4 years ago

Someone tried to keep an Alabama HS marching band from playing ‘Amazing Grace.’ They failed.

(Photo: Mark Bonica)
(Photo: Mark Bonica)

DEATSVILLE, Ala. — Someone in Deatsville does not want their local Holtville High School marching band to perform “Amazing Grace,” but it looks like they’re going to end up being disappointed at halftime of the Bulldogs’ first home game this fall.

After receiving a complain from a parent, the local school board initially sent out the following statement:

As a result of a complaint regarding “Amazing Grace” being played by the HHS band, we consulted our legal counsel and at their recommendation decided the band would not perform “Amazing Grace.” Our Constitution prohibits us from promoting religion in our educational programs and activities. While we understand the feelings of the parents who are unhappy about the decision, we have an obligation to comply with the law.

Local School Superintendent Andre’ Harrison also followed up with a personal statement explaining the decision to block the song from being played:

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. But, after consulting with legal counsel, I was reminded that, as a public school, we simply cannot endorse a religious message in our activities. 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.

The backlash to the decision was fierce, with hundreds of parents, students and local residents voicing their frustration directly to the local school leadership and in social media posts.

Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, also released a statement:

When John Newton, a former slave trader, wrote the words to “Amazing Grace” in the 1700’s, I wonder if he imagined that the powerful message would someday disqualify his song from being performed publicly?

“Amazing Grace” is probably the most loved and well-known hymn of the last two centuries and is performed an estimated 10 million times annually. A Broadway play was done about it not long ago, NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren played it on the International Space Station this year, and President Obama even sang it during a memorial service after the Charleston church shootings! But the Holtville High School band in Alabama won’t be allowed to perform it publicly because of a complaint? Give me a break.

“Amazing Grace” is the message of hope, God’s love and His mercy that people need today. The law and the Constitution don’t require this school to pull the song—this is just another example of bullying and intimidation. If we as Christians keep folding in these situations, there will be nothing left to defend. We can’t just sit back and let our religious liberties slip through our fingers.

As a result of the overwhelmingly negative reaction, the initial decision to block the song from being played has now been reversed.

Superintendent Harrison released the following statement on his Facebook page Sunday afternoon:

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. The same person called the Central Office twice and questioned the constitutionality of the band playing this song. After consulting with legal counsel and receiving an admittedly conservative recommendation, I made the decision to remove the song from the halftime show.

After word of my decision circulated, I heard from many concerned parents, and frankly I still had reservations about my initial decision. 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. Based on the additional research, I have decided today that the band will be allowed to perform “Amazing Grace” this fall.

I thank you all for your support and for letting your voices be heard, and I stand firmly by my decision.

The decision was met with overwhelming support from the local community, with many also pointing out that the University of Alabama’s Million Dollar Band had performed “Amazing Grace” in the past.

This dustup in Elmore County is far from the first time Alabama has endured criticism from an individual or group who disagrees with local residents’ religious beliefs. Perhaps most notably, several local governments have been targeted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a Wisconsin-based atheists group.

Here is a rundown of several of the ways the FFRF has come after Alabamians in recent years:

Auburn University’s football team chaplain

The Auburn football team chaplain is not an employee of the University, and is not not being paid by public funds, but the FFRF insisted he is being given “special privileges and unrestricted access because he is a Christian clergyman.”

The Auburn University administration responded to the letter with a short statement.

“Chaplains are common in many public institutions, including the US Congress. The football team chaplain isn’t an Auburn employee, and participation in activities he leads are voluntary.”

The FFRF reportedly sent similar letters to several other SEC schools, including Georgia, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and South Carolina, as well as ACC school Clemson. The group has requested documents from the University of Alabama to investigate its chaplain, as well.

Christian flag in Glencoe

FFRF sent a letter of complaint to Glencoe city hall back in March, but the flag, which flew in front of City Hall, was not removed until late June when the mayor received a second letter threatening legal action.

In an interview with Fox 6 News, Mayor Charles Gilchrist said the city attorney warned about another town that was sued over a similar matter. That town had to pay $500,000 in damages plus $50,000 in legal fees.

“That would just about ruin us,” said Gilchrist. “That’s what they do, they pick on these smaller towns that can’t defend ourselves.”

Piedmont’s Christmas parade

FFRF threatened Piedmont, Ala., with a lawsuit if it didn’t change the theme of its Christmas parade from “Keeping Christ in Christmas.”

The theme “alienates non-Christians and others in Piedmont who do not in fact have a ‘strong belief in prayers’ by turning them into political outsiders in their own community,” according to FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel. “The sentiment of ‘Keeping Christ in Christmas’ does not qualify as a secular celebration.”

The attorney’s letter told the mayor to find a “more appropriate, more inclusive, and constitutional theme” for the parade.

“It was a great theme,” mayor Bill Baker told Fox News in response. “I was totally shocked when I received the letter. It’s a small town. It’s a small Christmas parade. We didn’t think there would be any problems at all.”

The town did not back down.

The parade ended up being the largest in Piedmont history, with countless floats prominently featuring signs proclaiming the true “Reason for the Season.”

“If all the good Christian people would stick together and lift up the name of Jesus Christ and not let these atheists and non-believers scare us like they do,” one of the local parade organizers told ABC 33/40, “it would be a better world.”

Prayer before football games

FFRF also threatened Piedmont with a lawsuit if the high school football team did not stop praying before its games.

It backfired.

Rather than it being “officially” led, everyone now just comes to gather on the field before games, “and as citizens, we recited the Lord’s Prayer – out loud,” Mayor Baker said. “One week we had the entire football field encircled by people. It was really wonderful and very moving to me to see people come together and praise God and speak His name out loud.”

(h/t Elmore-Autauga News)

50 mins ago

Ivey issues ‘stay-at-home’ order for the state of Alabama effective Saturday afternoon

MONTGOMERY – Governor Kay Ivey has issued a “stay-at-home” order for the state of Alabama as coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and deaths continue to rise.

The order is effective beginning Saturday, April 4, at 5:00 p.m. and will expire Thursday, April 30, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. CT.

Exceptions apply for essential activities and businesses.

The order can be read here.

An updated supplemental State of Emergency can be read here.

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Ivey made the announcement at a press conference Friday at 4:00 p.m. CT alongside State Health Officer Scott Harris, Attorney General Steve Marshall and the Reverend Cromwell A. Handy of Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Reporters were able to attend and ask questions live afterwards while following social distancing guidelines.

In a statement, Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth said he supports the stay-at-home order.

“I agree with Gov. Ivey’s decision to issue a stay-at-home order throughout Alabama, and though many may find it inconvenient, her action is the best method of combatting and controlling the spread of COVID-19 in our cities, towns, and communities,” he said.

“Alabamians have always shown courage in a crisis, so at this critical time, the best way we can stand together is by staying apart,” Ainsworth concluded.

Ainsworth’s full statement can be read here.

Ivey said in her remarks that it became obvious to her Thursday afternoon that more must be done to flatten the curve.

The governor advised she was “convinced our previous efforts to reduce social interaction [had not been enough].”

“That’s why we are taking this more drastic step,” she added.

Ivey cited the jump in confirmed cases the state experienced Thursday, along with location data made available by news outlets, as sources of information she found relevant in making her decision.

“April stands to be very tough, and potentially very deadly,” warned Ivey.

The governor said that Alabama should expect a surge in hospitalizations that she estimates will peak in 2-3 weeks.

Harris noted the the models projecting caseload change every day.

Marshall said that intentionally violating the new order is a class-c misdemeanor.

Marshall urged law enforcement officers around the state to practice restraint in enforcing the order, only using criminal action if someone was endangering others.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 hours ago

Alabama’s budgets will face real issues post-coronavirus

Every American is fixated on the current coronavirus pandemic. It dominates local and national news, daily talk radio and Alabama’s major newspapers three days a week.

The Alabama political press is busy using this to accuse Governor Kay Ivey of wanting Alabamians to die because she hasn’t issued a “shelter-in-place” order. To their credit, usually, it’s Alabama’s budget cuts, low taxes, taxes on food, failure to expand Medicaid or abortion bans that are being used as an implement of murder by their target of the day, so give them credit for creativity.

If we as a state look past this healthcare issue and look at the damage it is already doing to the state’s economy, we will see a bunch of major issues on the horizon.

When State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) appeared on WVNN Friday morning, he talked about budgeting issues that will definitely be of major concern when the state is back open for business and the legislature resumes its budgeting process.

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Orr, who has chaired both the General Fund and Education Trust Fund committees, said that the next legislative session will be a hard one with hard fiscal choices.

Planned pay raises for teachers and other state employees are gone. Orr noted that the budgets that are passed will be “level-funding” — or close to it — and hard choices will have to be made.

But that “pain” may be short-term, not that the reverberation of the coronavirus pandemic won’t last for years. There could be long-term issues as well.

The Retirement System of Alabama has long been a hot-button in this state.

Orr sounded the alarm on the viability of the system, saying, “The RSA is among, if not the most, highly exposed defined benefit, public defined benefit plan in the country to equities or to the stock market.”

He noted, “When the stock market has tanked 30 plus percent, RSA feels a much larger hit than other retirement funds. It’s going to be a concern.”

My takeaway:

With a defined benefit payout and few opportunities to increase revenue. the actuarial tables will take a beating as the stock market slides.

Most expect the market to rebound eventually, but Orr has been talking about the RSA’s vulnerabilities for years. And this will not help.

Even if you aren’t a beneficiary of the Retirement System of Alabama, you will still feel the impact if its finances continue to head south. Orr warned of a stark reality where “taxpayers will be ending up having to pay more for retirement for all the government employees.”

Obviously, no one is thinking about this right now, but we will be revisiting this in the very near future and the impact of this could go on for a very long time.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

2 hours ago

Survey: 50% of small businesses cannot survive more than two months of coronavirus restrictions

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Research Center on Friday released its latest survey detailing the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on small businesses across the country.

The survey was conducted March 30 and utilized a random sampling of the organization’s 300,000 members. This garnered 1,172 usable responses, all small employers with 1-465 employees.

Unfortunately — but also unsurprisingly, the survey showed continued overall deterioration in the small business sector since the NFIB’s previous similar survey, which was conducted on March 20. A release from NFIB on Friday stated, “The severity of the outbreak and regulatory measures that cities and states are taking to control it are having a devastating impact on small businesses.”

In the latest survey, 92% of small employers said they are negatively impacted by the pandemic, up from 76% saying the same just 10 days prior.

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The latest survey also showed 3% of small employees answering that they are positively impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. NFIB explained that these select firms are likely experiencing stronger sales due to a sharp rise in demand for certain products, goods and services. That effect will likely wane in the coming weeks as consumers feel more secure about their personal supply levels, NFIB added.

State-specific survey data was unavailable, but NFIB Alabama State Director Rosemary Elebash said in a statement, “Without a doubt, the coronavirus has taken a tremendous toll on Alabama’s small businesses. Our members are determined to get through this, and they’re working to apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans and other forms of financial relief so they can avoid layoffs and having to close the doors for good.”

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) noted, “We have organized an Emergency Small Business Task Force to identify problems our businesses are facing during this difficult time. We need to bring clarity to issues and government orders that are often confusing and to effectively communicate solutions and direct business owners to resources that can help. NFIB is an indispensable member helping to guide this task force.”

RELATED: State Rep. Whitt on coronavirus restrictions: ‘Our small businesses are getting destroyed’

Among negatively impacted small employers in the NFIB survey, 80% reported slower sales, 31% reported experiencing supply chain disruptions and 23% reported concerns over sick employees.

One other major point in the survey pertained to how long can small businesses can continue to operate under current conditions.

With the pandemic projected to continue for weeks, it is especially concerning that approximately half of small employers said they can survive for no more than two months. About 15% of small employers responded that they cannot last even another month.

Mitigation is ongoing, however. Due to escalating financial stress on the sector, more small businesses are now talking with their bank about financing needs than was the case 10 days ago. Approximately 29% of small employers have talked with someone at their bank or with the Small Business Administration (SBA) about finance options, and another 23% are planning to do so soon. A total of 38% of small employers have not, and do not, intend to do so, per NFIB’s survey.

Read the full survey here.

RELATED: University of Alabama program helps connect small businesses with federal relief funds

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Alabama automakers lend a helping hand in COVID-19 battle

Alabama automakers are stepping in to aid their communities in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, including support of crucial testing services and production of protective face shields for healthcare workers.

Toyota’s Huntsville engine factory is producing 7,500 protective face shields for local hospitals.

In addition, the plant has donated 160 safety glasses to local hospitals, along with $25,000 to the United Way of Madison County to support COVID-19 relief efforts.

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“With our plant idled, Toyota Alabama is eager to contribute our expertise and know-how to help quickly bring to market the equipment needed to combat COVID-19,” the company said in a statement today.

Similar efforts are also happening at Toyota facilities nationwide.

Other Alabama automakers are offering community support as well.

Hyundai Motor America and its Hyundai Hope On Wheels program have donated $200,000 to the University of Alabama at Birmingham to help expand community testing efforts.

The grant will support the existing drive-through testing site in downtown Birmingham and help other sites in Jefferson County provide much-needed screening, said UAB Medicine CEO Will Ferniany.

“Support like this gift from Hyundai Hope On Wheels helps our frontline medical staff understand that they are not alone in this fight,” he said. “This grant will help further UAB’s commitment to providing access to communitywide testing.”

The grant will also be used to expand access for pediatric-specific testing services. About 20 percent of the downtown testing site’s patient population is age 25 and under, and officials from UAB Medicine, the UAB Department of Pediatrics and Children’s of Alabama hope to continue to expand testing for this group.

Nationwide, Hyundai is donating $2.2 million to support drive-thru testing centers at 11 children’s hospitals throughout the U.S.

Hyundai Hope on Wheels supports families facing pediatric cancer, and the company said the pandemic is a particular risk to children with cancer who have compromised immune systems.

Hyundai operates an auto assembly plant in Montgomery, which has been idled amid the outbreak, as have other auto assembly plants in the state.

Honda’s plants across the U.S. are also helping out during the crisis, including its factory in Talladega County.

Honda has pledged $1 million to food banks and meal programs across North America. Plants also are donating equipment, including N95 face masks, to healthcare providers, deploying 3-D printers to manufacture visors for face shields and investigating ways to partner with other companies in producing equipment.

In Tuscaloosa County, the Mercedes-Benz plant has donated N100 reusable filters,  protective suits and other supplies to local hospitals, as well as $5,000 to the DCH Foundation to help with the hospital’s curbside testing process.

Mercedes is also working with the Alabama Department of Commerce on ways the company or its supplier network can support making parts for the medical industry, and it is providing expertise to other manufacturers that are producing healthcare supplies.

The automaker also hosted a LifeSouth community blood drive that received about 95 donors.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 hours ago

Birmingham nonprofit aims to feed medical workers with food from local restaurants

A new charitable effort has sprung up in Birmingham that aims to help two of the groups hardest hit by the COVID-19 outbreak: health care workers and local restaurants.

The initiative is called CareHealth and the premise is that the group will use donated money to buy food from locally-owned restaurants and then it will give those meals to hardworking health care professionals across the Magic City.

CareHealth is a project from Urban Avenues, a collaborative coalition of charitable organizations that focuses on improving the City of Birmingham.

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So far, the initiative has partnered with local favorites like Saw’s BBQ, Eugene’s Hot Chicken and Crestline Bagel to provide meals across Birmingham’s health care system.

According to a release, CareHealth has delivered 1,700 meals in its first week and supported 15 restaurants in doing so.

The meals are delivered by volunteers, who receive training and equipment that keeps them and their deliveries safe from contamination.

“CareHealth offers a double dividend for every dollar invested. Health care providers get meals amidst their battle and the light stays on for our food community due to the good people that are investing,” said John Lankford, founder of Urban Avenues.

Those interested in donating to CareHealth, requesting a meal or getting involved in the project can do so at the Urban Avenues website.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.