Religious Free Speech Denied; Supreme Court Silences Nonsecular Melodies

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The Supreme Court failed in its duty to protect free speech and defend against anti-religious bigotry on Monday. Without explanation, the court refused to hear an important case arising from a musical incident at an Everett, Wash., public high school.

As was standard practice, the band director at Jackson High had instructed his class of 2006 seniors to choose any song from their musical repertoire to play at their commencement ceremony. Members of the wind ensemble selected an instrumental version of Franz Biebl's Ave Maria (without the famous religiously themed lyrics). The students argued that they sought only to play a pretty piece. There was nothing out-of-the-ordinary about the choice. The students had played plenty of other such tunes at school functions, including graduations. Beautiful melodies are frequently borrowed from a religious context.

This time, though, school officials nixed the choice, insisting that the title and meaning of the piece had religious connotations. The school district's associate superintendent issued a directive to principals mandating that musical selections for all graduations within the district should be purely secular.

The students sued and lost. On appeal, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the instrumental piece was a form of free speech ordinarily protected by the First Amendment because, as even the school district conceded, it had created a limited public forum by allowing the students to choose their selection. …