Some of us may be remembered for the things we’ve done, good or bad, whereas others are remembered because the living choose to make it so. Such is the case of a young man named Todd Becker who tragically died in 2005 in a drunk driving crash. Todd had yet to make his mark on this world, save for his family and friends. He had not even been the one driving that evening, though he’d purchased some of the alcohol for a high school party. His mistake, the thing he’d become known for, was to climb into the back seat of his drunk friend’s car for his last ride.
Todd’s life may have ended that night, but his memory lived on in his family’s business that was named in his honor, The Todd Becker Foundation. Though most of us choose to keep our grief and life lessons to ourselves, the Becker family prayed and stated they were guided to share their grief with the world, or more to the point, they chose to share it with high school students across the Midwest. In their opinion, it was poor choices made by Todd that caused his death. If they could share Todd’s story with high schools across the nation, maybe there would be one teenager who decided not to drink, one less DUI and one less death.
In the beginning, The Foundation was run by Keith and Bill Beckman (brother and father to Todd). They would contact high schools and offer to speak to students about the dangers of bad choices in life, of how minor choices like Todd’s could lead to dire consequences. Recognizing that the law requires the separation of church and state, Keith assured school administrators both verbally and in writing that, “…we do share one scripture from the Bible, simply to better illustrate the story of Todd’s choices. We fully understand that we are in a public-school setting and are very mindful of the boundaries that must be kept.” This statement is still on their website today. In their words, they could not tell kids about the dangers of drinking and driving without this one verse. School administrators saw little harm if the intention was to prevent DUIs.
But if intentions were the same as outcomes, I wouldn’t be writing about The Todd Becker Foundation today.
As more public schools became interested, the Foundation grew. Soon it had a board of directors comprised of several pastors. They maintained a group of volunteers, big screens, lighting and sound equipment, a rocking Christian band called Chye and buses to transport it all from state to state. In addition to the assemblies held during school hours that lasted 90 minutes, The Foundation had an after-hours meeting and concert that students could bring their parents to.
As The Foundation grew, so did their brazenness. The Beckers added the STINT Program or Short Term Ministry Internship. Volunteers for this program consist of recently graduated high school students used to minister and coerce students into joining them in prayer via peer pressure. During the speeches, they can be seen dropping to their knees in prayer. Afterwards, they approach students to discuss their faith and how they could best serve Jesus Christ.
Unbeknownst to many of the educators who invite The Todd Becker Foundation to their schools, the Beckers now arrange with local Christian ministers ahead of the assembly and invite them to be in the audience. They then join with the STINT volunteers to hand out Bibles, speak to students about religion, pray with them and invite them to local churches. This is all done during school hours, on school property and without parents. To make matters worse, The Foundation requires a $3,000 fee that is paid by the school district through taxpayer funds.
The Foundation also raises money by holding conferences that have drawn many of the who’s who in right-wing Evangelical Christian circles and includes political leaders as well. Past guest speakers have included Janet Parshall of Christian radio, Congressional Representative Tom Osborne, Mike Huckabee, Kirk Cameron, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and Focus on the Family’s president, Jim Daly.
At their 2016 convention, The Foundation stated that they had conducted assemblies in over 11 states, at over 350 high schools and reached over 50,000 students concerning Christ’s teachings. They ask that students, “surrender their life to Christ, or to walk away from Him.” Even their federal tax documents state their purpose is, “To motivate high school students to discover themselves by placing their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.”
The Foundation also maintains social media pages to keep in contact with its student converts. Through these pages, you can see the progression from taking care not to cross legal lines to blatant violations of the law. More current pictures have captions like, “So powerful to see God’s word in a public high school,” and “One of our STINT interns praying with local pastors before the start of the day assembly.” Even their current FaceBook profile photo states, “Thank you for coming to my school and speaking to us about bringing Jesus into our life.”
Some educators have refused to invite the Beckers back after realizing their true motives. Students and parents have complained they were told that being gay or Mormon was against God’s will by The Foundation’s staff. But most schools invite them back and openly show the assemblies on their school calendars, though it never states the real purpose of those gatherings. The Foundation is wise enough to stick to middle America, in towns where they know they will be welcomed for the most part.
Most recently the Freedom from Religion Foundation has set its sights on the group. They’ve demanded that schools stop allowing the Todd Becker Foundation to manipulate their students into religion and pointed out that they are in fact in direct violation of many federal laws: Lee v Weisman, Wallace v Jaffree, Epperson v Arkansas, School District of Abington Township v Schempp, Engel v Vitale, McCollum v Board of Education.
The Todd Becker Foundation is no longer about the dangers of drinking and driving. Instead, the Beckers conveniently use Todd’s death as a means to convert young school children to their version of Christianity. They have been warned multiple times about violating these laws by school districts, parents, teachers, the ACLU and now the Freedom from Religion Foundation, but those warnings have been ignored. These organizations need to take the next step if they are serious about the separation of church and state.
Everyone grieves differently, but to use someone’s tragic death as an excuse to subvert US law, parents and school districts is not grieving. It’s manipulation plain and simple, not to mention selling religion on the taxpayer's dime.