'God is not in control in public schools'

Elementary school religious music program 'drastically altered'

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis-based state/church watchdog, stopped presentation of a fifth-grade religious musical program in Lindale, Texas. FFRF was contacted by a concerned parent about a 5th grade music program scheduled to take place today at E.J. Moss Intermediate School in Lindale.

The concerned parent had no idea what the program contained until her child brought home a script to memorize. All fifth graders who participate in the music class at the school participated in the program.

The musical, "In God We Trust," was written and produced by Chris and Diane Machen, who run a music and worship ministry and whose self-professed goal is to "lead the church in worship and reach non-believers with the Gospel of Jesus Christ." The songs make references to the "Word of God" being the "true" foundation of our nation and government, "glorifying and trusting in God and the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Students were being asked to memorize and perform songs with words such as, "god is in control! god is in control!" The script included blatant proselytizing such as, "our personal freedom from sin was bought by the blood of Jesus Christ."

Principal Lori Anderson sent a flier home with children announcing to parents: "After we were contacted by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, we consulted with our school district attorney and investigated the organization's concerns. We found that the program was not in compliance with state and federal curriculum guidelines."

FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell sent a letter on May 20 to the Lindale Independent School Districts Superintendent, Stan Surratt:

"If these allegations are true, this program is an egregious violation of the First Amendment and should be canceled immediately. It is illegal for a public school to compel students to participate in religious expression. This is compounded by the fact that the children, as fifth graders, are very young. The performance has a clearly devotional and proselytizing message and thus would be appropriate in a church setting, not in a public school."

Students were to recite spoken lines such as:

"What you have heard today helps to explain why the founding fathers of our nation believed and trusted in God. The people who struggled and fought to establish this nation did so because of a dream. That dream was to have a place where they could freely proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel of Jesus Christ is this: people do wrong things – this is called sin. This sin separates us from God and causes us to be sentenced to an eternal life apart from him."

Surratt emailed FFRF: "As a school, we never want to present a program that would offend anyone. After receiving notice of the parent's concern, I reviewed the material and the program to be presented on Thursday has been drastically altered. Most speaking parts by students have been deleted and the musical selection have been limited and will be supplemented with traditional American patriotic selection with which the students are familiar."

According to KLTV.com, "Pastor Tom Buck of the First Baptist Church of Lindale announced that his church is renting the Performing Arts Center at Lindale High School so the entire musical can be performed by any students who choose to participate."

"We're pleased the district has taken action to expunge the worse of this fundamentalist Christian music program," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. "But, that doesn't erase the injury inflicted on a captive audience of public school students being forced to memorize and rehearse fundamentalist Christian dogma."

-By Lauryn Seering

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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