It’s not very often when news media inserts itself in a contentious local issue, but the Cleveland Plain Dealer decided that the separation of church and state was a bridge too far. It took a side in a resolved issue over a public school musical performance of an opera with religious concepts.
Americans United’s Legal Department received a complaint recently about a public high school in the town of Willoughby that planned to perform an opera based on Christian concepts.
AU’s attorneys wrote to officials at the school, advising them that public institutions may not sponsor sectarian performances like this. The school agreed to move the event offsite and end sponsorship of it.
This seemed a reasonable compromise, but it didn’t sit well with the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The newspaper convened its editorial board to hold a roundtable on the issue. All of the members of the board, except for one, attacked Americans United.
Other board members simply insisted that the opera wasn’t really religious, and they criticized Americans United because our attorneys didn’t read the entire script. The opera is an original production, thus we were not given an advance copy. But we were provided with enough information to realize that its theme is one of redemption through Jesus Christ. Interestingly, school officials never denied that the opera had a religious message. Their immediate decision to move the play from school property is a good indication that they knew they wouldn’t be able to defend it in court. (By the way, guess what type of institution is hosting the play now? If you said a Christian church, you’re correct!)
The Plain Dealer also refused to accept an op-ed from AU about the issue to balance the one-sided reporting in the paper.
So much for objective reporting. It also damages the credibility of the paper (except the Plain Dealer has been going down hill on credibility since it became a GOP mouth piece so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised about this story).