NEWARK, N.J. – A public school prohibited a second grader from singing a religious song at a talent show, prompting a lawsuit Friday alleging violation of the girl's constitutional rights.
A federal judge declined an emergency request to compel Frenchtown Elementary School (search) to allow 8-year-old Olivia Turton (search) to sing "Awesome God" at the Friday night show, but allowed the lawsuit to go forward.
School officials in the western New Jersey community had said the performance would be inappropriate at a school event. A message seeking comment from a school board attorney about the judge's ruling was not immediately returned.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler (search) in Trenton to consider the case later came just hours before Olivia had hoped to sing the pop song by the late Rich Mullins.
One verse has these lyrics: "Our God is an awesome God/He reigns from heaven above/with wisdom, pow'r and love/Our God is an awesome God."
The girl was told May 10 that she could not sing the song. Her mother, Maryann Turton, protested at a school board meeting that night. She was told three days later by Joyce Brennan, the school superintendent and principal, that the religious content made it inappropriate at school, according to the lawsuit filed by the child's parents Friday morning.
The lawsuit charges that the school board violated Olivia's constitutional rights to freedom of speech and due process.
The lawsuit, supported by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal advocacy group based in Scottsdale, Ariz., argues that the constitutional separation of church and state does not restrict an individual's religious speech.
The girl's lawyer, Demetrios K. Stratis (search), questioned how the Frenchtown school could reject Olivia's choice but allow another act based on the opening scene of "MacBeth."
"They've got a scene about boiling animals and witchcraft, but they won't allow a song about God," Stratis said.