GROTON (CBS) – A student ensemble is being forced to change its tune after someone complained that a Cathedral Concert planned for Easter Sunday Mass in Italy violated the separation of church and state.

The Groton-Dunstable Regional High School Chamber Chorus has performed all over the world, including at the London Olympics and even in medieval castles. The award winning group is used to being in high demand.

What they are “not” used to is having to cancel out on a gig.

“It’s a real shock to all of us, because I don’t think we’ve ever experienced anything like this,” one student said.

The chorus was chosen out of 800 other groups to perform at St. Anthony’s Basilica in Italy for Easter Sunday Mass. The trip to Italy and also Croatia was being privately funded, but the chorus had to bow out. The reason: A group threatened to sue them.

A former school committee member, Leslie Lathrop, contacted Americans United For Separation of Church and State.

That group wrote a letter to the school superintendent saying in part “Taking public school students to worship services as part of a public school activity is a flagrant violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

Poster promoting chorus's trip to Italy (WBZ-TV)

Poster promoting chorus’s trip to Italy (WBZ-TV)

The school district decided not to fight it in court.

“The fear was probably that maybe we’re not in violation, but if it’s gonna be a long extended court case, the possibility of an expensive legal battle,” said Mike Woodlock, the school’s principal.

Members of the chorus WBZ spoke to are upset because they believe it has nothing to do with religion.

They pointed out they had performed at churches before and no one complained.

Leslie Lothrop knows people are angry at her. She denied suggestions she filed the complaint because she’s Jewish. “For a public school to do something that appears to endorse a particular religion, which this does, it’s just not allowed. It’s prohibited,” she said. “I’m just concerned the chorus adheres to what the statutes say.”

The group will still travel to Italy and Croatia in April for several performances.

Comments (38)
  1. They should go as planned originally an d not deviate from it. The Supreme Court Case Law in past history allows it. They are a school and they are performing before a large crowd as part of their training. The Vatican and Pope is a seperate country and he is a head of state. They are singing before or at the request of a head of state. The singing of Christmas songs in public schools in USA will be banned if the group that is attempting to stop them is surrendered onto by them through willingness to not defend themselves from them.

    The kids have a once in a lifetime opportunity before them. The person fighting them has nothing to gain but to ruin it for the young people wishing to participate and to do so freely.

    The Constitution states freedom of religion , not from it. Their is no Governmental endorsement that one mis join it or violate their own while singing at it.

    The kids in schools attend funeral mass , and its a part f growing up. They attend Government meetings legislative openings and etc… where a preliminary oath and prayer to god is made. They all have chaplains. The town meeting form of Government is where many may sing on stage and it in many towns opens with a pledge to the flag and an opening statement prayer by the chaplains to the town meeting appointed by them to do an opening service. In Braintree in the past prior to the mayoral change of Government , it would open with a multi religion leaders prayers one after the other at the podium.

    1. “Soon upon their graduation from high school a ceremony will take place giving out their diplomas and at it a preliminary prayer will be be given by a member of the clergy and likely several other faiths of the town at the commencement of it .”

      No, that’s been unconstitutional since Lee v. Weisman in 1992, a quarter of a century ago.

      And I can’t help but notice all the vitriol from supposed “Christians” in the comments.

      1. John Brennan says:

        and I can’t help but notice that you cannot see that these kids just want to sing. They sing all over and it has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with just singing. Why can’t they sing there?

    2. Thanks for mentioning the issue of clergy-led prayer at a graduation ceremony. I’m certain Americans United will be addressing that as well with the school.

  2. Mary Guerin says:

    What an unfortunate missed opportunity for these hard working young people. It’s a shame how often the ignorance of one, can turn a positive, educational experience into a money grubbing lawsuit. How many other school choirs have attended without incident. This lady needs to get a life.

    1. John Grimes says:

      The only money would be that paid to the attorneys.

  3. Soon upon their graduation from high school a ceremony will take place giving out their diplomas and at it a preliminary prayer will be be given by a member of the clergy and likely several other faiths of the town at the commencement of it . The kids should be allowed to do the concert as originally put forth and not alter it as they appear to be about to do, their is no need to do so !

    1. Uh, no. Clergy-led prayer at school functions was shown to be a violation of the Establishment Clause in Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992).

    2. “faiths of the town” You have isolated the problem in that one phrase. People have faith. Groups of people that share a faith might be a religion. A town does not have faith or faiths. A town is a government organization so, by our constitution, it cannot have faiths. The town’s people can have faiths or they can live free from faith. Got it? Good!

  4. This is reprehensible behavior on the part of this woman. Former school board member with an ax to grind so target the innocent for full effect. There is no law being broken. This has nothing to do with religion. They’re an award winning chamber chorus that performs at venues like this all the time. Why? Because they’re really good and the types of venues that value their talent includes places like this one in Italy. The school system doesn’t have the money or the stomach for any legal battle. That’s extremely unfortunate. You can’t allow people like this to set any kind of precedent. The kids have changed their plans to not perform at the Basillica, but they will perform in Italy and Croatia, and they will shine just as they always do. They need our support!!

  5. John Brennan says:

    Leslie Lothrop, you are a rotten human being. You ruined what was most likely a once-in-a-lifetime moment for these kids. Spare me the legal angle you took. This was 100% personal on your part. You intentionally stuck your nose into something that had nothing to do with you on any level,nor would it have affected your daily routine, yet you felt compelled to ruin it for them. Did it even occur to you to ask what the kids wanted?? It was none of your business, yet you made it your business. You are a horrible human being and should be ashamed of what you caused to these children.

    1. I could not agree more. Lothrop should change her name to Loathsome. Just an angry bitter busy body with a vendetta against the Catholic Church, the last acceptable bias in this country. Years ago she tried to rid the town of its beloved mascot and was soundly defeated. Pitiful….

  6. Sounds like the same old excuse as always involving religion!!!! Someone from one certain religion that doesn’t think its fair or right for these kids to experience the thrill of a lifetime has to ruin it for them!!! Same thing happened in Newton about 20 years ago when I was a FF in Newton Center and we put up Christmas lights at our station and again a person from a certain religion complained and we were ordered to take down the colored lights but our Captain refused and we kept them up but after the holidays he got transferred and we have yet to take down our lights!!!! Crosses on buildings, Santa Clause figures in windows or even colored lights, whats the big deal!!! Let people enjoy their religion and beliefs and mind your business…..

    1. “what’s the big deal!!!” It’s called the constitution. “Let people enjoy their religion and beliefs and mind your own business…..” Absolutely! Knock yourselves out! In a church! Or in your own home, or in the park, or at school or at work. Just don’t put up religious symbols on government property. Why? Because government property belongs to all of us. We all don’t share the same religion. It is offensive to some of us when you use our fire department building to display your religious symbols.

    2. John Grimes says:

      Yeah, Mark, people in that “certain religion” are just subhuman, aren’t they? Glad you pointed that out.

  7. Paul Bokoski says:

    Leslie Lathrop, I don’t know you nor do I want to know you. You are one of the reasons society is as screwed up as it is. This group has a chance of a lifetime to perform but an individual like you has to deny that chance. This group is not breaking any rules and it is not costing the town or district any money. Get a life and don’t be so evil!

  8. WBZ should not let this story go. Clearly the government is not trying to establish a religion. The choir is responding to an invitation. The first amendment to the Constitution limits the power of the government, not the people. WBZ needs to do more interviews and the Superintendent needs to stand up to threats against the freedom of the people and just send the kids on their way, because the results of any legal interference with the wishes of the choir would be the best education for Americans everywhere. Power to the people!

    1. “The first amendment to the Constitution limits the power of the government, not the people.”

      A public school IS “the government”. If any or all of the students do this as private citizens, there’s no problem. The problem arises when “…taking public school students to worship services as part of a public school activity”, as the letter says.

  9. Leslie Lathrop, you are a spoiled, petulant child. I noticed the story mentioned you are a former school committee member; I would say that particular body is much better off without you. I, also, find it highly ironic that you are forcing your viewpoint on a singing group in protest of what you believe to be the forcing of viewpoints upon them. There used to be such things as olive branches that were figuratively extended across cultural and ideological divides; but never mind all of that. For you, it’s obviously more important to keep people divided and to keep them from communicating and interacting. That’s the way understanding is built between cultures. All you have done is confuse and embarrass the school committee, your town and most of all those wonderful kids in the group. You should have minded your own business rather than ruin an experience that had nothing to do with you. Your brand of hurtful rhetoric is the kind of thing that led to the national scale backlash that has left us with Donald Trump taking the Oval Office on Friday. That’s on you and people like you.

  10. This one women Leslie Lathrop lives her life in deep bitterness and revenge… spends her time figuring out ways to hurt people…
    This is not the first time she has stirred things up in Groton….!
    Very very sad existence on this earth… I believe in Karma…

  11. John Brennan says:

    I wonder if the Groton Superintendent would let it be known how much would be needed to fight this in court, so a “go fund me” page could get started. These kids deserve the opportunity to sing where they get invited to. This was never about religion until Leslie made it that way.

  12. 15 years ago this sam woman called me an “anti-Semite” when I would not support her effort to rename the school district mascot from the Crusaders to something else. This has always been about the religion and her own complex. This is a travesty and shame on the School District and the School Committee for not fighting the good fight. She walked out of Committee meetings in a huff in the past when she didn’t get her way. She is a bully.

  13. George Smith says:

    George Smith According to the history of this choir they have performed at many different religious venues, so how are they promoting a particular religion? Also these trips are PRIVATELY funded which negates any violation of church and state connection. The city/residents need to grow a set and stand up for the rights of its students. Denying these student this opportunity by this individual and organization IS a violation of the first amendment of freedom of choice and expression.

  14. Eric Jones says:

    Shame on the school officials, a really sad and pathetic lesson they just taught these students

  15. Yes. Constitution 1, Christians 0. It is done. HAIL SATAN!

    1. John Brennan says:

      This wasn’t about religion, Peter. It’s about singing where invited. No endorsements, just singing. Thanks for the laugh though.

  16. While I am not a very religious person who strongly believes in the separation of church & state, I find this to be totally absurd. These kids have the chance of a lifetime and “someone” is taking that away from them with this ludicrous complaint. All I can say is this “someone” must have a pretty miserable life if this is all they can think of doing!

  17. Since it is a privately funded trip I am having a problem seeing any conflict.

  18. John Brennan says:

    “”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
    or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
    speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
    assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This is the first amendment. They are not establishing a religion by singing nor are they endorsing one (modern interpretation).”

    Saw this post elsewhere. Perfect.

    1. A government school can’t schedule attendance at religious services as part of an official school activity. It’s that simple.

      1. John Brennan says:

        No Brian, this isn’t as cut and dry as you think it is.

  19. No wonder people voted for Tump

  20. John Brennan says:

    After reading this take on the story, what a piece of contradicting dung Lathrop is. She is ok with them singing in a church, just not on Easter?

  21. John Grimes says:

    You know, the comments against this decision are overall bigoted, ignorant or both. Few if any are thoughtful.

    Yeah, it’s a shame that these kids won’t have this experience, and if Christians hadn’t exhibited such privileged, arrogant behavior for so long in the US, I doubt anyone would have given this a second thought.

    You’re truly reaped what you’ve sown. Maybe you should try emulating Jesus’ humility.

    1. John Brennan says:

      What would you say to someone like me who doesn’t believe in God, then? Even you have to admit something smells fishy with Leslie Lathrop coming out of the woodwork to file a complaint now when she had no interests/ties in this at all. Why now? Why didn’t she file a complaint when she was on the board when these kids were going to other religious venues? Surely she knew then they were going. These kids were only going to sing, not partake in the mass, much like they did in 2014. Lathrop knew then, too. So why now? Even an Atheist like me can see that these kids singing are not endorsing nor promoting a type of religion. They are simply singing. That is all they are doing.

    2. John Brennan says:

      “Don’t care where it is, but if it isn’t during school hours and isn’t required or suggested or good for extra credit then there doesn’t seem to be a *constitutional* problem with it.” Your own words echo true here…

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