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Taking away lunch money

Democrats in Florida try to kick a Christian school out of the federal lunch program

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried Associated Press/Photo by Lynne Sladky

Taking away lunch money
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The 56 students enrolled in Grant Park Christian Academy in Florida get a free lunch at school, thanks to this academy’s participation in the federal school lunch program. But the federal government is now threatening to withhold food from these children, all from families living below the poverty line. You can trace that threat right to a Biden administration directive to expand the definition of sex to include gender identity.

Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat sympathetic to the Biden administration’s position, oversees the program in Florida. When Grant Park applied for participation in the lunch program, Florida officials told the school that in order to qualify for the federal program, it would have to change its policies to adhere to the expanded gender definitions put in place by the administration. In a suit filed in the U.S. district court by Grant Park, the school appeals to the religious exemptions in the Title IX program.

“The Biden administration is threatening to take away lunch money from low-income children simply because they attend Christian schools,” said legal counsel Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo of Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the school. The ADF statement continued: “Grant Park Christian Academy is working to revitalize their historically underprivileged community, and offering children nutritious meals is a vital part of their service. The Biden administration is ignoring the law and forcing this wonderful school to make an untenable choice: violate its religious beliefs or stop providing lunches to children.”

What a cruel and capricious policy. The Biden administration is essentially asking this Christian school, which exists to provide quality Christian education to vulnerable children, to choose between the belief systems that animate its mission and providing lunch for its students. This is another way in which the sexual revolution, empowered by the federal government, either paves over the consciences of religious people or eliminates them from participation in public life altogether. It would also seem to be in violation of recent court rulings, such as Trinity Lutheran and Carson v. Makin, which prevent governments from discriminating against religious organizations when it comes to widely available public benefits.

This is another way in which the sexual revolution, empowered by the federal government, either paves over the consciences of religious people or eliminates them from participation in public life altogether.

More importantly, the Biden administration’s willingness to use the school lunch program as a bargaining chip in an effort to force religious institutions to give up their deeply held beliefs on marriage and sexuality reveals just how committed the left is to the advances of the sexual revolution. It’s the same approach used to push Catholic and evangelical agencies out of the adoption space for the crime of holding to a traditional view of marriage and sexuality. Thankfully the courts have protected the religious liberties of those organizations in cases such as Fulton v Philadelphia.

This move by both the Biden administration and the Florida commissioner of agriculture also reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the belief system that animates religious people to engage in compassionate ministry in the first place. Religious organizations engage in acts of mercy, not in spite of their mysterious and deeply held convictions, but because of them. For Christians, Christianity and their compassion are not compartmentalized but part of the whole. If you lose the Christianity, you lose the compassion.

“We treat every child with dignity and respect, and we would never deny a hungry child a meal,” said Pastor Alfred Johnson, president of Faith Action Ministry Alliance, the parent organization of Grant Park Christian Academy. “Our kids depend on our school’s lunch program to eat balanced, nutritious meals. It’s wrong for government officials to threaten to take the funding for those meals away simply because we wish to live and operate consistent with our religious convictions.”

This pastor and this organization should not be targeted and harassed by their own state and federal governments. On the other hand, they should be commended, both for their commitment to providing young vulnerable children with a quality education and for refusing to bend their core beliefs to suit the whims of the sexual revolution. Christians should be similarly unflinching in the face of opposition. And we should work and pray for governments that allow Christians to be Christian. Even when lunch for hungry kids is on the line.

Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His forthcoming book is Agents of Grace. He is also a bestselling author of several other books, including The Original Jesus, The Dignity Revolution, The Characters of Christmas, The Characters of Easter, and A Way With Words and the host of a popular weekly podcast, The Way Home. Dan holds a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry from Dayspring Bible College, has studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Angela have four children.

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