There are several villains in the sorry case of a local high school chorus now prevented from singing at a church during a trip to Italy, over concerns that it would be an unconstitutional government endorsement of a particular religion.
Go ahead, pick one.
There’s the local crank who was apparently so offended at the idea that the Groton-Dunstable High School Chamber Chorus would perform inside a basilica that she saw fit to lodge a complaint.
There’s the all-too-eager interest group, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which sicced its lawyer on the school district and threatened a lawsuit.
And there are the local school officials who seemed to cower under the threat of that lawsuit — or merely out of fear for what it would cost to fight it — and canceled the Easter performance, which was to take place during the singing group’s upcoming European trip.
While Americans United insisted the planned performance would be a “flagrant violation” of the constitutional separation of church and state, a number of lawyers told the Nashoba Valley Voice, which has been reporting on the controversy, that a lawsuit would be a long shot.
For starters Americans United would have to find a plaintiff with standing to sue — a student who felt coerced to perform, for example. Trouble is there don’t seem to be any of those.
Even if someone with standing could be talked into feeling aggrieved it’s far from clear that the mere act of performing inside a house of worship by a public school group would be deemed a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. (Forcing a student to worship there would be another story.)
We understand the burden that defending against this kind of ideological complaint could place on a small school district, but Groton-Dunstable should have stood up for its students. Americans United should have thought twice before using a group of teens as pawns. And the local troublemaker who first complained should consider doing some soul-searching.
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