Sunday, May 9, 2021

IL & Ore. schools may be establishing religion


The Freedom From Religion Foundation has recently lodged complaints against public school districts in Naperville, Illinois, and Portland, Oregon, demanding that school officials stop establishing religion.

An altar at The Grotto, showing Christmas lights (M M via Flickr Creative Commons)

A picture that appears to show football players at Naperville Central High School in Chicago’s far western suburbs kneeling at a game in a prayer led by a coach, has surfaced, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation has complained about the practice, the Chicago Tribune reports.

In addition, the FFRF has threatened to sue the Portland Public Schools in Oregon if they allow school choirs to perform at a Roman Catholic shrine known as The Grotto, which they have done for some 20 years, KPTV (Fox affiliate) reported last month.

“Certainly some people who are not of the Christian faith would feel comfortable there and that’s their personal choice,” the station quoted Cheryl Kolbe, president of the FFRF’s Oregon chapter, as saying. “But it’s not fair to ask somebody in a class to opt out of something that’s part of their class simply because they have different religious beliefs.”

The shrine annually features the Festival of Lights around the Christmas holiday, but after the district barred the choirs from going this year, the issue has divided the community.

More than 3,700 signatures had been collected on a petition as of this afternoon.

I attended Grant HS from 1991-1995. I was a member of the A capella Choir and The Royal Blues. We had the honor of singing all over the state of Oregon and internationally as well. One of my favorite performances was our yearly concert at The Grotto. It became a tradition. It was never a Catholic tradition, it wasn’t a religious tradition, it was a performance tradition. It was an opportunity for us to sing together and celebrate music! The acoustics were amazing and the beauty was inspiring. The public that came to our performances were grateful for the beautiful music. So many opportunities for music in public schools are being taken away. Please don’t take this too! If a student doesn’t want to sing at The Grotto, why can’t they speak to their choral director and work something out? Why can’t this be handled on an individual case-by-case basis? I feel that your decision was unnecessary and I hope you will reverse it!

The Portland Public Schools board voted 4-3 not to pass a resolution that would have allowed the choirs to sing at the shrine.

In Naperville, photographer David Neesley snapped the photos as a person who likes to document goings-on around the community, not as an employee of the district. His photos, which are available from the Tribune, don’t involve a specific Christian religion but rather a practice used predominantly by Christians.

“When a public school employee acting in an official capacity organizes and advocates for team prayer, he effectively endorses religion on the district’s behalf,” the Tribune quoted Freedom From Religion Foundation officials Ryan D Jayne and Diane Uhl as writing in the official complaint letter sent to District 203 Superintendent Dan Bridges yesterday.

The district acknowledged receipt of the complaint, said they would look into the charges, but had no further information for the newspaper. It is indeed illegal for coaches to participate in prayer when acting in their official capacity as public school employees.

A similar situation was resolved in Concord, Indiana. A federal judge ruled that Concord High School’s music department couldn’t include a live Nativity scene in its annual Christmas musical. The community was saddened that the 44-year-old tradition had come to an end, but celebrating the birth of Jesus, the reason for Christmas, was certainly a sign that a government entity, here the school, had picked a favorite religion.

Nothing happened in the case until one student, a non-Christian, complained, which all but compelled a federal judge to issue the injunction in the lawsuit brought by the FFRF.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

Recent Posts

Md. to administer tests in math, English

Students in Md. will still have to take standardized tests this spring in math and English language arts, following action of the state board.

A week of historic cold and snow

Perseverance lands on Mars

Summer vacation, summer job, or summer school?

Biden is sworn in as 46th president

Florida balances optimism after the riots