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School districts advised to review anti-violence program
NEWARK, N.J. -- The state Department of Education on Thursday advised schools to evaluate a touring anti-violence program that some groups charged uses "stealth tactics" to proselytize a Christian evangelical message to students.
"It goes without saying that there should also be concern for student and community reactions to the program," Deputy Education Commissioner Dwight R. Pfennig wrote to county superintendents.
Districts should review the Rage Against Destruction program to ensure it complies with laws and school board policies because information given to the state "indicates that the message of the group, while including anti-violence, may cross into areas that are sectarian in nature," Pfennig wrote.
The one-page memo was issued a day after the New Jersey Coalition for Free Exercise of Religion urged schools to bar the group. It said the Joyce Meyer Ministries presents the "Rage Against Destruction" program, and then invites middle and high school students to an after-school event.
That event is an "unabashed Christian evangelical festival with a high-pressure pitch aimed at luring vulnerable teens," according to a coalition member, the Anti-Defamation League.
Joyce Meyer Ministries, of Fenton, Mo., maintained this week that Rage Against Destruction is a separate group whose work it supports.
Rage Against Destruction, also based in Fenton, gets money from Joyce Meyer Ministries, spokesman Mark Sutherland said.
Sutherland said the memo was expected, given the allegations. "There is nothing sectarian in the message of the program," he said.
The troupe performed Wednesday in Belleville, Essex County, and is scheduled to appear Monday at Teaneck High School, Bergen County, he said.
Sutherland said that at some school assemblies, tickets are given to a concert produced by Rage Against Destruction featuring Pigeon John, who he described as a Los Angeles rapper who is a Christian.
Asked if the concert has an evangelical theme, Sutherland said students are told that religion helps curb violence.