The nation's largest secular legal organization is now pressuring a Georgia public school district to force a high school band director to change the theme of the band's performances because they have a biblical theme.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group that advocates for a strict separation of church and state, sent a letter last week to Houston County Schools' legal counsel William Jerles to voice disapproval with the Christian theme of this year's performance from the Perry High School marching band.
The Nov. 15 letter from FFRF legal fellow Christopher Line explains that the theme of the high school's 2017 band performance is "Paradise Lost: The Story of Adam and Eve." The organization, which received a tip from a local complainant, claims that passages from the Bible are read aloud as part of the performance.
"Videos of the performance show students kneeling in prayer, and arranged into the shape of a Latin cross," the letter states.
Line goes on to argue that "it is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion" and cites a number of United States Supreme Court cases, such as Lee v. Weisman and Engle v. Vitale. The latter case established that it is unlawful for school officials to compose and encourage the recitation of a school prayer.
"In Lee, the Supreme Court extended the prohibition of school-sponsored religious activities beyond the classroom to all school functions, holding prayers at public high school graduations an impermissible establishment of religion," the letter reads. "Similarly, turning a school-sponsored marching band performance into a religious event violates the constitutional separation of religion and government."
The letter contends that the school district has the responsibility to ensure that "performances by school-sponsored groups do not impermissibly promote religion over non-religion or Judeo-Christianity over all minority faiths."
"Including a Christian theme, biblical passages, and Christian props in a marching band performance alienates those non-Christian students, teachers and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school. It is particularly inappropriate given that over 20 percent of all U.S. population identifies as non-religious. Younger Americans are the least religious population in the country: one-in-three millennials — those born after 1981 — are not religious."
Line's letter asks the school system to ensure that religion is not promoted in school-sponsored performances and asks the system to inform the Perry High School band director of his "obligation to remain neutral toward religion while acting in his capacity as a district employee."
The Christian Post reached out to Jerles and members of the Houston County School's communications team for comment on the FFRF letter. A response was not received by press time Tuesday.
"The Christian tones emanating from the Perry High School band dissonantly exclude a significant portion of the American population," FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement. "School officials should instead be aiming for harmony, which requires avoiding the divisiveness of religion at school events."
As Line's letter points out, FFRF has voiced its disapproval with Houston County Schools in the past. FFRF first wrote to the school district in 2012. It again complained to the school district in 2013 after learning about an elementary school prayer club being led by teachers. Although FFRF received a response to its 2012 letter, it has not received responses to any of its correspondents with the school system since then, according to Line.
Elsewhere in Georgia, FFRF pressured the Coweta County School System last month to issue a prayer guidance to district staff after it sent a complaint about how East Coweta High School football coach John Small was seen praying with his team.
The guidance stated that while coaches are not allowed to participate in team prayers led by student athletes, they do not have to flee the scene of the prayer or make their non-participation obvious.