FFRF protests students being punished at San Diego State

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is protesting the penalization of two San Diego State University students for refusing to participate in a choir performance at a church service.

A choir course that Patrick Walders teaches at San Diego State University is mandatory for certain degrees. In May, Walders asked his students to perform during a service at College Avenue Baptist Church. Two students demurred. The professor told them he would fail them if they didn't participate. The students stayed away, and Walders did flunk them, offering them no alternatives. The choir members who showed up reportedly had to sit through the sermon after their performance.

"As a state-run institution, San Diego State University is bound by the Constitution's Establishment Clause, which 'mandates government neutrality between religion and religion and between religion and nonreligion,'" as the U.S. Supreme Court has noted, FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler writes to San Diego State University President Elliot Hirshman. "The university's choir violates that constitutional mandate when it requires students to participate in choirs that perform at church services in order to pass a class."

The selection of a Baptist church as the site for a San Diego State choir performance demonstrates the school's preference for religion over nonreligion and for Christianity over other faiths, FFRF asserts. The university's choir should be particularly sensitive to respecting the rights and conscience of the nonreligious, since about 35 percent of millennials (the typical college demographic) are nonreligious. San Diego State is a secular university and should not be mandating religious choir performances. It is obligated to provide its students an advanced education free from religious endorsement.

Moreover, Walders is a professor at a public, secular university and should not blatantly disrespect the freedom of conscience of his students. It is unacceptable behavior for a professor to be failing students in a course because they did not attend an unconstitutional performance.

FFRF is asking San Diego State to select more appropriate, secular locations to hold its concerts and to investigate Walders' actions.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is dedicated to the separation of state and church, with 24,000 members nationwide, including more than 3,000 in California.

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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FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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