June 2015 Church & State | Editorial

An Ohio public school recently decided to give a performance of an opera that clearly promoted Christian theology.

The opera, titled “I Am Martol,” was written by Ben Richard, a choral music teacher at South High School in Wil­loughby. The main characters of the opera all have Greek names from the original version of the New Testament: Ham­ar­tolos (sinner); Kurios (God); Charis (the holy grace by which God brings people to Christ) and Peirasmos (temptation to sin). The opera’s plot is that Hamartolos is visited by God’s messenger, Charis, who offers him God’s message of salvation. Hamartolos resists an opposing message of temptation, accepts God’s message, and accordingly finds salvation and ascends to heaven at death.

This sounds like it would have made a great church production, but it’s clearly not right for a public school.

A member of the community alerted Americans United, and AU’s Legal Department advised the school that it was not a good idea to proceed with the opera. A compromise was reached. The opera was performed off campus, and no school funds were spent on it.

The editorial board of the Cleveland Plain Dealer had a problem with this. The newspaper went so far as to run a roundtable attacking Americans United.

Board member Sharon Broussard insisted that there was no church-state conflict, despite the clear Christian cast of the opera.

Another board member, Peter Krouse, groused that removing “anything faith-based…from the learning process distorts reality.” Of course, objective instruction about religion is perfectly acceptable in a public school, but this opera wasn’t an example of that. It was an example of proselytizing.

Perhaps the most ill-informed response came from Ted Diadiun, who asserted that Americans United was “poking [our] noses into other Americans’ business.”

People who say things like this display a great ignorance of how civil liberties are defended in America. It’s almost always because someone reached out to a national organization for help. Thank goodness groups like Americans United are there to poke their noses into other people’s business – because sometimes that “business” is trampling on the rights of others.

The Supreme Court ruled more than 50 years ago that public schools may not sponsor prayer and religious worship. It’s remarkable that in this day and age – a time of expanding religious and philosophical diversity – that no one at this school realized that this production was inappropriate.

Because that did not happen, a member of the community blew the whistle. At that point, AU stepped in to ensure that the school was following the law by respecting the rights of all of its students by not getting into the business of promoting religion.

The Plain Dealer may not understand this. The people whose rights were almost violated certainly do.