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Public School District Bans Student Choirs From Performing at Christmas Festival: 'Just Because It's a Tradition Doesn't Mean It's Legal


"It was a sad decision for us to make and it was a hard decision."

The Grotto's Christmas Festival of Lights (TheGrotto.org)

Choirs at a number of public schools in Portland, Oregon, have been banned from performing at a Christmas festival following complaints by an atheist group that students' participation is a violation of the First Amendment.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter complaining over the long-standing tradition of choir groups at Lane Middle School and Grant, Wilson, Lincoln and Cleveland High Schools performing at the Grotto's Christmas Festival of Lights, the Oregonian reported.

The annual event, which dubs itself "the largest Christmas choral festival in the world," is run by the Grotto, a Catholic shrine, leading atheists to complain to the Portland Public Schools. That complaint led officials to ban performances, which had reportedly gone on for decades.

"It was a sad decision for us to make and it was a hard decision," Portland Public Schools spokeswoman Christine Miles told the Oregonian, explaining that the officials had never received a complaint before. "If we know there is a legal risk and we don't do anything, then that's not the right thing to do."

Miles told KOIN-TV that it wouldn't have been fiscally responsible for the district on its "very limited budget" to go to court over a case that officials could very well end up losing. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor was resolute that her organization was right in speaking out against the schools' participation in the event, viewing the schools' performances at the venue as a problematic endorsement of religion.

"Just because it's a tradition doesn't mean it's legal," Gaylor told the Oregonian. "Whole generations of students in Portland are being sent the message that it's fine for public schools to promote Catholic events."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation said that the complaint was based on concerns from two unnamed families in Portland.

(H/T: The Oregonian)

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