FFRF trumpets First Amendment victory in Georgia

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has ended a Georgia high school marching band’s incorporation of religion into its performances.

Last fall, it was reported to FFRF that the director of the Rome High School marching band chose a Christian worship theme for 2017. The performance was called “Alleluia!” which literally translates to “Praise ye Yah,” meaning “Praise the Lord.” Furthermore, the performance featured stained-glass church windows as props and included flags with the names of multiple books from the bible written on them. The musical selection included biblically inspired songs, for example: “Praise Ye The God of Gold,” “Sing Aloud to God Our Strength” and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”

FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to Rome City Schools Superintendent Louis Byars informing the district that the Christian-themed performance was a constitutional violation. 

“Rome City Schools has a responsibility to ensure that performances by school-sponsored groups do not impermissibly promote religion over nonreligion or Judeo-Christianity over all minority faiths,” wrote Line. “Religion is a divisive force in public schools. Including Christian-themed music and 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.”

This is particularly inappropriate given that over 20 percent of the national population identifies as nonreligious, with one-in-three millennials classifying themselves as a religious “none.” Line noted that with these statistics, it is certain that that there are nonreligious students in the Rome High School marching band.

It was also outlined in the letter that where the band practices and performs is irrelevant, even if it is outside of regular instruction time. The message of religious endorsement is the same.

A response from Rome City Schools was received this week, notifying FFRF that after it was informed by Line’s legal letter in the fall, the marching band modified its halftime performance to remove the religious props and add in secular music.

“We hope the district learned a valuable lesson about keeping religion out of all school programs,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This will both protect Rome City High School students’ rights of conscience and save the school district legal trouble going forward.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members and chapters across the country, including over 500 members in Georgia and a state chapter. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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