A parent of a then freshman girl in the New Hampton District sought in the 2011-2012 school year to block the choir from singing in a series of performances at local churches, singing religious songs at the Winter Music Festival and performing the song “In this Very Room” at the final concert of the year.
The parent said the songs show a preference for Christianity and violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prevents the government from establishing a religion. The issue came before the New Hampton School Board, which allowed the choir to continue its traditional performances after reviewing the issue.
The parent appealed to the State Board of Education and the administrative law judge. The current choir director, Jill Irvin, testified her song selections reflect the strengths of the various choirs, different cultural references, different seasons, and the songs that would best fit each musical performance. Irvin said she does not choose the music based on religious significance, nor does she provide any religious instruction on the meaning of the content.
The law judge found the school district correctly reviewed the issue for violations of the Establishment Clause and did not abuse its discretion in allowing the performances to continue.
The state board will hear the recommendation from the law judge at their meeting Thursday in Des Moines.