June 2015 Church & State | AU Bulletin

A public high school in Willoughby, Ohio, agreed to hold a student opera off-campus as a private event after Americans United raised concerns about its religious content.

The opera, “I Am Martol,” was composed by Ben Richard, a choral teacher at South High School. A member of the community notified AU that the work centered on a dying “sinner” who is visited by an angel of the Lord. The angel assures her that she can still achieve salvation if she passes certain tests by avoiding particular sins. She succeeds, and at the end of the opera, she ascends to heaven.

Americans United’s associate legal director, Alex J. Luchenitser, characterized it as a “religious opera.” In a letter to the school district, the church-state watchdog pointed out that the production amounted to a promotion of religion and would violate the First Amendment if it proceeded.

The district temporarily postponed the opera, but AU soon announced the compromise in collaboration with attorneys for the district. School officials agreed to not promote the opera and turned it over to students and parents. In addition, no school funds were spent on the performance.