Anoka-Hennepin Christian club accused of harassing non-religious students

Categories: Religion
Daniel Buschow.jpg
Daniel Buschow was accused of having influence on Christian student groups.
On the heels of the ground-breaking Anoka-Hennepin settlement with six bullied students, a parent is complaining of a new harassment issue in the district.

Melissa Thompson, the mother of a Blaine High School student, says she's been complaining that members of an after-school Christian group called "Catalyst" have been pressuring her child to join for months. Thompson says she identifies as Christian, but her child does not.

At first, the school principal and district administrators seemed to agree with Thompson that the group was overstepping its boundaries and took steps to limit its activity. That was met by a backlash from Christian students and their parents.

Melissa Thompson.jpg
Melissa Thompson speaking before the school board.
Thompson -- who asked that City Pages withhold her child's name to avoid further harassment in school -- first contacted a teacher about the issue via email in September 2011. In the email, Thompson said her child had been asked repeatedly to join Catalyst by the same student and that the student said "he'd spend his last day trying to make them believe in Jesus by showing up at their homes, or contacting them through facebook or getting their cell phone numbers."

"This student's comments go far beyond a simple acknowledgment of his faith or an answer to a question (both would be within his religious rights)," Thompson wrote. "He needs to be approached and asked to stop."

The teacher wrote back saying that she'd met with the school's administration over the incident. Nevertheless, Thompson said the Catalyst student continued to ask her child to the meetings almost every Tuesday.

While Thompson is the only parent coming forward publicly to complain about the group, another student posted a YouTube "rant" about Catalyst. The student says he's been "personally harassed by this group," told "countless times" to attend the meetings, and that he's "going to burn in hell for my sins." He characterizes the group as a "Christian conversion organization."

Seven months after her initial complaint, Thompson sent another email to Blaine High School principal John Phelps, saying she was "absolutely shocked" by her own research into Catalyst.

Catalyst Square Logo.jpeg
According to Catalyst's website, the organization started in January last year as a Bible study group at Blaine, then expanded into five schools within Anoka-Hennepin. It identifies as "a campus movement led by high school students" and provides extensive training materials on how to start a Catalyst club in school. They produce some pretty high-quality videos, and give out doughnuts at their meetings before class.

Thompson became concerned after seeing that the website domain is actually owned by Daniel Buschow, the founder of an organization called Allies Ministry. According to Allies's website, its mission is to "build partnerships to reach and mentor the next generation by reaching every student, on every campus, in every community with the simple, yet life-changing message of knowing God in a personal way." Thompson provided the district with some of the literature from the Catalyst website and expressed concern that Buschow -- not students -- is actually leading the clubs, producing the literature, and paying for posters, food, and other activities. If this is true, the clubs would be in violation of the Equal Access Act, which permits religious clubs at school so long as they are "student-initiated" and that no one in the community "direct, conduct, control, or regularly attend meetings."

Allies does host a fundraising page for Catalyst on Razoo, and seems to claim it again here.

On April 4, Thompson received a letter back from the district.

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