Why Are Choirs in the Portland Public Schools Performing at a Catholic Shrine? October 10, 2015

Why Are Choirs in the Portland Public Schools Performing at a Catholic Shrine?

Students in the Portland Public Schools (Oregon) perform at The Grotto every year during the Festival of Lights that takes place during December. But that’s coming to an end this year after the Freedom From Religion Foundation pointed out The Grotto is essentially an arm of the Catholic Church. It’s hardly a secular event.

“Even if PPS singing groups perform songs from a variety of religious traditions, the strongly religious setting during the Festival of Lights could create a perception that the school is endorsing and supporting a particular religious tradition,” PPS’s general counsel, Jollee Patterson, wrote in the email.

FFRF first warned the schools about the issue in 2013:

The concerts take place in The Grotto’s chapel, and “a magnificent display of nativity sets from around the world [were] on display for viewing and individual sets [were] available for purchase in the Grotto’s Visitor Complex.” The Grotto’s website describes this year’s theme as: “Angels on High.” We are informed that no choirs were allowed to perform on Christmas Eve since the chapel was being prepared for Mass, which speaks to the religious nature of the performance space.

It’s not like there’s a local shortage of places that the students could perform at, so why at a “Shrine dedicated to Mary”?

Andrew Seidel, an FFRF attorney, says he’s happy the District is finally coming around, even if it took them about two years:

“A couple of local families got in touch with us and said, Is this a problem?” says Seidel. “It is on two levels. They’re taking students to a church and courts have said schools can’t do that. The second reason is that the Grotto is making money off the backs of public school children.”

Seidel says he’s pleased PPS has decided to act, even if it took a while. “They’ve done the right thing,” he says. “We appreciate it.”

Clearly, atheists hate kids.

The only argument the other side is making here is that performing at The Grotto is tradition. But just because you’ve done the wrong thing for a long time doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it. This doesn’t hurt the students, parents, or community. All the have to do is change venues.

(Image via The Grotto. Thanks to Brian for the link)

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