Awesome speech case in Newark

Here we go again, back into the church-state turf defined by the words “viewpoint discrimination.”

It is one thing for a state-funded institution to decline to sponsor religious events and speech in forums that it controls. That’s why an Air Force Academy football coach is not supposed to put up Christian banners in a locker room. It’s something else to tell an evangelical chaplain that he cannot preach evangelical doctrine in an evangelical service attended by students who freely chose to be there.

Now this.

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A public school prohibited a second grader from singing a religious song at a talent show, prompting a lawsuit Friday alleging violation of the girl’s constitutional rights.

A federal judge declined an emergency request to compel Frenchtown Elementary School to allow 8-year-old Olivia Turton to sing “Awesome God” at the Friday night show, but allowed the lawsuit to go forward.

Note that Associated Press writer Jeffrey Gold is covering a flap caused by a song sung by an individual, not a school choir or ensemble. This is individual free speech and, thus, to single out this song and not others means that we are dealing with “viewpoint discrimination.”

School officials merely said that the song’s Christian content was inappropriate in this public context. Thus:

The lawsuit charges that the school board violated Olivia’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech and due process. The lawsuit, supported by the Alliance Defense Fund . . . argues that the constitutional separation of church and state does not restrict an individual’s religious speech.

The girl’s lawyer, Demetrios K. Stratis, questioned how the Frenchtown school could reject Olivia’s choice but allow another act based on the opening scene of “MacBeth.”

“They’ve got a scene about boiling animals and witchcraft, but they won’t allow a song about God,” Stratis said.

What’s next, students being allowed to do readings from Narnia and Little House on the Prairie?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Kevin Jones

    Would reciting some of Isabella’s lines in Measure for Measure be OK?

  • Robert

    Sorry, I think Narnia would definitely be off Newark’s list. It is after all a Christian story written by a Christian.

  • Natalie

    Actually, Narnia might be permitted now since Disney has endorsed it with a movie scheduled for release this Christmas.

  • Sarah

    Our God is an awesome God He reigns from heaven above with wisdom power and might Our God is an awesome God.

    How is this “Christian?” Even a Jew would agree that he is awesome, mighty, wise and reigns from heaven above. No mention of Jesus or the saints. And a lovely song at that. Our country is truly going to hell when they would rather watch animals be boiled by withces than allow a child to sing a song about our creator recognized by many religions…not just Christian.

  • wildwest

    OUR god is an awsome god. The assumption is that there is more than one. Obviously the song was written by a polytheist.