Petition & Oregonian knock Catholic ban

grotto-christmas-lightsBy Faith News Note:

Portland Public Schools this month banned school choirs from singing at a Portland Catholic nature retreat called The Grotto.  A complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation said the venue was sending too much of a religious message and their letter triggered the ban.  Here are different voices on the Grotto school choir ban.

Student starts petition for the right for public school choirs to sing at the Grotto

“I attended Grant HS from 1991-1995.  I was a member of the Acapella 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!”


Oregonian Editorial Board defends the students.

“Considering that many other school districts continue to send their choirs to the festival, the decision seems like an overreaction to a climate increasingly suspicious of any religious affiliations. Five Portland Public Schools choirs were among the 150 school, church and civic choirs scheduled to participate in this year’s festival, which runs from the day after Thanksgiving until Dec. 30…The district also acknowledged it does not ban all relationships with faith-based organizations: Consider its multimillion-dollar partnership with Concordia University, a private Christian university. “

Dr. Pat Burk, an assoc. professor in the Dept. of Educational Leadership, PSU told KOIN-News

“The constitution says the government shall neither compel nor inhibit the free exercise of religion, so it has this duality in the Constitution. The case that is emerging is that The Grotto is specifically a religious setting.”It’s a matter of degree that defines each case, he said. If the setting is designed to communicate a religious message, that could be a sticking point.“But The Grotto has been used historically as a performance venue for high schools from all over the region,” he said, and not so much as promoting a specific religious view.“Is the religion that’s represented purely Christian, which would be in keeping with that particular setting? Or are other cultures, traditions, Hanukkah, music from Muslim communities, Native American communities (represented)? The degree to which the performance itself is more multi-cultural, that may mitigate the particular surrounding.”

From Freedom of Religion Foundation

“According the Seidel, the issue is two-fold. “They’re taking students to a church and courts have said schools can’t do that,” he said. “The second reason is that the Grotto is making money off the backs of public school children.” The Grotto charges patrons for parking, money which goes to fund religious activities…”The stage is also flanked by two religious statues, one on either side,” noted Seidel. “Murals depict different moments in the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Via Matris or seven sorrows of Mary, and the massive center mural is named ‘the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mother in heaven.’ Visitors sit in pews marked with crosses and the building is crowned by a golden dome and cross. … Any reasonable public school student would be justified in thinking that their school was endorsing the religious message.”

The Grotto’s Director Tom Fullmer said,

“If a student didn’t want to perform or if parents didn’t want their child to perform, meet up with the choral director and figure something out on a case-by-case basis perhaps.  But to ban all choral students from singing at The Grotto, I just feel is a really wrong way to handle something that has become bigger than I think they thought it might be.”


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