Reading Time: 4 minutes

Thousands of high school seniors in Baton Rouge, Louisiana believed they were taking a field trip to a “College & Career Fair,” but they were actually transported to a massive church service called “Day of Hope.”

All the warning signs were there but because the students and their families trusted school administrators, or at least figured they could get free food and a day out of class, they ended up wasting their time listening to Christian propaganda instead of learning more about their futures.

It wasn’t just unethical. It was illegal.

Here’s what Baton Rouge Magnet High senior Alexis Budyach described after returning from the trip:

There are so many red flags in that recollection:

  • It was called a “Day of Hope,” a phrase that carries religious connotations.
  • Students were segregated by gender when the substantive portion of the program began
  • The speakers for the girls included a pastor who promoted virginity, another woman who suggested kids shouldn’t date around but just wait for God to bring you the perfect guy, and a nurse who told a traumatic story about her son taking his own life.
  • Once the kids came back together, they heard a sermon from a man named “Donk” who claimed to overcome his own paralysis, got sentenced to life in prison, then somehow got out. (“Donk” is the nickname of Pastor Trell Webb, who tells a very similar story here.)
  • There appeared to be an altar call at the end of the session for students who wanted to commit to Christ.

Again, all of this was done under the guise of a college/career fair. Students believed they were getting a head start on their futures but actually being led to a Christian indoctrination seminar.

According to The Advocate, which went into depth about this event, it’s not like the red flags were evident only after students arrived.

The event took place at Living Faith Christian Center—a church—and was sponsored by a local Christian non-profit group called 29:11 Mentoring Families. The “29:11” is a biblical reference, the group says its goal is to “redirect our students to Jesus Christ who defines their future and to change the world,” and they’ve put on similar “Day of Hope” religious events in the past in Louisiana:

YouTube video

In response to the concerns, the East Baton Rouge Parish school system issued a statement late Wednesday defending the event as “an elevation of a traditional college and career fair.” The statement also defended the school district’s partnership with the local nonprofit that put on the event, 29:11 Mentoring Families, saying the group is providing “additional support services for students in our district.”

“We look forward to seeing what our over 2,100 student participants will continue to achieve with the resources and knowledge gained from this event,” according to the statement.

Just because the public school district has a partnership with a local Christian mentoring program doesn’t give it the right to foist Christianity on unsuspecting children. If we were talking about any non-Christian religion, this would be obvious. But because it’s Christianity, all the adults in positions of power seem to think it’s no big deal.

Brittney Bryant, a teacher and mother of a senior, was also at the event and shared even more details, including video and the field trip form (which only listed the address for the church without using its name):

After inside the church, boys were instructed to go outside while the girls were left in the church for “girl talk”. My transgender child was discriminated against for walking out. I stayed and listened to the discussion. They talked about rape, forgiving the offender in life, suicide, prayer leadership, and many more dark controversial topics. We had females in the bathrooms crying due to the topics of discussion. Mean while the boys were left outside in the extreme heat. The boys then were escorted in and the girls outside. The boys topic was titled “real talk”. From the beginning no topics were discussed but began male chauvinistic competition for monetary reward for winners. Then proceeded to compete for push ups for more money. They were hyped up and egged on.

After the gender separate sessions took place, I learned that the children were told in order to recieve a “meal ticket” they were told to complete a voter registration. When I went to confront the unethical situation running councilman Darryl Hurst was the one handing out voter registration to the long line of students hoping to get fed pizza at the end of the event. Later was told the pizza was provided by another non profit and it was an “incentive”. It was a propaganda that was having children even under the age of 18 to fill out personal information without parent approval.

When the final event took place, all students were brought into the church. A female student was picked out and told by a man leading the closing, “I’ll give you $100 if you can get through me and to the stage” (this was after they were talked about domestic violence and male control)

None of this would’ve been okay at a voluntary Christian youth camp. It’s so much worse during a public school field trip.

Bryant also mentions the fact that students had to wait outside in hundred-degree heat and were incentivized to register to vote in order to receive a “meal ticket” (which is coercive and manipulative).

And yet even after the event ended, the school district was bragging about how amazing it was without mentioning the religious angle:

When The Advocate reached out to Tremaine Sterling, who runs 29:11 Mentoring Families, Sterling said these “Day of Hope” events had been going on for years without a problem, practically admitting the Louisiana school district’s complicity:

In an email, Sterling said his organization has been holding events like the Day of Hope for students in Baton Rouge and surrounding areas for over 10 years. This year, he said, they moved it from Bethany North to Living Faith. The focus, he said, is providing “resources and tools to young people as they prepare for their next steps after high school.

“We’ve received countless messages online and in person of support and appreciation for this event from attendees, and we are excited to continue offering this event in the future,” Sterling wrote.

These people aren’t interested in what kids do after high school. They didn’t help them plan for college or guide them toward a potential career path. They just pushed conservative Christian messaging on the students, wasting their time and offering a different way to ruin their lives. The kids deserve so much better than everything this church is offering.

The fact that everyone involved knew they needed to hide the true nature of this program suggests they are well aware of the legal problems associated with it. They were counting on students keeping their mouths shut. Thankfully, though, a few people courageously spoke out.

We’ll see how long this partnership continues once church/state separation groups take action.

Avatar photo

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.