An Alabama high school has been performing what are effectively Christian church services, complete with pews and hymns, during halftime at high school football games, and a national atheist group has asked them to stop, The Birmingham News is reporting.
The high school marching band at Leeds High School in Leeds, Alabama (population: 11,000), puts on "Christian-themed" halftime shows that include church pews set up on the fields, and the band performs Christian hymns, including "Will the Circle be Unbroken," "I Saw the Light," "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee" and "Amazing Grace," according to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which has filed a complaint.
The Foundation claimed that a "concerned parent" alerted the group to the performances. What's more, the group claimed that the parent was told by the band director that any band member who doesn't like performing the Christian performances is free to drop out of the band. It is not clear, as of this writing, if the parent is the parent of a member of the band or simply another student at the school.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor notes that public schools cannot "advance or promote religion" as doing so violates the Constitution's guarantee that church and state must be kept separate.
"The band director's actions are way over the line. In a secular setup, he cannot be permitted to foist his religion on others."
What's more, it's almost a "statistical certainty" that at least one performer in the high school band is not a Christian, and he or she should not be compelled to perform Christian hymns on school time.
Specifically, the FFRF is asking Leeds City Schools to ensure that its officials do not promote religion at high school events, even those that take place outside of regular classroom times (such as football games). Further, the group is asking the band director to "be neutral towards religion" while acting in his capacity as an employee of the district.
In a statement, Leeds City Schools Superintendent John J. Moore said that he would not comment any further on the halftime performances until the district's legal counsel has had time to review the FFRF's complaint. In the meantime, he says, the "Christian-themed" halftime performances will continue.
This is not the first time the Freedom From Religion Foundation has acted in response to supposed religious endorsements in public schools. In fact, the agency's website maintains a list of ways in which public schools across the country supposedly promote religion. Those include faculty-led prayers, the distribution of Bibles and other religious educational materials to students, and the teaching of Creationism.
Do you believe the Leeds High School marching band should be compelled to stop performing "Christian-themed" halftime shows? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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