Church hosting school concert is unholy mix of church and state

The Freedom From Religion Foundation remains concerned at a Texas school districts role in organizing tonight’s performance at a high school auditorium which was paid for by a Baptist Church.

FFRF, a Madison, Wis.-based state/church watchdog, was contacted three days before a religious 5th grade music program was scheduled to be performed at E.J. Moss Intermediate School in Lindale, Texas. FFRF informed the district that the program was a flagrant violation of the separation of church and state and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The musical, “In God We Trust,” was written and produced by Chris and Diane Machen, who run a music and worship ministry. 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.” 

FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell sent a letter on May 20: “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.”

The district changed the musical performed on May 23, since the program was not in compliance with state and federal curriculum guidelines.

Lindale Independent School District Superintendent Stan 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 selections have been limited and will be supplemented with traditional American patriotic selection with which the students are familiar.”

“Frankly, we don’t see what would be left once the district expunged the inappropriate material,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “And that doesn’t erase the injury inflicted on a captive audience of public school students being forced to memorize and rehearse fundamentalist Christian dogma.”

After the school announced the change, Pastor Tom Buck of the First Baptist Church of Lindale said that his church would be renting the Performing Arts Center at Lindale High School so the entire musical could be performed on tonight at 7 p.m.

FFRF sent a second letter warning that the school district must take care not to promote, participate in or endorse the church concert. “We certainly agree that a church is the more appropriate sponsor of such religious programming,” Cavell stated. “However, the cast of this music program is made up entirely of E.J. Moss fifth graders. The district (and any district employees) are prohibited from coordinating, facilitating, or promoting this ‘non-school’ religious program.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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