FFRF prompts district to reevaluate choir’s religious ties, baccalaureate

A parent in the Highland Local School District (Medina, Ohio) alerted the Freedom From Religion Foundation to three church/state concerns at Highland High School. The school’s annual choir event included Christian prayer; the school’s top choir performed at a church service late last year; finally, the Sharon Ministerial Association in May organized a Christian baccalaureate service for graduating seniors with school support. FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert tackled all three issues in a four-page letter to the superintendent. The prayer at last year’s choir banquet — illegal prayers have taken place at these events at least for the last three years — ended, “In the name of Lord, Jesus Christ.” Prayer at choir banquets, Markert asserted, “turns any non-Christian and nonreligious Highland High School choir student into an outsider,” and student participation in this event “should not be predicated upon being subjected to Christian based prayers.” The school’s top choir performed, as it does annually, at the St. Paul Lutheran Church (the choir director’s church) and this year the program included all Christian carols. “This practice forces students and their parents, who may be of varying faiths or none at all, to enter a Christian house of worship,” Markert stated. The Christian baccalaureate service for seniors was held on school property, and the choir director helped promote and participate, which “signals the school district’s endorsement of the event.” The superintendent replied: “I do believe, in light of the First Amendment and court cases that have interpreted its requirements as to religion and public schools, that offering prayer at the annual choir banquet and having the choir perform as part of a local church’s worship services are problematic, and I am taking appropriate steps to alter these practices. . . . I am sensitive to the need to avoid actual or an appearance of school sponsorship and endorsement in this area and am also taking steps to ensure that appropriate distance is maintained.” The superintendent said she “will continue to discuss appropriate parameters with our choir director to assure compliance with all legal requirements.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation