Eleven years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center launched a program called Mix It Up at Lunch Day, which encourages kids to sit with a classmate they wouldn’t normally talk to at lunch in an effort to combat bullying. More than 2,500 schools plan to participate in the seemingly noncontroversial annual activity, which is usually held on October 30, but the New York Times reports that this year more than 200 schools have backed out. It’s unclear why the schools canceled, but it seems it might have something to do with an e-mail sent out earlier this month by the American Family Association that claims, “‘Mix It Up’ day is an entry-level ‘diversity’ program designed specifically by SPCL to establish the acceptance of homosexuality into public schools, including elementary and junior high schools.” Curiously, the only goals listed on the civil rights group’s website are to “reduce prejudice” and “build an inclusive and welcoming school community.”
Though gays and lesbians are never mentioned in its Mix It Up at Lunch Day materials, the SPLC is generally opposed to discrimination based on sexual orientation. Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for the conservative evangelical group, says, “No one is in favor of anyone getting bullied for any reason, but these anti-bullying policies become a mechanism for punishing Christian students who believe that homosexual behavior is not something that should be normalized.”
It seems the controversy is the result of an ongoing war between the two organizations. Since the SPLC listed the AFA as an active hate group, it’s retaliated against the law center by claiming it discriminates against Christian students. “The reality is we are not a hate group. We are a truth group,” says Fischer. “We tell the truth about homosexual behavior.” That message might be more convincing if the AFA didn’t launch an irrational and easily refuted campaign against kids sitting at different lunch tables.