- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A humanist group is objecting to a public school in southwestern Minnesota sending students this fall to hear an abstinence talk that it says had religious aspects.

The American Humanist Association sent a letter Tuesday to Luverne Public Schools, saying students were sent during school hours on Sept. 30 to hear a presentation by Jason Evert of the Chastity Project.

The group contends students and parents were not informed about the event’s religious aspects beforehand because flyers about the event were nondescript.

However, Evert maintains he presented a non-religious version of his talk.

The humanist group wants assurances from school officials that they won’t endorse similar programs in the future.

“When a public school presents religiously biased materials as a health curriculum, it not only unconstitutionally violates the separation of church and state but also does a disservice to our young people,” David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said in a statement.

Niose said his organization received a complaint from a parent who researched the speaker and pulled his student before the program.

Evert said his talk had “zero religious content.”

“My last intention is to recruit the kids into any denomination,” Evert told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “We’re just here to support the parents and school.”

Luverne Superintendent Gary Fisher said 92 students from a ninth-grade health class went to the event at nearby Edgerton Public School.

Fisher said he’s looking into the complaint and will respond, but said he’s conscious of the separation of church and state.

“I’ve been in the business long enough to know there is that line,” Fisher said.

Principal Brian Gilbertson of Edgerton Public School, who heard parts of Evert’s presentation and talked to his staff members who heard it, said Evert does a non-religious program tailored to public schools, and that’s what the school signed up for.

“We teach all types of health issues to our kids,” said Gilbertson, who said Evert presented abstinence as a way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases.

But Randy Perkins, 49, of Luverne, the parent who pulled his 14-year-old son from the event, dismissed claims that Evert’s message was not religious.

“They scrub this. It’s very deliberate,” Perkins said of the message. “It’s kind of a disguising.”

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