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School board bans student choirs from performing at nativity event

(Wikimedia Commons/Steve Burke)Nativity scene at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Albuquerque, NM, Jan 2008.

A school board in Wake County, North Carolina has banned several school choirs from performing at the Apex Christmas Nativity Celebration after receiving a complaint from an atheist group.

The event, sponsored by the Church of Latter-day Saints in Apex, is a three-day celebration of "the birth and ministry of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ," according to the official website.

Wake school officials canceled the performances after the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent them a video in which a church official described the event as "a wonderful opportunity for you to bear testimony of Christ to your friends."

The FFRF argued that the participation of school choirs at the annual nativity celebration was unconstitutional, The News & Observer reported.

Tim Simmons, a Wake schools spokesman, said that the district's attorney advised the board to prevent the choirs from performing because it would put the district in a position of potentially endorsing a religious viewpoint.

Simmons said that students can still participate individually at future Apex events. He added that the schools are not barred from participating at other nativity events as long as they are not an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

"No one was particularly happy with the outcome of this. Some schools had been participating for several years," he remarked.

FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor expressed her relief that the school choirs were not able to participate in last week's event.

"It's great that officials finally realized the dubiousness of school attendance at such an obviously religious ceremony. It was unacceptable that public school choirs were performing at this function," she said in a statement.

Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore told the nativity organizers in November that the event "has been a positive experience for our students in past years." However, she informed them that the choirs will not be able to participate this year due to the legal review.

Patrick Elliott, a staff attorney for FRFF, said that the annual celebration caught the attention of the organization last year when a parent complained about the choirs performing at the event.

"Public schools are a place for all students regardless of religious belief or non-belief. To have public schools involved in a Christian event celebrating the birth of Jesus is a problem," Elliot told News & Observer.

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