School district banned band from performing iconic hymn 'Amazing Grace' - until parents got involved
Posted August 2, 2016
An Alabama school district reversed course and overturned a short-lived ban on a public high school band's performance of "Amazing Grace" — a move that came following an outcry from frustrated parents.
Superintendent Andre L. Harrison of Elmore County School District in Wetumpka, Alabama, released a statement on his Facebook page, announcing the reversal and detailing why the iconic song was banned in the first place.
"Last week, the Elmore County School District received a complaint about the Holtville High School Band playing the hymn 'Amazing Grace' during the halftime show of the football game," Harrison wrote.
He said that the same person called twice with specific questions about the constitutionality of students playing the song — inquiries that led the district to discuss the potential legal ramifications for alleged First Amendment violations.
"After consulting with legal counsel and receiving an admittedly conservative recommendation, I made the decision to remove the song from the halftime show," Harrison explained.
But after that decision was made, he said that he began to hear from concerned parents who disagreed with banning the "Amazing Grace" performance.
That, teamed with Harrison's own qualms about his initial decision, led the district to take a second look at the issue.
"I asked counsel to do further research on this issue and present me with options that would keep the district in legal compliance, but permit performance of one of the most iconic songs in the history of our nation," he said.
Harrison said that "based on that additional research" the Holtville High School band will, indeed, be permitted to perform "Amazing Grace" during the next school year, concluding the statement by emphasizing that he stands by his decision.
The superintendent's latest comments differed from statements that he made last week. According to the Elmore & Autauga News, he initially said that, though he wished to celebrate "Amazing Grace," its inclusion was inappropriate.
"When the question was raised about the band playing Amazing Grace, a song we all grew up singing, my first reaction was this is a message that should be celebrated," Harrison reportedly said in an earlier statement. "But, after consulting with legal counsel, I was reminded that, as a public school, we simply cannot endorse a religious message in our activities."
He continued, "I completely understand the frustration of some of our parents, but we have an obligation to follow the law, even when we don't want to."
Initially, the Elmore County Board of Education agreed with this sentiment, releasing a statement saying, in part, that "Our Constitution prohibits us from promoting religion in our educational programs and activities."
Now, of course, that story has changed.
As The Christian Post noted, the Rev. Franklin Graham, who had previously lamented the ban, wrote a Facebook post praising the reversal.
"If Christians had remained silent, this change would most likely not have occurred," Graham wrote. "I applaud the parents and community members who let their voices be heard."
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