UPDATE: A church at the middle of a controversy regarding the play "Merry Christmas Charlie Brown" has decided to remove itself from the issue. Agape Church will not be offering the program for school matinees and will instead just have the public performances on the weekend. Here is a letter from the church that was sent to Channel 7."In the wake of some controversy over our Christmas production offered to schools, Agape Church wishes to salute the courageous stand that the Terry Elementary Principal made in not succumbing to the pressure of one complaint voiced to the Arkansas Society of Free Thinkers and media. We applaud the support that the Little Rock School District has shown to Mrs. Register, and agree with their position that attending the matinees was not a constitutional issue. Christmas is a Christian holiday, hence its name, Christmas. Our program addresses its origins with light-hearted songs and theatre. The context of the birth of Christ is broadly described in both Old & New Testament texts.
But because of what this issue has become, as a church, it is not our desire to put hard working, sacrificial teachers and cast members in harm's way. What we want said is that we love our city, our schools, parents and families. People are at the heart of the matter to us. While we regret the loss of students who will not get this particular opportunity right now, we have taken the school matinees off the table, and welcome parents to bring their children to our public performance schedule, Saturday, December 15 @ 2pm and 6pm, and Sunday, Dec. 16 @ 6pm.
To quote bible verses and song lyrics that apply, they reflect our heart toward the Little Rock School District and everyone involved - Peace on Earth, Good will toward men."
Pastor Happy Caldwell, Agape Church
Posted Nov 29, 2012 07:03 PM:
LITTLE ROCK - An Arkansas atheist group announced Thursday they've received legal advice on how to pursue alleged First Amendment violations at Little Rock School District, over a church field trip to see "Merry Christmas Charlie Brown."
As The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers (ASF) put up their annual Winter Solstice display at the Capitol Thursday afternoon, the organization amplified calls for LRSD to block an elementary school field trip.
The controversy began when some first and second grade teachers at Terry Elementary invited students to a rendition of "Merry Christmas Charlie Brown" at Agape Church on Friday, December 14.
From there, a parent reached out to the organization with concerns the production of "Merry Christmas Charlie Brown" went against her religious beliefs. The ASF then mounted a campaign to have the field trip called off.
"We're not waging a war," said LeeWood Thomas, a spokesman for the group. "We're basically calling a foul against the separation of church and state."
The organization takes offense to students invited to a church for a field trip. Plans to present a version of the Christmas classic only compound the problem, according to ASF.
"I mean, it's Charlie Brown," said Thomas. "I saw it as a child as well, in my home, which most people are able to do."
The free thinkers said they have consulted with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center in "correcting violations of separation of church and state at Terry Elementary School in Little Rock," according to a release.
Though parents can chose to not send their child to the event, ASF says they shouldn't have to make that choice.
"They have to choose to either go against their own personal beliefs and go with the in-crowd," said Thomas, "or step aside and take a stand for their own beliefs, which they'll be ostracized and singled out."
Despite criticism from the organization, Little Rock School District officials say the field trip will go on as planned.
"The teachers wanted to provide a cultural opportunity through a holiday production and are supported by the superintendent and the principal," said Pamela Smith, LRSD spokesperson.
Smith says the district has spoken with their legal team and feels confident the church field trip does not cause a conflict between church and state.
"The school district does not support or promote religious affiliations," said Smith.
LRSD points out no parent has complained to any district officials directly over the planned field trip.