Group: Mesa school band’s crosses violate Constitution

Group: Mesa school band’s crosses violate Constitution

Mesa Public Schools maintains that the show is not an endorsement of Christianity, but a program to honor veterans.

A Wisconsin-based anti-religion group raised concerns to Mesa Public Schools that the Mountain View High School marching band violated the Constitution during an October show that included props made to look like the crosses at Normandy.

The school district maintains that the show is not an endorsement of Christianity, but a program to honor veterans.

The Mountain View band will perform the show again on Saturday, Nov. 15, at the Arizona Band and Orchestra Directors Association State Marching Band Championship at Glendale Community College.

The band received national attention in 2013 when it performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. It won a superior rating for its performance of the Normandy show Nov. 1 at the Arizona Band and Orchestra Directors State Marching Festival.

“While it is laudable for the Mountain View High marching band to honor U.S. military members, the use of Latin crosses in the performance sends the message that the band either only seeks to honor Christian service members or that it believes that only Christians serve in the U.S. military,” Sam Grover, an attorney for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, said in an Oct. 22 letter to the district.

ROBERTS: Drumroll please: Mountain View should march on

“Religion is a divisive force in public schools. These Latin crosses alienate those non-Christian students, teachers and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school.”

He also listed cases in which courts have ruled that crosses should be displaced by public schools.

Mesa schools attorney Thomas Pickrell said in response that Mountain Views’s white foam props made to look like crosses and a Star of David were meant to resemble the Normandy Cemetery and Memorial in France, which honors troops who died in Europe during World War II.

 “Once in position, the band played a medley of songs associated with the U.S. military’s four service branches,” Pickrell said in a Nov. 5 response to the anti-religion group.

“No prayer was given or religious music performed. No objective person who saw the performance — your complainant told us that he did not — would perceive it to be anything other than an attempt through music and pageantry to recognize the patriotic sacrifice of our U.S. military veterans,” Pickrell said in his response.

Band director Scott Burgener said Saturday’s program will likely be the last time his students perform the show.

Burgener noted that his band is not the only one to perform the show. He said he patterned it after a similar program by the L.D. Bell High School marching band in Hurst, Texas.

“We purchased the music they used, and then choreographed the show our own way,” he said. “They did use the crosses, so we borrowed that idea from them.”

Grover told The Republic in an e-mail this week that he is satisfied with Pickell’s response, but still wishes the band program had been different.

“The district appears to recognize its obligation to remain neutral toward religion, and we are satisfied with that,” he said.

“It is unfortunate that the iconic headstones at the Normandy cemetery do such a poor job of representing the diversity of today’s military. Modern military members, over 23 percent of whom are atheist, agnostic or have no religious preference, are given a diverse array of headstone emblems from which to choose, including an atheist A, a humanist symbol, and a variety of minority religious emblems,” Grover said.

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