Board, community discuss religious songs

The resignation last week of a Grand Junction High School student from an after-school men’s choir set to perform a Muslim song at an upcoming vocal competition dominated audience comments Tuesday night at a District 51 School Board meeting.

Only one person, community member Becky Stephens, signed up to speak at the meeting. Stephens told the board she applauded student James Harper’s decision to quit the choir after its director asked the choir to sing a Muslim song called “Zikr.”

Harper told The Daily Sentinel last week he quit the choir because he did not believe the choir should sing any religious song. He told other media outlets he quit over the choice of “Zikr” but did not mention the choir was also set to perform a Christian song at its next competition. He declined to provide a full interview last week to The Daily Sentinel because of threats he said he received on his Facebook page.

Stephens said she believed the “Muslim prayer” song was an inappropriate choice for the choir and said she felt it was chosen “under the guise of diversity.”

“It states there is no other truth but Allah, to which I am not supposed to be offended. Well guess what, I am,” she told the board. “Where is the tolerance for our own Judeo-Christian values this country was founded on?”

Others chimed in after board members addressed her concerns later in the meeting. One woman said it was not the religion behind the song but the specific words in it that bothered her. A man in the audience said the Muslim song chosen by the men’s choir director, “Zikr,” offended him as a taxpayer. He suggested if athletes who play sports after-school no longer say prayers before or after games, maybe choirs should no longer sing religious songs.

School Board President Greg Mikolai said the men’s choir is a voluntary, after-school activity and that no student was forced to sing the song. He said many choral music selections have religious themes and that the district did not intend to endorse any religion with the choir director’s choice of the song.

Board member Ann Tisue asked for tolerance and said this may have been the first time the choir sang a Muslim song.

“We do have separation of church and state and it was voluntary,” she said of the choir.

Board member Harry Butler, who serves as a preacher at his church, quoted the book of Philippians from the Bible and asked people to forget what’s behind and press on with the future.

Board members on Tuesday also decided the district will not offer a transitional retirement plan in 2012-13. The 110/110 retirement plan was not offered this year, either. The program allows district employees in hard-to-fill positions to announce their retirement, then continue working for up to a year while the district searches for their replacement. Superintendent Steve Schultz said it costs more to have transitional retirements than to search for candidates so the plan would not be a cost-efficient program to offer next year.


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