BRANDON, Miss. — A high school band was nixed from the halftime show of the season-opening football game on Friday after district officials said that the band’s plans to perform “How Great Thou Art” violated a federal court order against school promotion of religion.
“The Rankin County School Board and District Office are very saddened students will not be able to perform their halftime show they have worked so hard on this summer,” the district wrote in a statement.
As previously reported, last month, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves fined the district $7,500 for contempt after he agreed with the American Humanist Association (AHA) that a consent decree from a recent lawsuit involving the district had been violated.
“Defendants are permanently enjoined from including prayer, religious sermons or activities in any school sponsored event including but not limited to assemblies, graduations, award ceremonies, athletic events and any other school event,” Reeves wrote. “That means administrators, teachers and staff of the Rankin County School District may not participate in any religious activity, or solicit or encourage religious activities at school or while performing duties as a RCSD employee.”
He threatened the district with a $10,000 fine each for any additional violation.
The suit began in 2013 after AHA took issue with an assembly at Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood, during which a representative of Pinelake Baptist Church participated in a student-organized assembly that included a video dealing with teen problems, such as premarital sex, drugs, cutting, suicide and other issues.
Those featured in the film explained that they were able to overcome their struggles through the power of Jesus Christ. The presenter also spoke to students about the hope that is found in Christ, and led students in prayer.
As a result of the consent decree and Reeve’s order, the Rankin School District officials told that band that it couldn’t perform “How Great Thou Art” during the halftime show, as it would be a violation of the court order.
Brandon High School band director Tim Cagle told AL.com that the Rankin County School Board knew about the song selection since last year but didn’t oppose it until recently.
“When I picked the halftime show in late February of last year, it was with full administrative support, but the Rankin County School Board has decided that we are not allowed to perform the half time show due to recent court rulings,” he wrote in an email to students.
“If we were to perform this show, taking a chance of how it would be perceived by others, and the court deems it is in violation of previous rulings, not only would the Rankin County School District face harsh fines, but also RCSD would be forced to terminate the employment of anyone associated with the decision to perform the show,” Cagle said.
However, while the Brandon High School band was not permitted to play the song during halftime, according to reports and video footage, dozens of parents and students began singing the song from the stands anyway.
“It bothers me because you look at the schools and all of the school shootings and all the bad things that are happening, and wonder why. It’s because we’re allowing evil to step in,” parent Kimberly Moore told Mississippi News Now. “I don’t fault our school district because I know they are trying to do what’s right as a community and for the school. But in one sense I don’t fault ’em and in another I’m like we gotta take a stand on behalf of Christ.”