Commentary

High School Concert Choir Bullied by ‘Separation of Church and State’ Group – Parents Fight Back

By Mark Meckler | June 19, 2015 | 2:08pm EDT
Willoughby-Eastlake School Superintendent Stephen Thompson confirming that a compromise has been reached precluding a legal challenge that would have shut down presentation of an opera by Willoughby South High School students who have worked on the production all year, on Thursday, April 30, 2015. (The Plain Dealer/James Ewinger)

When an Ohio high school caved to pressure from a “separation of church and state” group, parents found a way for the show to go on.

Willoughby South High School’s Concert Choir was all set to perform “I Am Martol,” a show they had been working on for over a year. The original opera was compiled by their choir director Ben Richard, who arranged the performance to challenge his students and stretch their artistic abilities.

Six choral pieces and one instrumental piece, all written by the contemporary Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo, were selected. The pieces were put into a particular order based on mood (going from generally dark to light). Then a simple story line about good and evil was written along with some additional music. Using the artistic strengths of the students, he added instrumental solos, a dance solo and the students’ art photography.

Right before the students’ dress rehearsal, the school was notified that the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State had received a complaint about the opera and would file a legal injunction if it were held. Afraid of a threatened lawsuit, the superintendent put the production on hold.

A month later, the parents of these students are going forward with a private production of “I Am Martol.” They found a new music director, pianist, and location since the school will now have nothing to do with it. They will receive no funding or support promoting it. The original pianist and director, both teachers in the school district, are prohibited from having any involvement. The parents are funding the show themselves and expect a big turnout.

Parents and students are disappointed that the school caved so easily to pressure from the special interest group. Christian Barrus, who is heading up the effort to stage the production at the new location, spoke for other “outraged supporters” who believe that “though the script may have vague religious references, the opera should be allowed to proceed.”

In the name of "freedom," Richard and his students have been severely censored.

Light and darkness are classic themes we can trace through most of Western art and literature. Not until the modern rise of “political correctness” did this become a problem. Would the Americans United for Separation of Church and State threaten to stop a production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure? Surely its themes of sin and morality, judgment and mercy, would offend someone.

Religious overtones abound in many plays that high schools perform all the time. Think “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Fiddler on the Roof” or even “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

Background facts make it clear that the school is only acting in fear. The Willoughby district performed “Godspell” a few years before, a production that is much more explicit in its religious themes than "I am Martol." The principal read the whole libretto early in the process and approved it. But the threat of a legal challenge – and the financial cost that would come with it – changed minds.

In the end, many more people learned about the show as a result of the threat than would have otherwise. Though the school is no longer supporting it, the show will have an even more enthusiastic audience when it is finally performed.

The choir students learned how it feels to be in the crosshairs of a special interest group determined to restrict free expression. But their parents have demonstrated what courage and conviction look like. Instead of backing down in fear as their school district was forced to do, they honored the hard work and creativity of everyone involved in “I Am Martol.” The experience will not go to waste.

School districts may be intimidated by special interest groups, but self-governing, freedom-loving parents show their kids that liberty still reigns.

Mark Meckler co-founded and was the national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots. He founded Citizens for Self-Governance to revolutionize American government. Mark appears regularly on a wide variety of television outlets, including MSNBC, ABC, NBC, Fox News, CNN, Bloomberg, Fox Business and the BBC.  He is the co-author of "Tea Party Patriots: The Second American Revolution." He also is an attorney who specializes in internet privacy law.

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