Parents Say Victory Club Nearly Killed Kids

Thursday, two families filed a lawsuit against their daughters' public high school because of religion. The girls claimed a school club put their lives in danger. It's a lawsuit that may stir up new controversy over the role of religion in public schools.

NewsChannel 5/May 13, 2005

Jane Doe: "They encouraged me to be saved and take victory over my life, accept the holy spirit and speak in tongues."

You'd expect something like that in a church, but that actually happened at Hillsboro High School as part of a school-sanctioned religious club that, parents now, say crossed the line.

Mrs. Doe: “My daughter could have died.”

The Victory Club, as it was known, was sponsored by the Bethel World Outreach Center, a fundamentalist Christian church based in Brentwood.

Jane Doe: “What really drew me in was the feeling of being loved.”

At Hillsboro, church leaders regularly gave free pizza and sodas to students who met during lunchtime for some prayer and a little preaching.

David Lyons, attorney: “It's a religious pep rally on school grounds during the school day sanctioned by school administrators.”

Bethel church member, Meghan Therrell, who is the music teacher at Hillsboro, served as the Victory Club's faculty advisor.

Parents said she was the one who convinced students to then join the church itself.

Mrs. Doe: “That's not right.”

Jane Doe: “I wanted to hear God's voice.”

This Hillsboro student said, after she was baptized into the church, she was then pressured into speaking in tongues.

Tim Johnson, Bethel World Outreach Senior Pastor: “Speaking in tongue is a way to communicate with God.”

Johnson said it's a crucial part of their faith.

Jane Doe: “They said I'd be closer to God and that my relationship and walk with God would be stronger.”

And after the 17-year-old finally did speak in tongues she insists she was repeatedly warned by church members, including her teacher Meghan Therrell, not to tell her parents about it.

They feared her parents wouldn't understand and would force her to quit the church.

Jane Doe: “The way they said it was we would be persecuted for our religion…by my own parents.”

Bethel's Youth Minister, Shino Prater, said that's just not true.

Shino Prater: “We don't have that type of control over people. That's not, we don't do that.”

But the girl's mother claims that when she confronted Therrell about it, she didn't deny it.

Mrs. Doe: “That's not acceptable and it's especially not acceptable to be done by a teacher.”

Second Mother: “They brainwashed them.”

The second mother said the church turned her daughter into “a religious freak.”

Second Mother: “It hurts a lot because my daughter wasn't like that.”

She said her daughter, an honors student at Hillsboro, became so consumed by trying to recruit and save others at the school that she had a total breakdown.

Second Mother: “If you don't do this, don't do that, you're not serving God and if you don't serve God, you're going to be punished. You're going to go to hell. And that was her worry all the time.”

According to a lawsuit just filed against the school and church, the girl has now spent weeks in psychiatric hospitals and has been diagnosed as suffering from something called religious indoctrination.

Jane Doe said it almost drove her over the edge too. “I wanted to commit suicide and actually tried.”

David Lyons: “It's astounding that this would happen in one of the best high schools that we have in Nashville in the year 2005.

Lyons said there's enough blame to go around, but Bethel Church leaders said while they're sympathetic they're not responsible.

Tim Johnson: “I just can't accept that and will not accept that.”

The Bethel Church said they have 70 Victory Clubs around the country—13 of them in Nashville-area high schools—and they've never had any sort of problem like this before.

NewsChannel 5 tried to speak with Therrell, the teacher and faculty advisor of the Victory Club, but she did not return our calls.

NewsChannel 5 took a look at the Metro school system’s religion and public education policy.

It states "schools may not endorse specific religious practices." But it also states "schools may not forbid students acting on their own from expressing their own religious views."

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