly evangelical, are “planting” in publicly funded spaces at a shocking rate. These predatory churches have descended upon public schools in Florida at a critical moment. The election of Tea Party officials and small government proponents in Florida has led to severe spending cuts. More than $105 million in budget cuts since 2007 have eviscerated school’s abilities to hire staff, maintain facilities, and fund extracurricular activities.

Meanwhile, Venue Church and others of their ilk have seized the opportunity, descending upon the public school system, insidiously pushing their agendas. And, for all the talk by the religious right about welfare spending being the job of the church, they’re putting it on the taxpayer’s tab. Lamphere admitted on a local Christian cable television show, The Good Life;

“What we’re saying is that we’re going to meet permanently in a school…. We’re not looking to build a building; we’ll never be in debt.”

Under the guise of moral crusaders, these churches are insinuating themselves into the core curriculums of public schools. The introduction of religious teachings into the tax-payer funded public school system should be a clarion call to action. Our halls of academia should remain sacrosanct spaces where science and fact supplant dogma and superstition.

The conservative right decries nations who have installed governments infused with religion; cries for the institution of democracy in countries governed by religious extremism have led America into a perpetual war cycle. Apparently, this applies only to religions which aren’t Christian.

The church brazenly declares its goal to “plant a congregation in every central Florida school zone in the next ten years.”

Parents who wish their children to become indoctrinated with mystical religious beliefs may choose to send their offspring to schools funded by churches; institutions whose curriculum clearly delineates the religious nature of their education. However, our public school systems are not carrion for parasitic religious entities to feed upon. By allowing this to continue, we are tacitly agreeing as a nation to the subtle coercion of our children’s minds. If we wish to compete in a global economy fueled by science and technology, we are failing.

We are being invaded from within, America. Do not allow magical thinking and dogma to replace science and rational thought. Evict the churches from our public schools.

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