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Calif. school bans Christian 5th grader’s talent show performance

L.A.-area elementary school blocks religious content, tells student to pick song that ‘does not say Jesus so many times’
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LOS ANGELES — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a lawsuit Friday against Los Angeles Unified School District officials on behalf of a 5th-grade student who was prohibited from performing interpretive movement to a song at a school talent show scheduled for Feb. 4 because of the song’s religious lyrics. Students were permitted to choose the content of their performances--some approved performances include songs discussing teenage “love,” relationship problems, dancing, and violent imagery--yet Superior Street Elementary School officials refused to allow the 5th-grader’s selected song, which also discusses singing, dancing, and celebrating from a religious perspective, because it allegedly violates the so-called “separation of church and state” and is considered “offensive.”

“Christian students shouldn’t be censored at public elementary schools because of their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “When religious content is censored by a public school while the content of other performances discussing similar topics is allowed, we have a major violation of a student’s constitutional rights.”

Several days after the Jan. 14 audition for the annual Superior Street Elementary School Talent Show--which had no content restrictions on the songs, dances, or other talents that the elementary students were permitted to perform, the mother was told by SSES Principal Jerilyn Schubert that her child was not permitted to perform to the song “We Shine” because of its religious message, which she considered “offensive” and a violation of the “separation of church and state.” 

When the concerned parent explained that the song represents her child--who selected the song and practiced for months --and not the school, and that there were no restrictions on what students could perform in the show, Schubert asserted that other students performing songs with profane and vulgar lyrics were also told to select different songs… in essence equating religious lyrics with profanity and vulgarity. Schubert went on to ask the mother why her child couldn’t “pick a song that does not say ‘Jesus’ so many times?”

The show takes place in the evening, the community is invited to attend, and students are not required to attend.  Songs approved by officials for the show are “Freak the Freak Out,” focusing on relationship problems, “Shake It Up,” with the theme of dancing and celebrating, and “Eye of the Tiger,” with lyrics stating that “we kill with the skill to survive.”

Daniel R. Watkins of Newport Beach, one of nearly 1,900 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving as local counsel in the lawsuit B.H. v. Garcia, which was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division- Los Angeles.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.

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David Cortman
David A. Cortman
Senior Counsel, Vice President of U.S. Litigation
David A. Cortman serves as senior counsel and vice president of U.S. litigation with Alliance Defending Freedom.