Second-grader Bette Ouellette performed sign language to one of her favorite songs in an audition for an after-school talent show at Vintage Parkway Elementary School in Oakley. She was praised for her talent, but school officials insisted that she could not perform at the talent show because the song was Christian. The Ouellettes were not aware of any other children being told that they could not participate.
Bette’s dad, Brent, thought the school overreacted, and he called Pacific Justice Institute. PJI staff attorney Matthew McReynolds sent the school a legal demand letter this week. The letter cites several legal authorities condemning censorship of student expression, including a nearly identical case in New Jersey where a school’s attempts to ban a religious song from a talent show were ruled unconstitutional. “All we want is an apology and a promise that this won’t happen again,” said Brent Ouellette. He added, “There are a variety of religious views within our own household, but we respect each other and don’t try to silence anyone. We think the school should be the same way.”
PJI President Brad Dacus commented, “Common sense and the federal courts both tell us that school talent shows are clearly student expression protected by the First Amendment. Censoring one student’s expression based on religious content is therefore unconstitutional. We are hopeful that these straightforward principles will be quickly recognized by the school.”