The upcoming season for the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams will be filled with wins losses and courageous rallies. Perhaps the most difficult rally involved with this season, however, has been fought off the court between First Baptist Church and MUSD administration.
FBC’s Senior Pastor Jim Johnson has been in limbo the past few weeks, waiting for a final response from the school district, which told his church months ago their gifts of T-shirts for the football season and rally towels for the basketball season were no longer welcome. The shirts and towels, which have been donated to the Rams’ spiritline for the past five seasons to use as a fund-raiser for the team to sell to parents, students and fans, found a closed door this year because the shirts and towels contain First Baptist’s mission imprinted on them, which reads, “Loving God, Loving Others, Serving All.”
Johnson brought the matter first to the MUSD Governing Board at its Sept. 12 meeting after being rebuffed by the district and getting nowhere in his follow-ups. After pleading his case to the board, Johnson waited nearly another month without nary a reply before he e-mailed the board two days before its Oct. 10 meeting, prompting board member Tracy Davis to get Superintendent John Flores to call Johnson and relay the news: the towels were still unwanted.
This, said Flores, was at the direction of the district’s legal counsel, who said the words “Loving God” would prevent the spiritline from handing out the towels or shirts on school campus – whether they charged for them or not. In fact, the church itself could not hand them out on campus, according to the district’s attorney.
Johnson, who addressed the board again on Oct. 10, was respectful, but clearly displeased.
“Our church is not trying to introduce 'church’ into the school, but advertising just like a business would to get our message out. People are free to buy or reject the shirt or rally towel if they don’t like the message. If I understand what your legal counsel stated is that we could not even have our church name on the shirts or towels, particularly, 'First Baptist Church of Maricopa,’” Johnson said.
“We will be handing out the towels on private property before the first basketball game. Once they are given to the people, they as individuals, have the right to bring them into the basketball games, unless the legal counsel also forbids that as an individual expression of support for the school.”
Flores, who responded to Johnson, said while he respects his mission and work, he had to follow the advice of the district attorney.
Johnson, who has been in contact with the Alliance Defense Fund on questions of the legality of the district attorney’s position, said he would continue to investigate the matter, saying he could not locate a MUSD policy in place outlawing what he is trying to do as a fund-raiser.
“I would like to see the opinion of the MUSD lawyer in writing,” he said. “If we’re going to be limited to not put our vision statement on, then all organizations will have to be so limited. We want to see (a policy) in writing and see it applied fairly across the board.”