Jewish, Christian Groups Join Court Battle Against Utah School

Six Jewish and Christian groups have come together in defense of a Jewish high school student who continues to wage an uphill battle against her school’s effort to compel her to sing religious devotional songs.

The American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations joined this week with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ and the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Rachel Bauchman.

The 17-year-old from Salt Lake City has alleged that her public school’s choir class, of which she was a member, violated her constitutional rights during the 1994-1995 school year by continuously performing Christian songs praising Jesus.

In May, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed Bauchman’s complaint, calling many of her claims “speculative” and unsupported.

She appealed her case this week to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That same court handed her a preliminary victory last year by issuing a temporary restraining order forbidding her choir from singing religious songs at the school’s graduation ceremony.

The court has scheduled opening arguments for Nov. 20.

The choir, however, defied the court and prayed anyway.

Bauchman and her family, who were vilified by the predominantly Mormon community, have said they intend to press their complaint until she receives an apology from school officials, her choir teacher receives punishment and a review committee is established to set guidelines for choral music.

In their brief, the religious groups argued that the District Court erred when it failed to recognize that coercing student participation in religious worship services and using the classroom lectern as a preaching pulpit constitutes a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.

They also argued that by requiring the “plaintiff to overcome extraordinary hurdles merely to get into court, the District Court’s ruling sets an unwarranted and dangerous precedent that clearly signals those who would seek to preserve their religious liberties that they will receive an unwelcome reception in the courts.”

Lisa Thurau, executive director of the National Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty, which has assisted Bauchman in her legal challenge, said she was “delighted with this show of ecumenical support for Rachel.”

“It proves that this is not a case about being against religion, which is how it has been framed in Utah,” she said. “It proves that this is an issue that affects all of us, and that we must all be vigilant about any effort to undermine religious liberty.”

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