- (Photo: ABC)
A church in Little Rock, Ark., canceled one performance of "Merry Christmas Charlie Brown" after an atheist organization complained and said students should not be exposed to a show with Christian themes as part of a school field trip.
Happy Caldwell, pastor of Agape Church, issued a statement on the church's website on Wednesday, stating that while he believes the school was within its constitutional rights to bring students to the production, the church has nevertheless decided to cancel a Friday showing for students.
"It is not our desire to put hard working, sacrificial teachers and cast members in harm's way," wrote Caldwell. "What we want said is that we love our city, our schools, parents and families. People are at the heart of the matter to us."
He also said Principal Sandra Register of Terry Elementary School took a "courageous stand" when she decided not to cancel the trip after learning that someone had complained about it.
The controversy began when a parent became upset at the school's offer to take students to the church to watch the play, which is based on the "A Charlie Brown Christmas" cartoon and contains some Christian themes. Although the field trip was optional, the woman planned to allow her daughter to attend the production out of fear she would be singled-out by her classmates. The upset mother also contacted the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers (ASF), the organization that complained to the Little Rock School District on her behalf.
LeeWood Thomas, a board member and spokesperson for ASF, told The Christian Post it was never his organization's goal to stop the play's production, though they did not think the school should have made it into a class field trip.
"The church has every right to hold a Christmas play for the community and invite everybody there. It's just that invite through the public school system is where we saw the violation of the separation of church and state," said Thomas.
Thomas also hopes the school has changed its mind about taking similar trips in the future.
"One of the things that I'm hoping comes out of this is that the school, in knowing that the Friday field trip play is being canceled, I still hope that they recognize that what they were doing would have been illegal," he said.
Mathew Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, previously told CP that it would have been constitutional for the school to take its students to the production, "especially" when parents were given the opportunity to keep their children from attending. A spokesperson for the school district also told Fox News that the district's legal team had determined the trip was acceptable.
Though students will not be able to attend as part of a class trip, Caldwell and his church have invited parents and children to attend public performances on Dec. 15 and 16.
"To quote Bible verses and song lyrics that apply, they reflect our heart toward the Little Rock School District and everyone involved – Peace on Earth, Good will toward men," wrote Caldwell (emphasis his).