June 2017 Church & State - June 2017

Wisc. School Agrees To Move Choir Concert From Church After AU Complaint

  AU admin

A Wisconsin public school district has agreed to stop holding a concert in a local church after Americans United raised concerns about the practice.

AU contacted the School District of Elmbrook in December to request that Brookfield Central High School’s choir stop performing its “Annual Concert of Sacred Music” inside a church and alter the selection of songs that is almost entirely religious in nature.

“After consulting with our own legal counsel, we did make the recommendation and worked with the Brookfield Central staff to relocate” the concert to the auditorium of the private Christian college Carroll University, Elmbrook Superintendent Mark Hansen told the Brookfield Elm Grove Now newspaper.

However, the school district has not indicated whether it will change the song selection.

“We’re certainly happy that they’ve chosen to move the concert,” AU Staff Attorney Ian Smith told the newspaper. “We’re still waiting to hear from them formally, hopefully addressing the issue of the content, because it was a sacred music concert and in addition to the concerns of the venue, we also had concerns of the content. “It’s two separate things,” Smith added. “Changing the venue alleviates the violation that the venue caused. The content is a different issue.”

The Milwaukee television station TMJ4 aired footage of a school board meeting at which the board reluctantly agreed to move the concert, but at least one school board member voiced her opposition to changing the religious nature of the songs.

“I’m not too concerned about the venue, but I would fight tooth and nail for the content,” said board President Kathryn Wilson. “It’s part of our history and culture.”

AU’s Associate Legal Director Alex Luchenitser told the television station the concert’s content needs to meet constitutional requirements, asserting, “School concerts, whether it is the holiday season or not, must not consist predominantly of religious music. The school music curriculum needs to be welcoming to all students, regardless of their religious beliefs.”

This is not the first legal interaction AU has had with the School District of Elmbrook. AU successfully challenged the district’s practice of hosting graduation and other ceremonies in a church; the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in AU’s favor in 2012.

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