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Rising Sun High musical draws controversy over religious themes

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Children of Eden

RISING SUN — A national organization is demanding Cecil County Public Schools cancel a school musical set to be performed this weekend because the show’s religious themes violate the constitutional separation of church and state — and has not ruled out a lawsuit if it doesn’t.

“Children of Eden,” which is loosely based on the biblical book of Genesis, is scheduled to run Friday through Sunday at Rising Sun High School. The first act of the play tells the story of Adam and Eve and their sons, Cain and Abel, while the second act deals with Noah and the flood.

While the musical does take creative liberties with the Bible stories, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit that advocates for separation between church and state, argues that’s not enough. “Crucial religious elements” and themes are still present and a central theme of the musical is obedience to Father, the character representing the god of the Old Testament, according to a press release from the organization published Tuesday.

Furthermore, the FFRF argues that the musical violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion — or no religion — over another.

Ryan Jayne, an attorney with the 27,000-member group, wrote in a letter to Superintendent D’Ette Devine that it is “inappropriate and unconstitutional” for a public school to put on such a musical and asked CCPS to cancel “Children of Eden” and take steps to prevent similar things from happening in the future.

“If they do not, we’ll evaluate our options,” Jayne said on Wednesday. “We would consider a lawsuit depending on the circumstances — that would be a last resort.”

Kelly Keeton, a CCPS spokesperson, said Wednesday night that the school system is aware of the FFRF’s complaint, but has no plans to cancel the musical. The selection of school musicals is approved by the administration at the individual schools, she said.

CCPS confirmed this to FFRF in an email from Associate Superintendent for Administration Services Carolyn Teigland on Thursday afternoon. Jayne said the school system’s response was disappointing but “not surprising.”

“We would hope that they are on notice of this potential problem so they can avoid it in the future,” he said.

Brian Curtis, who had two children graduate from RSHS and now lives in Fair Hill, first emailed Devine with his concerns about the musical last week before contacting FFRF on Tuesday. In his email to Devine, Curtis pointed to school regulations that allow religious organizations to exist as long as they’re run by students and not school employees. But since the musical is being directed by school staff, “Children of Eden” violates this rule, he argued.

In her emailed response which Curtis shared with the Whig, Devine contended that the musical is not promoting religion and that “Children of Eden” is “appropriate and legitimate” as part of a study of secular music.

“It is without dispute that the play is based on stories from the Bible,” she wrote. “However, the purpose of the production is not for the advancement or prohibition of religion. The intended purpose that music and drama play in our curriculum is to expose students to a full spectrum of musical and acting tradition. The play, Children of Eden, was selected for its inherent musical and entertainment value and the performance of such is an intrinsic part of a music education.”

Curtis told the Whig on Wednesday that he has no issue with anyone’s religious or non-religious beliefs, but simply believes strongly in the separation of church and state. He doesn’t have any additional plans to protest the play and said he plans to leave the situation in the hands of the FFRF.

Curtis further admitted he hasn’t received a lot of support for his views, but wasn’t really expecting to.

“My position isn’t a popular perspective,” he said. “I know it’s a conservative county.”

(9) comments


Kudo's to Rising Sun High School for telling national organization to go pound sand.

south of the ditch

If any tax dollars our used its wrong. Is the drama club renting the space? what about the student who wanted to try out but the music was against her religion? church and state should be separated. Under god was added decades later in the pledge. from 1892-1954 it did not have under god because of the whole freedom of religion thing being a major points for immigrants coming to this country.


Brian Curtis has no idea what he's talking about, Not a reliable source. 0/10


Hello! First off I'd like to say I'm a student at Rising Sun High school and I am in honors drama. I am not in the play. Which brings me to my first point, the group that is putting on the show is a club, not a class. Meaning it is an out of school activity. (All rehearsals are done after school ends.) Secondly you had to audition to be in the play. Everyone in it, had the choice not to be part of it. All out of free will. No one was forcing religion on anyone. The play may contain “Crucial religious elements”, but never is it being taught to the students or anyone watching. It's simply a story and it just happens to be from the bible.
In school through my whole life there has always been a religious influence or presence. For example the pledge of allegiance, "One nation under God." No one is forced to say those words and no one is forced to believe it, it's just present. Another example in history class, we did studies on different religions. Yet again another example chorus sung "God bless the broken road" and plenty of other religious songs that directly talk about the beliefs and ideas of different religions. No one complained about those events how is this anything different. If anything it's even less of an offense considering the play is an out of school club while those are in school.
As stated in the article,"the selection of school musicals is approved by the administration at the individual schools." The administration already approved, I see no reason why the play should be canceled or even considered to be so. As stated in the "Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,[it] prohibits the government from favoring one religion — or no religion — over another." By removing the play you would be making the statement religion isn't allowed in school and as stated earlier it clearly is allowed. To remove the play would also be favoring no religion over religion breaking the first amendment in the constitution of the United States of America. As well as taking freedom of speech from the people. A theater in school or out should be able to present whatever play they want as long as it does not hinder the students' ability to learn.( Must be appropriate for their age as well.)
My finally point is you do not include the amount of time, hard work, and soul these students and staff have put into this play. Through the article you keep the "school staff" and "students" as vague as possible. Through personally knowing them both I can attest both have no ill will and no intend of forcing religion down anyone's throat. It's just another form of art, another story to be told. I've seen how much time and effort the director puts into the play. (No matter how her day as gone, She remains positive and a good role for her students.) Not to mention the students, whom have spend many hours and hard work on memorizing lines, actions, and preparing the set. The simple answer to this problem is just not buying a ticket, though I have to warn you. You'll be missing a good show.


Are they using property paid for by ALL taxpayers, not just the Christian ones? Do they use electricity paid for by ALL taxpayers? Christians tend to ignore the rights of those that are not Christians, don't they? ALL THE TIME!!!


Religion isn't prohibited, but school endorsement of one religion to the exclusion of others violates national law. A school is a part of government and The Establishment Clause prohibits our government (the school) from giving preferential treatment or favoring one religion (Christianity) over others (Islam, Scientology, Satanism, Buddhism, etc.). The school made a mistake by approving this play as it's a way of showing preference for Christianity.

Also, the reference to a god in our national pledge is a generic deistic reference to whatever god or creative force in the universe that you recognize. I agree that we all know that it's really a Christian reference, which also violates The Establishment Clause, but many Christians renounced their religion in court in an effort to get this reference installed and maintained by our government. If there is a god, I wonder if it will accept their "ends justify the means" actions to impose this extra line to the pledge. The original pledge didn't include any reference to a god. That's why I always caught myself taking an extra breath to say that part.


This threat to sue is dispicable. It is Freedom OF Religion, NOT Freedom FROM Religion.


Tell me what American document says so. Neither appear anywhere. Besides, freedom of religion should include freedom from religion as well.


It's both. To have freedom to practice the religion that you wish you must be free from obligations to other religions that you don't wish to practice.

This government organization would violate The Establishment Clause by imposing Christianity without giving equal treatment to other religions. If you don't understand that, honestly ask yourself how you'd feel if this were a play depicting how awesome Islam or Satanism are to your children. Would you feel that an Islamic or Satanic play are also perfectly fine in schools?

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