This article is published in partnership with Minnesota Indpendent, Center for Independent Journalism, and RH Reality Check.
Rep. Michele Bachmann will be headlining a fundraiser in November
for controversial ministry You Can Run But You Cannot Hide (YCRBYCH).
Based in Annandale, Minn., the group has made a name for itself as
an anti-drug Christian punk rock band that organizes motivational
student assemblies to bring Christ to public schools. But over the last
several years, parents and school administrators have complained that
the ministry misrepresents itself, claiming that the group is not
transparent about its Christian mission. And since schools pay using
public funds, some are concerned that the group is violating the
constitutional principle of the separation of church and state.
Bachmann will be the keynote speaker
at a fundraiser for the group on Nov. 12 at a Bloomington hotel.
Bachmann’s office did not return a request seeking comment about the
It won’t be Bachmann’s first time at a YCRBYCH fundraiser. At a Minneapolis hotel in October 2006, she offered a powerful prayer for the ministry and praised the group’s work of sharing the gospel in public schools.
“Lord, I thank you for what you have done at this ministry… how you
are going to advance them from 260 schools a year, Lord, to 2,600
schools a year,” she said. “Lord, we ask thy faith that you would
expand this ministry beyond anything the originators of this ministry
could begin to think or imagine. Lord, the day is at hand! We are in
the last days! The day is at hand, Lord, when your return will become
nigh. Pour a double blessing, Lord, a triple blessing on this ministry.”
In an April 2009 broadcast on Christian radio station KKMS, the
group acknowledged that it is going into public schools to evangelize.
“We are doing assemblies here, folks, just so you understand, we do
public high school assemblies,” said one of the group’s members. “We
are speaking to kids in our schools about the constitution, suicide
prevention and our own testimony of how Christ turned our lives around
in public schools so we can get the light into kids hands in public
Complaints around the Midwest
In school districts around the Midwest, school administrators have taken heat for inviting the ministry into schools.
In 2003, the group came to a Benton, Wis., high school. “They had a
captive audience for their message, and that wasn’t right,” Benton
Principal Gary Neis told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald. He was
reportedly so upset that the ministry strayed from its anti-drug
message that he held another assembly to apologize to the students.
“They talked about influencing and brainwashing people. Be wise to
the fact that is what they were doing. They were using the same
tactics,” Neis told the students at the assembly. Neis said he
contacted other schools in the area and found that they had no idea
that YCRBYCH was a Christian ministry.
In 2005, at a Eureka Springs, Ark., high school, students walked out
of the assembly; afterward, the principal took heat from parents.
According to the local paper, The Lovely Citizen,
Eureka Springs superintendent Reck Wallis, said, “I take
responsibility. We had no idea about their religious, right-wing
message. They misrepresented their program. We want [Eureka Springs
schools] to be open and all inclusive. … They won’t be back.”
At Pequot Lakes High School in central Minnesota in 2007,
the group stirred controversy when students reportedly ran out of the
assembly crying after the group showed graphic images of abortion and
told the students that God wanted women to be subservient to men. John
McDonald, Pequot Lakes High School Principal, told WCCO, “We were
expecting something a bit different,” he said. “The thing we apologized
to students for is the program wasn’t to the expectation that we
thought it would be.”
Also in 2007, the group performed in Phelps, Wis., causing an uproar
among parents and administrators. “The school district administrator
said she didn’t know You Can Run But You Cannot Hide was a Christian
group until I told her,” said Paul Guequierre, a reporter for WJFW TV-12. “She showed me the lit from the group and there was no mention that the group was Christian.”
Indeed, the group does not mention God, Jesus, Christianity or any
religion in the “Principal Packet” that it distributes to school
administrators. According to the four-page document (pdf),
founder Bradlee Dean’s “message hits on issues such as drugs, alcohol,
suicide, our country, our veterans, our freedom, the Constitution,
friends we choose, the influence of media, and day to day choices we
make.” (The program’s website only references God once, in a promotion for founder Bradlee Dean’s book.)
When questioned by the Minnesota Independent about claims that the
group doesn’t disclose the religious nature of the assemblies, Dean
said, “78 percent of the American people are professing Christians. Are
they, in their line of work, to wear ‘I am a Christian’ shirts?”
“It sounds like there is a lean toward discrimination in what you are asking,” he added.
Separation of church and state
While many have challenged that the group causes schools to run
afoul of the separation of church and state, both Bachmann and YCRBYCH
deny that the constitutional prohibition exists.
In fact, Bachmann urges people to give money to the organization for the stated purpose of bringing Christ into public schools.
“[Public schools] are teaching children that there is separation of
church and state, and I am here to tell you that is a myth. That’s not
true,” Bachmann said at the group’s 2006 fundraiser in Minneapolis.
“And they explain to children in the public school system what a myth
that is. And that’s what I love about this ministry … We want kids to
come to the truth and that’s why this ministry is so absolutely vital.
We need them in every public school classroom across the state to tell
young people, ‘You Can Run But You Cannot Hide.’”
Schools pay the group thousands of dollars to put on the assemblies. “On average we ask $1,500 to $2,000 an assembly,” Dean told the Advocate, a paper in Annandale, Minn. (The group’s Web site says a three-hour assembly ranges from $3,000 to $5,000.)
Dean has similarly claimed that the Constitution does not call for church-state separation.
“Did you know that the phrase ’separation between church and state’
is nowhere in the Constitution, nor in the Declaration of Independence,
and nowhere in the Bill of Rights?” he asked listeners of his radio
program, called “School of Hard Knocks,” which is broadcast on KKMS.
Dean says that the ministry is being targeted by the government because it tells the truth. On his April 11 radio program, he recalled an incident a week earlier which he claimed an employee of the ministry was chased by a helicopter.
“There was a blue and white helicopter that flew down on top of her
van as she was going to this [Wright County] Republican party
convention. And then he swooped back down on her again.”
Bradlee said that helicopters frequently dive-bomb their tour bus
with “helicopters flying up to the bus and pulling off.” He said, “What
they are trying to do is criminalize the righteous.”
At the ministry’s 2007 fundraiser at the Minneapolis Hyatt, Dean elaborated on his fears of the government, as reported at the time by the Minnesota Independent.
“We passed out over 100,000 [religious] tracts in public high
schools because God said,” Dean said. “Not because some tyrannical
government wants to try telling us what we can say and what we can’t
say, because we know what the Constitution says. We know who the
problem is, nothing’s changed in two thousand years.”