Protests against a Mississippi school district's decision to ban a local marching band from performing a Christian hymn were expected to continue this week in Brandon, a city east of the state capital, Jackson. About 1,500 people were planning to drive to Brandon High School Tuesday night in vehicles painted with the hymn, "How Great Thou Art," WREG reported. They want the school board to reverse its ruling, which was based on a court order issued last month.
"We want to stand in solidarity with Brandon High School band," Salvation Army Captain Ken Chapman told WJTV. "We want to stand together with all other Christians, all other citizens who want to fight this with us."
The band had been rehearsing "How Great Thou Art" all summer and was prepared to play it last Friday during halftime at the first football game of the school year. But Friday afternoon, band director Tim Cagle emailed students that the show could not go on.
A student from Northwest Rankin High School, about 20 minutes from Brandon, sued the district in 2013 over the number of Christian assemblies held on campus. In one instance, Magdalene Bedi argued that school speakers held a prayer and refused to let dissenting students leave. The court found that the district had violated Bedi's First Amendment rights. The district agreed to change its policies, and the lawsuit was settled.
— Scott Simmons (@ScottSimmonsNwz) August 23, 2015
Then, in July, District Court Judge Carlton Reeves found that the district had twice violated the agreement -- once when it had a reverend lead a prayer at an award ceremony, and once when it allowed Bibles to be given out on campus, the Huntsville Times reported. Reeves fined the district and ordered that it be "permanently enjoined from including prayer, religious sermons or activities in any school sponsored event including but not limited to assemblies, graduations, award ceremonies, athletic events and any other school event," according to a statement. Future violations would cost the district $10,000.
That's when the school board told Cagle Brandon's band couldn't play "How Great Thou Art." Parents and fans rebelled at Friday's game, standing in the bleachers and singing the hymn themselves. A video of the incident went viral online and support grew. About 100 people gathered at city hall Sunday for a demonstration. “It is freedom of speech, freedom of religion,” organizer Misty Winningham told WAPT.
The district has apologized to activists but has remained firm in its decision. While the protests continue, Cagle said the band will start learning a new show.