FFRF wants Ga. school band’s disharmony to cease


The Freedom From Religion Foundation wishes the discordant notes from a Georgia public high school band’s overtly Christian theme would stop.

A local resident has informed FFRF that the director of the Perry High School marching band has chosen a Christian theme for the band’s 2017 performances: “Paradise Lost: The Story of Adam and Eve.” Not only is the story directly derived from the bible, but passages from the bible are read aloud as part of this performance. Videos of the performance show students kneeling in prayer, and arranged into the shape of a Latin cross.

It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion, FFRF contends.

“In Lee v. Weisman (1992), the Supreme Court extended the prohibition of school-sponsored religious activities beyond the classroom to all school functions, holding prayers at public high school graduations an impermissible establishment of religion,” Legal Fellow Chris Line writes to the Houston County Schools’ legal counsel. “Similarly, turning a school-sponsored marching band performance into a religious event violates the constitutional separation of religion and government.”

Houston County Schools has a responsibility to ensure that performances by school-sponsored groups do not impermissibly promote religion over nonreligion or Judeo-Christianity over all minority faiths, FFRF contends. Including a Christian theme, biblical passages and Christian props in a marching band performance alienates those non-Christian students, teachers and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school. Younger Americans are the least religious population in the country: One-in-three millennials — those born after 1981 — are not religious. So, it is a statistical certainty that there are nonreligious students in the Perry High School marching band. Certainly, there are plenty of appropriate secular alternatives that the band director may select.

It does not matter whether band practices and performances take place outside of regular instructional time, FFRF contends. The message being sent is still one of religious endorsement. It is also legally immaterial that students volunteer to participate in the band. The U.S. Supreme Court has summarily rejected arguments that voluntariness can mitigate unconstitutional religious promotion.

“The Christian tones emanating from the Perry High School band dissonantly exclude a significant portion of the American population,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “School officials should instead be aiming for harmony, which requires avoiding the divisiveness of religion at school events.”

FFRF is asking Houston County Schools to not impermissibly promote religion in school-sponsored performances. The district should remind the band’s director of his constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion while acting in his capacity as a district employee.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with roughly 30,000 members and chapters across the country, including 500-plus in Georgia and a chapter. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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