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High school’s choir regains right to perform in churches

SEMINOLE, Fla. (BP)–It took “persistence” and “prayer,” but the 84-voice Seminole High School Gospel Choir was handed a victory Nov. 22 when the local school board issued new guidelines allowing the choir to perform at events held in churches.

The award-winning choir was barred from performing at a community wide memorial service honoring the memories of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America.

“I am rejoicing,” Jimmy Dale Patterson told the Florida Baptist Witness. Patterson is pastor of Central Baptist Church in Sanford, Fla., where the event was to have taken place. “God used his people to bring resolution to this injustice. Not only his people, but the prayer of his people.”

The Sept. 11 memorial service, one of four at Central Baptist, was designed to honor local elected public officials, including mayors, judges and members of the Seminole County School Board.

Matt Staver, president of Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, was a featured speaker at the well-attended event, and has been working with the choir to develop guidelines for singing at “religious” events.

Liberty Counsel, in a response to the action, faxed a legal opinion outlining three federal court of appeals cases that ruled school choirs may sing religious songs, and that barring the group from singing at a church was not only unconstitutional, but also “imprudent” in light of the September 11 memorial. In a Sept. 11 press release, the organization had said they were considering a federal lawsuit.

The recent decision came after a Nov. 19 school board meeting, according to Staver, when a number of parents and clergy expressed support for the choir.

“There were certain people within the administration who sought to ban the Gospel Choir from singing at religious events,” said Staver, in the Nov. 22 release. “Persistence paid off in this case. Once the matter came to the board with broad support from the community, the issue was finally resolved. I am … thrilled by this announcement as we approach the Christmas season.”

Patterson said the decision sends a message to the community-at-large.

“I think it shows the Christian community is concerned about what is happening in our public schools,” he said. “It is an encouragement that when we make our voices heard in a clear and prophetic and uncompromised way, that we’ll have the greatest influence on those who make the decisions.”

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  • Joni B. Hannigan