U.S. school authorities oppose off-campus 'Jesus Lunch' organised by Christian moms

Students partake of 'Jesus Lunch' meals offered freely by a group of Christian mothers in Middleton, Wisconsin. The image is taken from the group's Facebook page.(Facebook/Jesus Lunch Middleton)

A high school in Middleton, Wisconsin wants to shut down the weekly "Jesus Lunch" organised by a group of Christian mothers for students, saying it violates school policy and rules on food preparation.

Middleton High School allows students to eat lunch outside the school. In 2014, parents started meeting their children at a nearby park, providing them with meals with Christian inspirational message.

The gathering grew with nearly 500 students attending.

"We show up every week just to show the love of Jesus," parent Beth Williams told Fox News. "Our mission statement for Jesus Lunch is 'food for the body, nutrition for the soul.'"

But Superintendent Donald Johnson and Principal Stephen Plank said the weekly lunches are "divisive" and want them stopped.

"We believe that religious or political events do not have a place in our school or on our campus, except when sponsored by a student group in accordance with our rules, which require prior approval," they said in a email sent to parents last April 12.

School administrators said the mothers are violating rules including food preparation.

"The policies in question include food handling, visitors to campus, and expectations around student organised events. We are in no way interested in opposing religious practice in otherwise legal circumstances," the two added.

They said any food served to students must be approved by the school or the district to ensure food safety and cleanliness, adding that many students have food allergies.

Lawyer Phillip Stamman, who represents the mothers, said the school administrators are intimidating the mothers.

"These are mothers. They are spending all their time and effort to show love for these kids and now they are being attacked by a superintendent and principal — trying to intimidate them," he said.

He added, "The [school district] is going after them because they are spreading a religious message. They are upset because they are sharing Christianity."

Administrators said they have a lease agreement with the city over the park, meaning that the lunch is being done on school property.

But the parents argue that it's a public place and the agreement does not make it off-limits.

"Fireman's Park—a public park owned by the City of Middleton—remains accessible to everyone in the public for the purposes of assembly and free speech," the moms said in a statement.