On Nov. 17, an ad announced that Flathead-area public-school choirs would be performing at a “multi-denominational” concert “celebrating The Birth of Our Savior Jesus Christ” at the Mormon temple in Kalispell Thursday evening.
Soon after the Nov. 17 ad ran, members of the Flathead Area Secular Humanist Association expressed concern to School District 5 officials about public-school choirs performing at religious venues and events.
We were assured that students are informed that they may opt out of Christian events without negative consequences. However, this response ignores the fact that a public school’s participation in a religious event in and of itself constitutes an endorsement of that religion. Coercing someone, even unwittingly, to participate in certain religious beliefs is the essence of religious intolerance — something our public schools should conscientiously discourage.
Unfortunately, aggressive expressions of religious intolerance are not limited to the opinion pages of local newspapers. We have been contacted by high school students who were the victims of hateful actions and words at school for expressing their non-Christian beliefs. And we have been contacted by one member of the community about his child’s decision to discontinue participation in the school choir program because of fear of retribution by fellow students for opting out of religious events.
Whether you are a Christian or a non-Christian, if you want your child to grow up with an appreciation of religious tolerance, we who belong to the Flathead Area Secular Humanist Association urge you to contact your local school district requesting that participation in religious events cease immediately.
—Richard E. Wackrow, Whitefish