Though Johnson County school officials deleted a Bible passage from a student production of A Charlie Brown Christmas despite protests, several adults in the audience at Thursday’s performance recited the lines normally spoken by the character Linus, a video shows.
The scene at W.R. Castle Elementary School followed a firestorm of controversy in Johnson County this week.
Superintendent Thomas Salyer has said that, following a complaint, he consulted with legal counsel and determined that biblical references should be removed from the play and other Christmas programs in the Eastern Kentucky school district. He said he was trying to meet the letter of the law. That decision resulted in people protesting outside the school district offices in Paintsville since Monday and a request from a national legal organization to not remove the biblical lines.
Castle Elementary principal Jeff Cochran said in an interview Thursday that as instructed by school officials, no student in the play performed the scene in which Linus recites the passage from the Bible in explaining the meaning of Christmas:
“Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the manger. And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.’”
But people in the audience recited the lines, Cochran said. A video provided by East Kentucky Broadcasting in Pikeville shows that several people joined in.
After that, “there were a few more lines in the play, and that was the end of it,” Cochran said.
An Arizona-based legal organization called Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Joey Collins, a cast member’s parent who wanted to keep the biblical references. The organization’s legal counsel, Matt Sharp, said Thursday that school staff had instructed students to remain silent when it came time for Linus to recite the passage from the Bible.
“It sounded like the community really stepped up,” Sharp said.
In a letter to school district officials Tuesday, Sharp had said there was no violation of the “separation of church and state” by allowing children to learn about “theater and the origins of Christmas through participating in a stage version of this beloved program that contains the same religious elements as the television version.”
“Given that courts have consistently held that schools may organize and sponsor Christmas programs and performances that include religious songs and study the historical origins of Christmas, there is no basis for the district’s decision to censor the religious aspects of A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the letter said.
A spokeswoman for the ACLU Kentucky told the Herald-Leader this week that the Johnson County school officials made an appropriate decision.
Sharp on Thursday said he was not satisfied with the school district’s response: “I’m still disappointed to see the school district did not do the right thing and continued to censor this play and deprive these kids who have put a lot of work and energy into this of the opportunity to do the full play like they had practiced.”
He said he did not know if his organization, which advocates for people who want to express their faith, would take any further action.
“We’re not committed to any course of action right now. We are really just looking at all the options,” Sharp said.
Cochran, the principal, indicated he wasn’t satisfied with the audience response.
“I wish that they had let the kids do the play,” he said.