UPDATE: Now WI city may crack down on ‘Jesus Lunches’

Jul 14, 2016 by

MIDDLETON, Wis. – A group of Middleton High School parents and students may still have to fight for their right to have weekly “Jesus Lunches” at a city-owned park.

In May, the group thought the controversy over their weekly gatherings might be over, after the Middleton-Cross Plains school district, which initially opposed the lunches, dropped out of the debate by ending its daytime lease of Fireman’s Park, where the lunches take place.

The school district backed away after the city of Middleton determined that the local mothers and students who participate in the lunches had the legal right to meet in the park, despite the school district’s non-exclusive lease.

But now the city is reportedly considering changing the rules regarding the use of the two park pavilions, making it more difficult, if not impossible, for the Jesus Lunches to continue at the site.

Fireman’s Park is ideal for the lunches because it’s located very close to Middleton High School. While the Jesus Lunches started out small a few years ago, with only a few students meeting with mothers to eat and discuss their faith, hundreds of kids started attending last fall and spring, sparking concern and opposition from the school district.

“The city of Middleton is still working on options,” Phil Stamman, an attorney representing the Jesus Lunch mothers, told EAGnews. “They are thinking about prohibiting reservations at the park pavilion, which would not prevent (the mothers) from going there, but other people could come earlier and cause problems.

“From the information we’ve received it’s directed toward prohibiting further Jesus Lunches from happening.”

Melissa Helbach, one of the mothers who organize the Jesus Lunches, said she and several other residents attended a Middleton Parks Commission meeting several weeks ago. She said the commission approved three new rules for the park, banning the possession or consumption of alcohol or the use of amplification systems.

A fourth proposal – banning groups or individuals from reserving either of the Fireman’s Park pavilions – was tabled, and the issue was sent to the Middleton Common Council, according to Helbach.

The Common Council may consider the proposal at its July 19 meeting. The Middleton City Clerk’s office said the meeting agenda is still being compiled and will not be available until Friday.

The Jesus Lunch group has already reserved one of the two Fireman’s Park pavilions for Tuesday lunch hours when school resumes.

Helbach noted that a “no reservation” rule would probably cause problems, because protesters, including a group from the radical Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, have pledged to continue their efforts.

In the spring the protesters showed up at the park on several Tuesdays during the Jesus Lunches and did their best to disrupt the events. They have vowed to continue their opposition, and are apparently trying to do so by changing city park policy.

They (parks commissioners) passed the first three proposals, and the amplified system we are willing to let go, but the last option is not a viable option,” Helbach said. “It would be a free-for-all. If the protesters said they wanted to use it at the same time, it would not be a healthy environment for the kids.”

Helbach said the use of a pavilion is necessary for the lunches, due to weather conditions and food preparation necessities.

She said the proposed rule is clearly an attempt to halt the Jesus Lunches.

“They are not proposing this for the pavilions at any other park in Middleton,” Helbach said. “It was never on the docket until the protesters brought it up. They are trying to shut us down.

“I would love for (the protesters) to let this go and take the higher road, but they are not of that caliber. We are ready to defend our position (at the city meeting). The Lord is the one who set this whole thing up two years ago. He will carry us where we need to be.”

EAGnews attempted to contact Middleton City Manager Mike Davis and Mayor Kurt Sonnentag for comment, but they have not responded to detailed messages.

Source: UPDATE: Now WI city may crack down on ‘Jesus Lunches’ | EAGnews.org

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