September 20, 2005

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: media@aclu.org

NEWARK, NJ -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today announced that it is seeking to participate as a friend-of-the-court in the case of a second-grade student who was barred from singing a religious song in a voluntary, after-school talent show.

"There is a distinction between speech by a school and speech by individual students," said ACLU of New Jersey cooperating attorney Jennifer Klear of Drinker, Biddle & Reath in New York City. "The Constitution protects a student's individual right to express herself, including the right to express herself religiously."

According to the complaint filed by the second-grade student and her parents, an elementary school in Frenchtown prohibited the student, Olivia Turton, from singing the song "Awesome God" in a voluntary, after-school talent show. The talent show was open for anyone from first through eighth grades who wished to play solo instruments, dance, perform a skit or sing to karaoke. Students were permitted to select their own songs or skits so long as they were ""G-rated.""

Because the school left the choice of songs up to each individual student, the ACLU said, no reasonable observer would have believed that the school endorsed the content of each student's selection.

"The ACLU of New Jersey has dedicated itself to protecting the right of individual religious expression, including recently helping to ensure that jurors are not removed from jury pools for wearing religious clothing and that prisoners are able to obtain religious literature," noted ACLU of New Jersey Legal Director Ed Barocas. "This student also deserves our full support."

The case, Turton, et al. v. Frenchtown Elementary School, et al., was filed in federal court in Trenton, New Jersey.

 

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