Schools should never sanction or embrace religion-derived derogation toward minorities

Faith In America hopes members of the Catawba County School Board attended one of the performances of "Almost Maine" that was presented Thursday through Saturday at the Salt Block Theater in Hickory, N.C. The school board should also make a public statement about the school system's support for inclusion and diversity as worthwhile educational objectives. The performances by these students were fabulous. Read more about the effort at http://wfae.org/post/almost-maine-goes-without-school-support..

+ enlarge photo

The reason the play was performed at the local community theater instead of at a local high school – where it had originally been scheduled to be produced – is a far cry from fabulous.

It rather is somewhat disgusting and certainly troubling that such an innocuous play could be canceled because it was deemed by a local conservative evangelical pastor to somehow be unfitting for community standards – as the school's principal said in a public statement.

After watching the play, it was very obvious that it was not filled with "sexual overtones and innuendo" as the local pastor, who lobbied for its cancellation, had alleged. The same pastor last week was quoted in a National Public Radio interview saying the play contained a scene in which two male gay characters kiss.

The play contains no such scene and never did, according to the playwright who created it and who traveled from New York this week to attend the opening night performance.

The Maiden High School drama class had planned to produce the play "Almost Maine" in the fall last year but the production was canceled in October after it was reported that an unnamed church group complained about one of the play's narratives about two young gay men falling in love.

School officials issued a statement, with Principal Bob Bliss saying that the play "contained sexually-explicit overtones and multiple sexual innuendos that are not aligned with our mission and educational objectives."

"Almost Maine" is a popular production for high schools and is recognized as the most produced play in North America high schools.

Students had reported the play was canceled because one the play's nine short stories involved two gay teenagers. After viewing the play and seeing that there was no sexual innuendo, it is painfully obvious that the gay scene is what prompted the principal's fateful decision.

The pastor who has publicly lauded the cancellation of the play is Rev. Mark Ivey, pastor of Christ Alive Church in nearby Newton. Ivey published a letter-to-the-editor in the local paper praising school officials for canceling the play.

In an Oct. 14 Facebook post, Ivey called on the community to support the decision to cancel the play. In an Oct. 15 post, Ivey paraphrased a biblical verse that says Satan has been let loose in the streets of America because of prophets and preachers who have "defiled the nation by approving the shedding of innocent blood through abortion, by applauding same sex marriage relationships and failing to stand up for God and His Word."

In December, Ivey posted an article about gender equality and above the article he wrote "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools…" His post came just weeks before a transgender student in Ohio committed suicide. The student left a suicide note that cited how painful it was to live with her parent's religion-derived derogation.

Ivey on Nov. 26 posted one section of a controversial Facebook by NFL Player Benjamin Watson that said the issues surrounding recent racial turmoil in Ferguson and New York were not "a skin problem" but a "sin problem." Ivey's post didn't include the entire essay by Watson, who in his post said he knows he may perceived as a threat because of his skin color.

In addition, Ivey on Dec. 17 posted a comment "To those who riot on American streets." In the post, he quotes a Bible verse that reads "Wisdom calls to the crowds along the main street, to those gathered in front of city (hall) gates: How long, you simpletons, will you insist on being simpleminded."

The pastor has also publicly derided the Islam religion. In one Facebook post, he urged parents to "check up on your kids classwork" and posted a segment from what he characterizes as a section from the Common Core educational curriculum. In another post, he compares Islam to Nazism. In a September 2014 sermon, he warns his congregation that Islam "undercover" is coming to Catawba County. He goes on in that sermon to say: "I believe in God to enter the businesses, and the schools and the hospitals and up and down the streets of Catawba County."

Catawba County citizens should be alarmed – but not about the local community of Islam believers.

What they should be concerned about is a younger generation being taught that bigotry is worthwhile educational objective when it is disguised as religious truth.

It is critically important that Catawba County Schools let students and parents know that it does not sanction derogation of any minority citizen or group of citizens in our community.

Promoting prejudice and hostility toward minorities, whether on the basis of their religion, race, gender or sexual orientation, should never be sanctioned under the banner of community standards, especially when such derogation is presented as having some form of religious value.