Montana Schools Attacked For Christmas Music Participation

The FFRF has not limited it’s attacks to Colorado or South Carolina this year. Now schools in Kalispell, Montana are under fire for allowing students in school choirs to participate in a community event held at a church. Because the event is church-sponsored the FFRF and the ACLU are arguing that participation in the event represents the establishment of religion by the government.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana (ACLU-MT) sent letters to two school districts demanding they cancel the participation of school choirs in a traditional Christmas concert, says The Daily Inter Lake, billed as the “Peace on Earth Community Christmas Celebration.” The school choirs are listed among more than 10 musical performances at the two-day event at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Kalispell, Montana. It is not school-sponsored.

The ACLU-MT and FFRF contend that the school choirs’ participation in the religious event gives the appearance that the school districts are endorsing or advancing a specific religious message or denomination. The school districts insist that allowing students to participate in traditional Christmas concerts held by community groups does not violate anyone’s rights.

According to FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel, “The main concern to us is to have public schools in this case taking their students essentially to a worship service. It’s factually no different then taking them to church and having them sing in a church choir.”

Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Darlene Schottle, on the other hand, believes participation neither endorses nor promotes a religion or religious message. She said it is simply an opportunity for students to perform for the community at a public venue and does not equate to sponsorship.

Schottle said when students perform for a group such as Rotary, or at a nursing home, the school is not endorsing the group’s ideology or a business’s practices simply because of an event theme or venue. “If any group, whether faith-based or not, wants our students to perform and it fits into our schedule, we quite frequently allow students to perform,” Schottle said.

The two side also differ on whether students are participating in such events voluntarily or are coerced. Schottle said the district believes the opportunity to “opt out” is sufficient. Niki Zupanic, ACLU-MT’s Public Policy Director, believes students are put in a difficult position when asked to make such a decision. “It creates personal conflict. Students want to fit in and they may be labeled as a troublemaker.”

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