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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)