An Idaho elementary school under threat of a federal lawsuit has reversed its decision to ban a first grade student from performing a song they deemed “too religious” in a talent show.
Lena Whitmore Elementary School, in Moscow, Idaho, will now allow Joy Green to perform sign language to a Chris Tomlin song called, “We Fall Down,” according to Matt Sharp, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund.
“Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas,” Sharp said in a statement. “Removing the voice of faith from schools sends a message to all students that religion is something to be ashamed of.”
Had the school not reversed its decision, Sharp said he was prepared to file a federal lawsuit accusing the Moscow School District 281 of violating the child’s Constitutional rights.
The controversy started last month when the first grader auditioned for the talent show. The song she selected, “We Fall Down” is performed by Contemporary Christian artist Chris Tomlin. By all indications, the audition panel, made up of the music teacher and other teachers, was well received.
But shortly after the audition, Joy’s mother, Quandice Green, received a telephone call from the principal. She was told her daughter could not perform sign language to the song because it was “too religious,” the ADF said.
Green was instructed by the principal to select a less religious song. She said that was not an acceptable option because her daughter only performs sign language to religious songs.
A few days later, Green was given a copy of District Policy 5350.03 – “Private Religious Expressions.” The policy forbids religious expression on school property if there is a “captive audience.” That phrase, according to the ADF, was underlined and a note was attached reading “Talent Shows.”
The implication, according to the ADF, was that the talent show audience was a captive audience.
And while the religious song was deemed inappropriate, the school allowed another student to perform a cheer that included lyrics referencing Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Salt-n-Peppa and “shake your butt.”
Dale Kleinert, the superintendent of schools, told Fox News that the principal misinterpreted the district’s policy. He said he was not even aware there was a problem until he got a letter from the Alliance Defense Fund.
“As soon as we got the letter, I said, ‘whoa this is not right,’” Kleinert said, noting that he immediately got in his car, drove to the school and told the principal to “get this fixed.”
Sharp said while the ADF is glad the decision has been reversed, the rule itself is still on the books.
“The school district is off to a good start in allowing this performance to occur, but it needs to revise its unconstitutional policy so that this doesn’t happen again,” Sharp said in a statement.
Kleinert said he’s already asked the district’s counsel to reexamine the policy.
Joy will perform her talent on May 22.