How's this for an anti-bullying intiative? On Mix It Up at Lunch Day, held each year in October, students at U.S. schools are encouraged to hang out with someone they might not normally speak to.
The program, started 11 years ago by the Southern Poverty Law Center, aims to break up cliques and reduce bullying by getting people to talk to each other directly.
But not everyone sees it that way. The American Family Association, a conservative evangelical group, says Mix It Up at Lunch Day is "a nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools."
It made that claim in an email to its supporters earlier this month. Since the email went out, a number of schools have cancelled Mix It Up at Lunch Day.
The email is part of a bigger battle between the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights group founded 41 years ago in Montgomery, Alabama, and the American Family Association, based in Tupelo, Mississippi, a group that says its mission is to fight what it calls "increasing ungodliness" in America.
Recently, the law center added the American Family Association to its list of active hate groups, which also includes neo-Nazis, black separatists and Holocaust deniers.
Association leaders have responded by calling the law center a hate group for oppressing Christian students, and suggesting that the center is trying to shut down groups that oppose homosexuality.
The list of suggested activities for Mix It Up at Lunch Day doesn't mention gays and lesbians specifically. According to Maureen Costello, director of the center's Teaching Tolerance project, the program is not about sexual orientation but about breaking up social cliques.
"I was surprised that they completely lied about what Mix It Up Day is," Costello told the New York Times. "It was a cynical, fear-mongering tactic."
Bryan Fischer, the director of issue analysis for the American Family Assocation, claims that since the law center promotes equal treatment for gay and lesbian students, that philosophy informs the school program.
"Anti-bullying legislation is exactly the same," Fischer said. "It's just another thinly veiled attempt to promote the homosexual agenda."
Costello says that "many of the targets of bullying are kids who are either gay or are perceived as gay," but that the idea that the program is intended as homosexual indoctrination is wrong.
"We've become used to the idea of lunatic fringe attacks," she said, "but this one was complete misrepresentation."
About 200 schools had cancelled Mix It Up at Lunch Day as of Friday, but it's not clear how many of them did so as a result of the Association email.
The only school that agreed to speak to the Times about its cancellation said its teachers were too busy to oversee the event, and that "the decision had nothing to do with taking a position on gay rights."
At least one school has heard from parents about the email and is going ahead with Mix It Up at Lunch Day anyway.
Kevin Brady, the head of Avon Grove Charter School in Pennsylvania, said he explained the program to concerned parents, and that once they understood what the program is, they decided not to keep their kids home that day.
Mix It Up at Lunch Day is scheduled for October 30.