PPS choirs will no longer sing at The Grotto

The venue has been touted for its great acoustics

PPS choirs will no longer sing at The Grotto, October 8, 2015 (KOIN)
PPS choirs will no longer sing at The Grotto, October 8, 2015 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Complaints from an out of state group has led Portland Public Schools to ban its choirs from singing at The Grotto in Northeast Portland.

The Grotto is a Catholic sanctuary and the district’s choirs perform there during The Christmas Festival of Lights. But not anymore.

“This legal complaint was brought against the venue that public school students were participating in. They felt it broke the religious boundary,” said Christine Miles, spokesperson for the district. She told KOIN 6 News the district will not challenge the complaint.

“Well, you know, we run into how do we want to best our very limited budget. Do we want to go to court on a case that we believe we could be in violation of? That would not be a good, fiscally responsible thing to do.”

The complaint was brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wisconsin. Staff attorney Andrew Seidel said they have received between five and ten complaints dating back to 2013.

“A couple of families from the area got in touch with us and asked us whether it was legal and appropriate for a public school choir to be taking children to church and having that church fundraise off the choir itself.” Seidel said this arrangement is a clear violation of separation of church and state.

“This really boiled down to the setting, the venue. That’s the most important part is the setting and the venue.” Seidel admitted this is a disappointment to the students, but he said the law has to be followed and this decision is for the greater good.

“By opting not to do this, Portland is protecting the right of all students.”

300 PPS students are involved in choir. The students would be allowed to arrange something on their own, without the direction of the schools, if they still want to perform at The Grotto.

That could be difficult though, according to Tom Fullmer, with The Grotto. Four choirs from PPS schools were scheduled to perform this year. Those slots have already been filled by other choirs.

Fullmer said this is a 27 year tradition. He respects the district’s decision but is saddened for the kids and their families.

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