The issue of separation of church and state was the topic at the March 18 meeting of the Reynoldsburg school board, stemming from an orchestra concert originally scheduled to be held at Reynoldsburg United Methodist Church.
After a parent expressed concerns about a school event being held in a place of worship, school district officials, worried about the possibility of a lawsuit, moved the concert to Capital University.
Compounding matters, parents were not told why the concert was moved – they were simply told it was an opportunity to perform in a better venue. An overcrowded auditorium, groups of students who did not have a dress rehearsal due to a snow day, and students who had to find their own transportation to Bexley created pandemonium.
A crowd of about 50 people attended the board meeting, with most expressing their support for the speakers with applause and cheers. Leading the effort was Mike Bruggeman, who said the district should have kept the concert where it was originally planned and taken its chances with a lawsuit.
"Sometimes you have to fight the good fight," he said. "I would have applauded the school district had they done that."
He said elected officials need to consider what taxpayers would prefer.
"Did you do what was right for yourself or what was right for the community of Reynoldsburg?" he asked. "You need to represent our best interest."
Pastor David DiYanni said the district could have further explored its legal options before moving the concert, as many law firms will offer their services for this kind of issue for free.
"These kinds of situations are not going to go away," he cautioned. "This makes a mockery of our educational system, which is supposed to be based on diversity … We need to be more open-minded when it comes to a decision like this."
DiYanni pointed out the church offered its building for free, whereas Capital University – a private Luthern college outside of the community – charged the district a $1,000 fee.
"There is a deadly disease spreading through our community," he said. "It is called ‘theophobia,’ the fear of allowing anyone to talk about God in public or on public property."
DiYanni said the cure is, "Education of what our Constitution really has to say."
Timothy Kulich said the concert planned for the church was simply a matter of one community organization helping another.
"This concert had nothing to do with Christianity or any belief system," he said. "This event was about community helping community … No one was asking anybody to come to church."
He continued, "How long, as a community, are we to sit down and be quiet? I’m tired of someone asking me to be tolerant of intolerance."
Kulich pointed out when there is a tragedy at a school, nobody thinks twice of a prayer vigil or religious symbols placed in honor of victims.
"Where are the nay-sayers then? The greater community at large would not stand for that. When kids are killed and the crosses go up, nobody ever says anything. Why? Because they know they would lose. So why do we let them push us around?"
School board member Jim Slonaker said the decision to move the concert was a difficult one.
"We had to make a call on this very quickly," he said. "Our first responsibility is to the school and the education of our children. If we are sued, they are not suing just for the point. There is going to be a dollar amount attached to that."
Slonaker continued, "Once we take our eye off that to fight these types of battles, our children are the ones to suffer."
However, Slonaker said he stands by the decision to move the concert because that’s what the legal counsel recommended.
"Personally, I agree with you," he told the speakers. "The part that offends me is the fact they took their agenda and twisted something that was a gift to the kids into something it was not."
Cheryl Max, president of the board, agreed the district made the best decision possible given the limited time frame and information.
"As a board member, I think we acted appropriately with the information we got from our attorneys," she said, noting if the concert was held in the church and it was challenged, there was probably no way the district could win a lawsuit.
She, too, personally believes the concert should have been permitted to continue in the church as it has been in previous years.
"I had several conversations about how ridiculous I thought that was," she said. "I think it’s a great venue."
She thanked the speakers for bringing forth their concerns.
"I do appreciate all of you coming," she said. "You’re really not alone. You are fighting the battle in the wrong place."
Board member Chip Martin agreed it was a difficult call.
"I really do respect what everybody is trying to bring forward," he said, noting that board members have to consider what is best for the students and taxpayers as a whole. "I do think it is ridiculous that one individual can cause so much chaos."