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Alabama school district ignores atheist group's demand to stop marching band from playing Christian music

(YouTube/Pell City Marching Festival)Leeds High School marching band appears in a screen capture of their performance at the St. Clair County Marching Band Expo at Pell City High School on Sept. 8, 2016.

A school district has ignored an atheist group's demand to stop the marching band of an Alabama high school performing Christian music during football games.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) has filed a complaint against Leeds High School over its marching band's halftime show performances that feature Christian hymns such as "Will the Circle be Unbroken," "I Saw the Light," "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee" and "Amazing Grace."

The national organization further noted that the marching band's performances resemble a Christian church service, with church pews set up on the football field.

In a letter sent to Leeds City Schools, the FFRF contended that the halftime performances violate the separation of church and state, noting that public schools are not allowed to "advance or promote religion."

"[T]urning a school-sponsored marching band performance into a religious event violates the constitutional separation of religion and government. Leeds City Schools has a responsibility to ensure that performances by school-sponsored groups do not impermissibly promote religion over nonreligion or Judeo-Christianity over all minority faiths," FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote in a letter to Leeds City Schools Superintendent John J. Moore.

In response, Moore issued a statement saying the complaint has been forwarded to the school board's attorney, but he indicated that there are no plans to stop the performances.

"We have submitted the FFRF's complaint to the (school) Board's attorney for review. We do not have plans to stop the show," he said in a statement to AL.com.

The FFRF said that it received a complaint from a "concerned local parent," who claimed that the band director told band members that those who do not support the religious performances can "drop out of band."

The atheist organization asserted that it is a "statistical certainty" that there are nonreligious students in the high school marching band.

The group asked Leeds City Schools officials to ensure that school-sponsored performances do not endorse religion, even those that take place outside of religious instruction time. It also asked the band director to be neutral towards religion while acting in his capacity as a district employee.

Leeds High School Principal Brent Shaw contended that the show was "not meant in any way to offend anyone or try to convert anybody to Christianity." He said that the school will consider removing some of the props, but the shows will otherwise stay the same, noting that the students worked hard on their performance.

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