District balks, will allow Christian-themed song

LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) — A fifth-grader will be allowed to perform to a Christian-themed song at his school talent show after a lawsuit accused the Los Angeles Unified School District of violating his free-speech rights, it was announced Wednesday.

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The nation’s second-largest school district, the PTA and the student’s lawyers reached an agreement permitting the 10-year-old to appear in Friday night’s talent show at Superior Street Elementary School, Superintendent Ramon Cortines said in a statement.

The district is “very pleased” that the situation was resolved, Cortines said.

The boy, a San Fernando Valley resident who is identified in court documents only as “B.H.,” planned to perform “interpretive movement” to the song “We Shine,” according to a lawsuit filed last week.

The song proclaims that “Jesus is alive and he’s coming again” and has the chorus: “We are the redeemed, we are the ones who are free, and we belong to Jesus.”

The boy auditioned for the talent show last month and a few days later, the school principal told his mother, Adriana Hickman, that the song was offensive and violated the separation of church and state, the suit contended.

The mother was asked, “Can he pick a song that doesn’t say Jesus so many times,”‘ said David Cortman, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian-based legal organization that represents the mother.

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The mother noted that the talent show had not listed any restrictions on the content of performances and was offended when she was told that several other students were told to change their songs because they contained profanity, Cortman said.

“The mother was troubled that (the principal) had just compared Christian speech to vulgarity,” he said.

The lawsuit filed Friday in federal court accused the school district, school board, superintendent and the school principal of violating the boy’s constitutional rights of free speech and exercise of religion.

“Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gates,” the suit argued.

Cortman argued that the boy’s use of the song on school property does not violate the constitutional separation of church and state because it was the youngster’s personal choice and the school did not select it.

The suit, which is pending, contends that the district created a policy for the talent show that bars performances with a religious message. It asks a judge to strike down the policy.

On Tuesday, the boy’s lawyers also sought a court injunction to permit the student to perform but withdrew it the same day after learning that the district had agreed to let the show go on, Cortman said.

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District spokeswoman Monica Carazo said the district determined that the boy’s performance won’t violate church-and-state-separation rules because the talent show was not a required school event.

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