Does Eating Food Provided by a Church Violate the Establishment Clause?

It is difficult to know exactly what the facts in this case really are, because, as reported here, I cannot understand what possible complaint the Freedom From Religion Foundation could have.  The story reports that it is a longstanding tradition of a high school football team in Texas to provide players with pre-game meals made by various churches in the area.  If this truly is all that there is to the story, then I feel confident in saying that FFRF has no case under the Establishment Clause.  I cannot see how, even under any of the watery tests currently in use, eating food that a church prepares comes close to violating the Establishment Clause.  If it does, so much the worse for that silly interpretation.

There is, however, some suggestion in the story in a quote by FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel that the students were taken to a church to eat the food there and that the pastors were “shar[ing] the gospel of Jesus Christ” while they ate.  If there was indeed proselytism going on while the team members were eating at an event, in church, that they were required to attend, then that is, in my view, a much stronger case for violation of the Establishment Clause.  Indeed, one doesn’t need to talk about anything as loose and unclear as the endorsement test to find that sort of state-sponsored proselytism, at a public school function and at an event where students were required to be present, problematic.

What about taking students to a church at which they ate some food prepared by the church, but at which there was no proselytism?  Well, this is admittedly a more intermediate situation, but it’s worth noting that context will likely matter here, too.  See, e.g., the Seventh Circuit opinion recently discussed here, where in a very narrow holding the court decided that having a public school graduation inside a church with rich iconography violated the Establishment Clause, but that it would not necessarily do so in all cases.  See also this post by my colleague Mark, and particularly the second point he makes about the issue of proselytism.

The deviled eggs are in the details.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: