The folks in the drama department at Cape Fear Community College are just fine with staging productions about rape and incest. But when it comes to staging a show with Christian themes – well, that’s a problem.
So says Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious advocacy group that claims the school’s drama instructor ordered a student to “dumb down” the religious nature of an upcoming production because it might offend and anger people.
ADF attorney Travis Barham wrote a letter to the college alleging that drama instructor Jack Landry told Justin Graves he “could not support the overtly Christian show” because the Wilmington, N.C., college is a publicly-funded institution.
“So you ordered him to minimize or ‘dumb down’ the religious content until it was not ‘obvious,’” Barham wrote in the complaint.
“You explained that the content could anger taxpayers, prompting lawsuits; that you did not want anyone to feel ‘offended,’ (although you apparently had no such concerns when the drama club sponsored productions that included rape and incest this year); and that this production would violate the First Amendment if it included religious content.”
A college spokesman confirmed that the school received a copy of the complaint.
He declined to comment and refused to let me speak with the drama instructor.
Justin is a 17-year-old homeschooler who has dual enrollment at the college. A Christian and an up-and-coming magician, he proposed a faith-based magic show featuring skits and illusions that “illustrate a life changed by Christ.”
His fellow drama club students loved the idea and unanimously approved the project. But Landry, who is also the school’s drama club adviser, overruled the students, ADF claims.
They said their client, Justin, was told the show could not go forward unless the Christian themes were dumbed down.
“It’s not the adviser’s job to dictate what a student can and can’t say in his own production,” Barham told me. “Universities seem to think they have to go on this quest to purge their campuses of all things religious.”
Justin told me he was surprised and disappointed by what happened.
“I’ve been homeschooled for most of my academic career,” he said. “But I love to get different viewpoints and ideas and discuss them with people. I thought college would be that sort of place.”
Sadly, many colleges and universities around the nation are cracking down on religious liberty. Just ask the folks at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The prominent college ministry was de-recognized by the California State University system because they refused to sign a non-discrimination document that would have put them in conflict with their religious beliefs.
Perhaps someone at Cape Fear Community College could explain specifically how Justin should “dumb down” his production.
“My faith is my life,” Justin told me. “To me, you can’t get one or the other. I can’t dumb down knowing what my God did for me.”
I’m still trying to figure out how the college can justify sponsoring plays with themes about rape and incest while banning the Christian production. Graves said the other stage productions are “House of Yes,” which includes a theme about incest, and “Tape,” a show has a theme about rape.
“It’s absurd to say that a Christian message is somehow offensive if you are allowing all this other content to be portrayed,” Barham said.
Clearly, he said, the censorship of Justin’s production is a violation of the First Amendment.
“The Supreme Court has clearly indicated that public universities cannot single out religious speech for special, detrimental treatment,” Barham wrote in the complaint letter. “Indeed, when the government targets not subject matter, but particular views taken by speakers on a subject, the violation of the first Amendment is all the more blatant.”
Barham has given Cape Fear Community College until Oct. 10 to reverse its decision and allow Justin to proceed with his show.
So consider this the end of Act I. I’ll let you know what happens after intermission.
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. His latest book is "God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values." Follow Todd on Twitter @ToddStarnes and find him on Facebook.