Portland Public Schools stop choirs from performing at The Grott - KPTV - FOX 12

Portland Public Schools stop choirs from performing at The Grotto over religious conflict

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PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) -

It's a long-standing holiday tradition but Portland Public School leaders are putting a stop to school choirs performing at The Grotto saying it creates a religious conflict.

Portland Public high school and middle school choirs have been singing at The Grotto around the holidays for almost 30 years, but after an activist group complained that this is too much of a religious venue for an event involving public school kids, district leaders said they had to make a difficult and disappointing decision.

"The acoustics in that room that we sang in were just incredible. And to hear yourself sing in an amazing place with those acoustics was just incredible," said Simon Brown, a Cleveland High choir student.

Last year was Brown's first time performing at The Grotto with the Cleveland High School Choir. It was during the Festival of Lights when The Grotto is decorated to the nines, drawing big crowds.

District leaders have now decided that Portland students can't perform at The Grotto anymore, because it blurs the separation between church and state.

Brown said he is very disappointed.

"To me, it's a little bit aggravating because it has been a tradition and everyone looks forward to going to sing there every single year, just because it is an amazing experience," said Brown.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation, based in Wisconsin, put a spotlight on the issue last year, sending a complaint to Portland school officials.

The group pointed out that concert goers are charged a parking fee that directly funds the Catholic Church and supports a religious mission.

District leaders say they have to abide by first amendment rights, in an email to teachers last month they said:

    "While our choirs perform songs from a variety of religious and non-religious traditions, the setting is very religious, focused on just one religion and there is an entrance fee that benefits a religious organization."

"We should be able to perform no matter what, like I mean, it shouldn't really matter," said C.J. Marquez, a Cleveland High choir student.

C.J. Marquez was looking forward to his first experience at The Grotto this coming winter, until now.

Brown said he understands that the district's hands are tied, but he said it's still a let down for hundreds of kids.

"There should be a line between it, but we have been doing it for a really long time and it hasn't bugged anybody until now," said Brown.

A spokesman for The Grotto told FOX 12 they feel terrible to lose the Portland choirs in the festival, but they respect the district's position and their spots have already been filled.

Organizers said they have a waiting list from choirs wanting to perform here from around the world.

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    The inside of the Chapel of Mary at The Grotto, where dozens of choirs perform during the holiday season.The inside of the Chapel of Mary at The Grotto, where dozens of choirs perform during the holiday season.
    An online petition has now been started to get Portland Public Schools to change its decision and allow school choirs to sing at The Grotto once again.More >
    An online petition has now been started to get Portland Public Schools to change its decision and allow school choirs to sing at The Grotto once again.More >
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