A California high school says it will no longer prohibit a student from using religious music to accompany her dance performance audition for a January dance team concert. Officials with West High School in Torrance initially told student Lauren Stoudt she could not choreograph her dance to the song “In Your Presence” because of the song's religious content.
The teenager's father contacted the legal defense organization Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which sent a letter to Torrance Unified School District Superintendent Dr. George Mannon, West High School Principal Tim Stowe, and other district officials. The letter warned them that legal action would be taken if they continued to censor Stoudt's performance. The school officials quickly changed their tune and agreed to permit the teen to audition her dance routine using the Christian song.
ADF litigation staff counsel Jeremy Tedesco says cases like Stoudt's have become all too common in public schools. “The crazy thing about it is, these schools typically just review songs for profanity,” he notes. “They just don't want profanity or maybe overtly sexual themes. Well, we can all agree to that; but when the schools start viewing religion the same as they view profanity or sex, we've got a constitutional problem.”
Tedesco, who is currently litigating a case in New Jersey involving a second grade student who was prohibited from singing a Christian song at a school talent show, observes that cases of religious censorship have become extremely widespread in U.S. schools. “Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have, through fear and intimidation and misinformation, made the school officials think that they have to suppress religious speech on campus,” he says, “even if it's pure student speech because the establishment clause, the separation of church and state, requires it. That's simply not the case.”
The constitutionally correct way for schools to handle students' religious expressions, the ADF attorney explains, is to understand that they are equally protected under the First Amendment and to treat it accordingly. “The right course of action,” he asserts, “is to permit equal access for all speech and not to target religious speech.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that schools cannot discriminate against private student expression simply because that expression has religious content,” Tedesco points out. “We can all agree that the First Amendment applies to all Americans,” he says. “The First Amendment rights of religious students do not vanish once they step on campus.”
Tedesco says the Alliance Defense Fund commends the Torrance Unified School District for doing the right thing in the Stoudt matter. And, he adds, the legal defense group hopes other schools will follow TUSD's example and respect the free speech rights of Christian students.
(This article courtesy of Agape Press.)