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High Schools Move Forward With Concert After ACLU Complaint
ACLU of Montana sent letters to area high schools after it received a complaint from an instructor about a concert
High school choirs in Kalispell and Whitefish will perform at a concert sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints despite receiving a complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana.

In a letter sent to the principals at Whitefish, Flathead and Glacier high schools, ACLU public policy director Niki Zupanic told the schools the event would violate the students’ constitutional rights.

“This situation poses serious constitutional concerns and demonstrates a lack of respect for the individual religious beliefs of the students involved,” Zupanic wrote. “We request that the school reconsider this decision.”

But school officials in Kalispell and Whitefish say student attendance is not mandatory and that the schools’ are within their legal rights to have the choirs participate.

“It’s an opportunity for our kids to perform at the request of a community organization,” said Dan Zorn, assistant superintendent for the Kalispell School District.

The event is being billed as a celebration of “the birth of our savior Jesus Christ” and hosted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Kalispell on Dec. 5 and 6. The event includes a variety of musical performances, including choirs from the local high schools. According to school officials, the choirs were invited to the event and the district is not endorsing religion by attending.

“Our choir gets invited to go to nursing homes, community group events, you name it, and we encourage our students to go out into the community,” said Whitefish High School principal Kerry Drown.

A few weeks ago an instructor at one of the high schools contacted the ACLU of Montana and alerted them of the upcoming church-sponsored event. After reviewing the case, the group sent letters to all three principals.

“School-sponsored participation in a church concert, billed as a celebration of ‘the Birth of Our Savior Jesus Christ’ is a violation of Whitefish, Flathead and Glacier high school students’ religious freedom, plain and simple,” said ACLU communications director Amy Cannata. “There is no gray area. This is public school endorsement of a particular religion in direct violation of the First Amendment.”

According to Zupanic’s letter, the schools are violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment that prohibits public schools from advancing or endorsing religion.

“This provision not only precludes conduct that has a religious purpose, but also conduct that has a religious effect, such as religious coercion, endorsement or delegation,” Zupanic wrote. “Similarly, from its inception, the Montana Constitution has expressly prohibited combining religious services with educational activities.”

Principal Drown said after receiving the letter this week, the schools looked into the matter.

“We looked into it and I feel certain that we are within the boundaries of the law,” he said.

Drown and Zorn also said that any student who does not want to participate in the event could opt out. But Cannata argued that a student who decides not to participate could face criticism from others for doing so.

“Allowing students to opt out is not a solution,” she said. “All students should feel welcome at school, no matter what they believe. No student should be made to feel like an outsider or ostracized from the school community because he or she does not want to participate in this concert.”

Zorn said the school choirs have participated in the event before and no student has ever been criticized for not attending.

“I’m not aware of any situation like that and if there was a situation where a student was chastised for not attending, we’d act on it,” Zorn said.
 
On 12-11-13, madmax commented....
Wonder why are school system is messed up, this is on reason.  I still find it hard to believe that these nice young kids want to put on a play and work hard and someone who does not care about anything but their rights tramples on…
 
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