School district double standard exposed in flap over choir song
Indulge me for a second, if you would. Put your morning coffee down, walk over to your couch, sit down, lean back and close your eyes.
Now, join me in imagining the face of young James Harper — you know, the crooning Grand Junction High School Christian who captured the attention of the nation when he told his band teacher to take that Islamic tune and shove it.
But in this exercise, James Harper is wearing something much more formal than a gray T shirt. He is wearing a cap and gown. That’s because today, for Harper and a couple hundred of his closest friends, is graduation day — at least for the purposes of our imaginary exercise.
Now imagine a jam-packed Ralph Stocker Memorial Stadium. Kids sitting on the lawn, white chairs, black gowns, colorful beach balls batted here and there. Parents, grandparents and underclassmen are watching from the stands — bored, ready for brunch.
Let’s fast-forward through the first part of the commencement program so we can get to the part that matters.
The prayer: a Hindu ritual.
The pledge: with liberty and justice for all.
A song by the Mighty Tigers mightiest vocalists: AAAAAAAVE MARIAAAAAA.
Teacher of the year — recognized.
State champions — lauded.
Special guest speaker —tolerated.
And, now, our moment of truth. Imagine the principal of GJHS approaching the microphone to introduce none other than, you guessed it, James Harper, the student chosen to give the student commencement address.
Bear in mind: no one in the stadium, including you, has ever heard of James Harper. The events of last week (for Harper, at least) never happened. Harper is just a gangly kid knocking at the knees as he prepares to address a packed house.
“Friends and faculty, administrators and teachers, neighbors, Moms, Dads, loved ones: I am honored to stand before you today to speak on behalf of my friends, the Class of 2012,” he says.
“Rather than give an unmemorable speech full of lame-oh advice and over-played euphemisms, I want to do something a little more profound. I am going to spend the next 15 minutes reading the New Testament, beginning with John 3:16, and continuing with other scriptural touchstones, the sum total of which animate something known in my house as Christian Salvation.
“Because this is a voluntary event and an after-school activity, and because no one is being coerced to stay, and since religious symbols commonly play a role in civil ceremonies like the one at which we are gathered, I am going to sing Amazing Grace as well — all five original verses, and the roughly 12 that have been written since.”
Harper continues: “Bear in mind, this is not a case where the school or even I am endorsing or promoting any particular religion or other non-educational agenda ... For the record, the various scriptures and Amazing Grace were chosen because their qualities provide an opportunity to exhibit the musical and theatrical skills I have developed while a student at Grand Junction High School.”
And then he begins: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son ...”
If you are a liberal and your head is about to explode, you can open your eyes now. Your boiling blood proves my point. In our society, relentlessly intolerant political correctness now prevails.
The real outrage at Grand Junction High School last week was not that James Harper quit the choir while exercising his First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. No, the outrage is that, if the tables had been turned, and it was an atheist who had quit the band after refusing to sing a Christian spiritual, within the space of 24 hours the ACLU would have sued, School District 51 would have rolled belly up, the young atheist would have been reinstated and then promoted to captain, and the choir director — oh yeah — that choir director would have been fired faster than you can spell “political correctness run amok.”
Whether or not James Harper should have just bit his lip and sung the Islamic anthem is, in my view, a debatable matter. But the egregious double standard that our school district succumbed to last week is not.
Our school district acted like a captive ward of political correctness. You don’t have to use your imagination to see that.
Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.