The Iowa Board of Education will meet on Thursday to discuss whether or not to allow a northeast Iowa school district to perform religious music at choir concerts.
The family of a recent graduate of the New Hampton School District have been critical of the selection of choir songs containing Christian themes such as “In This Very Room.” Other songs such as “O Holy Night” and “Hallelujah Chorus” have been performed in the past.
The executive summary by Iowa Department of Education administrative judge Nicole Proesch states, “it is recommended that the State Board affirm the decision of the local board.”
An appeal has been filed by Jim Keane and Jess Throndson, identified only by their initials in the document, in an attempt to reverse to the School Board’s March 9 decision to side with the music program. Their concerns were initially raised in 2011-2012 when they first heard the song performed in concert.
Some members of the community have voiced their support for the school district’s music program. According to the Associated Press and KCCI, the board has “received a petition with almost 600 signatures in favor of the choir’s song selections.”
Critics say the decision is a violation of the Constitutional values separating church and state considering the district is comprised of public schools.
Iowa Free Press reached out to Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers to comment on the case. Regarding the song “In This Very Room,” a group spokesperson said the song was chosen “to promote a particular faith and has no other artful or historical context.”
“It requires school children to make a public declaration of faith in a Christian church during a Christian ceremony while using public dollars and resources to do so, and using public resources to enhance a religious service is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Furthermore, the only reason this song was chosen was because a student requested it some 30 years ago and this does not allow the district to circumvent the Establishment Clause.”
The non-profit secular organization Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wisconsin, also weighed in on the decision.
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott told Iowa Free Press, “The recommendation by the administrative law judge is incorrect as a matter of law and should not be adopted by the Board of Education. The school district has advanced and endorsed religion by sending students on the annual choir ‘church tour’ and by regularly having students sing that ‘Lord Jesus…is in this very room.'”
Elliott went on to say that “If the district does not make changes, future students may bring costly and protracted litigation over this divisive religious issue.”
The Iowa Board of Education will discuss the case on August 6. The meeting will take place at 10:30 am on the second floor of the Grimes State Office Building at 400 E. 14th Street in Des Moines.