High school “Hail Mary” takes on new meaning
Kathryn Nurre’s “Hail Mary” has nothing to do with football. She went to Henry M. Jackson High School in the state of Washington. Graduation ceremonies featured speakers, musical selections and presentation of diplomas.
Kathy was a member of the Wind Ensemble. Her band director told the musicians to select a piece from their repetoire to perform during the graduation ceremony. The group chose an instrumental version of “Ave Maria” which translated from Latin means “Hail Mary,” a well-known Catholic prayer.
The school administration did not approve the selection because of its religious connotations. They advised the group to choose a piece secular in nature. Instead they chose and performed “Second Suite in F for Military Band” by Gustav Holst.
Kathryn sued the school district claiming a violation of her civil rights under the First Amendment. She claimed that her musical performance was speech and that the school improperly censored it.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recognized at the outset the “delicate balance between protecting a student’s right to speak freely” and a school’s duty to “avoid collision with the Establishment Clause.” [The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits the government from taking any action that endorses, establishes or disappproves of religion.]
In September, 2009, the court stated that music, as a form of human expression, is speech protected under the First Amendment. However, it also considered the religious nature of “Ave Maria” and the compulsory nature of a graduation ceremony for all students. The school’s desire to remain neutral with regard to all religions justified the restriction on the musical performance.
The court’s ruling was limited to graduation ceremonies where time is finite and a balance of religious and non-religious performances is not possible. The court held that keeping all musical performances at graduation entirely secular was reasonable and that Kathryn’s right to free speech was not violated.
What do you think about this restriction? Could a balance have been struck where one religious and one non-religious number was performed? Recognizing that the history of music and composition over the centuries is in part church based, is it possible to keep all religious references out of artistic works?