Religious leaders not allowed at Conway schools at lunch

(KATV) A battle of church and state in Conway. The school district has temporarily halted all visitor passes for religious leaders who stop by for lunch. The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) says allowing ministers in schools are not only inappropriate but unconstitutional.

The attorney for the FFRF in Wisconsin says they have received reports that local pastors were talking with students during lunch, specifically at Carl Stuart Middle School. But according to the district, ministers, or anyone for that matter have to get parental consent and no one has complained to school officials. To read the letter FFRF sent the district, click here.

Carolyn Benson has grand kids in the district. She says, "If you're personal pastor or anyone could come in and give a good word to a child, I think that's a good thing."

Some parents sitting in the car-pool line in Conway voiced their concerns about possible changes coming. Benson says she understands why parents would be upset, that's why everyone needs to follow the rules. "I think it is good to keep within their boundaries."

But attorney for the FFRF, Patrick Elliott says staff members are not monitoring what is being talked about and who all is listening. In a phone interview, he says, "I think it's absolutely predatory. This is really a pattern and practice of outside groups using these public schools as a ground to maintain contact with students, make new contacts and encourage them to be involved in their youth groups."

Elliott says, since the initial concern in October, he's received more complaints, not just about Carl Stuart Middle School. "If the school district becomes complicit and gives broad access to outside groups, religious groups who have an agenda, we have a constitutional violation."

Hope Towns lives in Conway. She says, "In the south there is a church on every corner and there is a reason for that. This is where we grew up, our beliefs were founded on God and if we can't have religion in schools or at least have our pastor come talk to them freely, they take that away, what's next?"

A Conway church leader who did not want to go on camera told Channel Seven, they are not preaching in schools, rather they visit to be a positive influence for the child that goes to their church.

Friday, the district announced the Liberty Institute; a nonprofit that defends religious freedoms is assisting them. Superintendent Greg Murry says the school board could adopt a new policy, but first they're doing their homework to make sure current procedures are legal.