TROPHY CLUB (CBSDFW.COM) – It’s not the message, but the messenger, drawing criticism at Byron Nelson High School in Trophy Club.
More than 1,900 students sat in the gym Wednesday for a mandatory assembly addressing partying, peer pressure and abstinence.
A DJ kept the music going. Video clips kept the message moving. Young speakers jumped onto railings to deliver their quick takes on behavior that could bring teens down.
“Say no to that and think about what it really means to you, how it will affect you,” said sophomore Brandon Gandt.
The message though came under fire from Metroplex Atheists, who said the school district was endorsing a group that actually had a goal of religious evangelism. “Its kinda like how they sell you time shares, they bring you in for one thing and then they try to sell you something else,” said Zachary Moore of the Metroplex Atheists. “So this group is coming and basically trying to sell these kids timeshares in heaven.”
The group, called the Seven Project, is a ministry affiliated with the Assemblies of God church. It came to the attention of the Metroplex Atheists when they said a school employee approached them with information on the assembly and concern about mixing church and state.
The school’s parent teacher association sponsored the group’s appearance at the school. Northwest ISD though said the message delivered was completely secular.
The assembly CBS 11 observed didn’t include any religious message, and no flyers or printed materials were passed out to students. “Those are completely separate,” said district spokesman Lesley Weaver. “What they do during the school day we definitely have control over. We make sure it’s a non religious message.”
Critics though pointed to online postings from the group laying out five-step plans for how to get their message into schools. On Tuesday, 24 hours before the rally, the group posted a message on Twitter saying “at this time tomorrow, hundreds of students will be saved here.”
The assembly was followed Wednesday night by a faith-based event in the school performing arts center. The group rented out the building for the event which it said in a statement was sponsored by a student led campus club. “They’re being very dishonest in the sense they’re coming in to the school and dialing back the Jesus talk during school hours so they have the opportunity to recruit these students for the afterschool for activity,” Moore said.
NWISD said no parents had complained directly to the district about the group. Fifteen students opted out of the afternoon assembly and attended a study hall instead.