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TRI Wins Victory for Theater Group Prohibited from Referencing Christian Writers

To: National Desk

 

Contact: Nisha N. Mohammed, The Rutherford Institute, 434-978-3888, ext. 604, pager 800-946-4646, Pin #: 1478257, Nisha@Rutherford.org

 

BOCA RATON, Fla., June 16 /Christian Newswire/ -- Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have successfully defended the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of a Florida-based theater group, enabling them to reference Christian writers C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien in their theater playbill and to make religious references during curtain speeches before and after the performance. In response to a letter sent by attorneys for The Rutherford Institute on behalf of Stars in the Universe, a theater group for homeschooled children, the City of Boca Raton, Fla., rescinded an order barring the group’s director from making remarks before and after the performance and from including religious references in the playbill for the group’s performance of “Cinderella” at a city-operated theater.

 

“As a public institution, the City of Boca Raton is bound by the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech, and it cannot ban speeches or performances based on their religious content,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “I am pleased that Boca Raton city officials have agreed to respect the First Amendment rights of Stars in the Universe and that everyone can enjoy a ‘happy ending’ to this constitutional drama.”

 

As they had done in previous years, Stars in the Universe had arranged to use Willow Theatre in order to stage a June 2006 performance of “Cinderella.” However, the city, after reportedly receiving complaints about religious content in the group’s 2005 theater production, imposed restrictions on the theater group prohibiting it from making any “curtain speeches” in connection with the performances and requiring that the playbill be submitted to theater officials for review. After reviewing the playbill for Stars in the Universe’s production of “Cinderella,” however, theater officials refused to approve the content, citing concerns about references to Christian writers J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

 

Specifically, concerns were raised about the following passage: “C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) once said to his close friend, J.R.R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings) … ‘I love the fairy stories. I just wish the ‘happily ever afters’ were true.’ To which Tolkien quickly retorted, ‘They are!’ Fairy stories, he explained, are simply metaphors for a larger, grander story. As a Catholic and strong believer in Christ, Tolkien helped his dear friend to see that the story of the resurrected carpenter 2000 years ago was actually the ultimate happy ending that all good fairy stories reflect. Lewis, a staunch agnostic, soon found himself, too, a believer in the ‘happy ending’ and went on to become one of the greatest Christian apologists in modern times.”

 

After parents of cast members turned to The Rutherford Institute for help in defending the theater group’s First Amendment rights, Institute attorneys contacted the Director of Recreation Services about the matter, pointing out that the ban on religious content in the playbill and curtain speeches violated the group’s First Amendment right to free speech and freedom of religion. In response, the city retracted its ban and informed Stars in the Universe that they were free to make curtain speeches and to distribute the playbill as originally written.

 

Founded in 1982 by constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead, The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.