A Christian comedy team that performed at five Southern Maryland public schools and invited students to an off-campus pizza party prompted a complaint yesterday from the American Civil Liberties Union.
In a letter to Charles County Superintendent James E. Richmond, the ACLU of Maryland said the program is "intended as a vehicle for religious proselytizing" and violates the First Amendment. Legal director Deborah A. Jeon wrote that "while these performers are free to disseminate whatever religious message they choose, they may not use the public schools to do so."
Rick and Mick Vigneulle have performed at two high schools and three middle schools in Charles County this year. A schools spokeswoman said the program, "Attitude Check," promotes anti-drug, anti-suicide and motivational messages.
The duo did not return a call to their Alabama office yesterday.
School officials previewed and approved the program in April, said spokeswoman Katie O'Malley Simpson, and "they didn't perceive it as religious."
The ACLU's complaint was made at the request of Candace Slobodnik, whose sixth-grader attended the assembly. "It's unbelievable to me that this was allowed in our schools," said Slobodnik, a teacher in Prince George's County. "Their whole message everywhere you look is religious and extremely evangelical."
The Vigneulles' Web site says the ministry has performed for 20 years in hundreds of high schools. "As a result of this major evangelistic outreach, over 15,000 students and adults have made decisions for Christ in the last two years alone!"
The pair write that "since most public high schools do not allow religious content," students are invited to an off-site Pizza Blast, which offers an opportunity to receive "Christ after hearing a clear and positive presentation of the gospel."
The school system did not give the Vigneulles permission to distribute fliers for the pizza party, O'Malley Simpson said.