A New Jersey school board is being sued for barring a second-grader from singing a Christian song at her school's talent show. The eight-year-old was told by local school officials she could not sing the song “Awesome God” in the show because doing so would be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
Alliance Defense Fund, a pro-family legal organization, is suing the Frenchtown School Board on behalf of the eight-year-old student. But, after ADF filed suit against the school, a judge denied the legal group's request for a temporary restraining order that would allow the young student to sing her chosen vocal selection. Still, ADF attorney Jeremy Tedesco says the lawsuit will continue nevertheless, because his client has the right to freedom of expression at after-school events, and a school “cannot discriminate against only religious songs within that context.”
To do so is called viewpoint discrimination, Tedesco points out. And, he explains, such singling out of particular views for censorship “is always found unconstitutional under the First Amendment. There hasn't been a case where the Establishment Clause within the elementary school or public school setting has ever justified viewpoint discrimination.”
The ADF lawyer notes that, although “Awesome God” was censored by the school officials, they allowed other children participating in the talent show to sing such songs as “You Give Love a Bad Name,” a song recorded by the rock band Bon Jovi, as well as other songs with mature, sexual content in the lyrics.
Frenchtown School officials claimed they prohibited the young girl from singing her Christian selection because allowing the performance would have constituted a violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, or the so-called “separation of church and state.”
But Tedesco says that is a preposterous position, since “there is absolutely no way that you could view a private person's song within the context of a talent show” as an official endorsement by the school. A talent show, he asserts, “is put on for the express purpose of displaying someone's talents, skills, and abilities, by including a song that they choose to sing, and, within that context, the Establishment Clause really doesn't even come to bear. This is private speech.”
The talent show, called “Frenchtown Idol,” took place last Friday evening in the Frenchtown Elementary School auditorium without the added grace of “Awesome God.” Tedesco says ADF made every attempt to secure the brave second-grader's right to sing her song, and, although their efforts were unsuccessful at this early stage, he is confident her legal team will prevail as the case moves forward.