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Published: Thursday, 1/6/2005

Controversy over Christian band revisited in Rossford

The Rossford school board has called a special meeting tonight with its attorneys to discuss issues involving Pawn, the Christian rock band restricted from playing during school hours.

Board Vice President Mike Spahr said the board will meet at 5:30 p.m. in the high school cafeteria, 701 Superior St. The board and members of the district's law firm, Whalen & Compton of Akron, will discuss why officials turned down the request for Pawn to play during an anti-drug rally last month.

Superintendent Luci Gernot initially rejected the request to allow Pawn to perform - prompting a flood of national attention - because of concerns over having Christian music played at a public school event. Students would have had the option whether to attend the band's show.

Ms. Gernot said the band, which includes two Rossford High students and two former students, may be able to play after school at an event sponsored by local businesses but not during school hours because board members said they feared a lawsuit contending the performance inappropriately would bring religion into a public school.

Instead, a lawsuit may be filed by Pawn and those who support the band. They have asked The Rutherford Institute, a national civil rights organization, to represent them.

Instead, a lawsuit may be filed by Pawn and those who support the band. They have asked The Rutherford Institute, a national civil rights organization, to represent them.

Ninety-nine people, including Pawn band members, parents, and community members, signed a letter given to the board Monday stating that litigation would be filed Tuesday if Ms. Gernot does not reverse her decision, or if the school board does not overrule the decision. Supporters held off filing the lawsuit because of tonight s meeting.

I really believe that my decision was sound, and I do not plan to change it, Ms. Gernot told The Blade. I don t feel that the threat of litigation should change what I believe is right.

According to the letter, which was written by the Rev. Mark Montgomery, father of two of the band members and pastor of Rossford United Methodist Church, supporters hope to resolve the issue without litigation.

However, he said they may have to resort to it because of the differing opinions regarding the separation of church and state in public schools.

John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and a lawyer who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, said he agreed to represent the band because he does not think letting them perform would violate any laws.

We think they have a First Amendment case, he said. It s a violation of free speech.

Supporters were told Monday they could attend tonight s meeting to hear discussion between the board and their attorneys.

However, as pending litigation is covered under the Ohio Public Meetings Act, the board may vote to go into a closed-door executive session to discuss the matter, as suggested by their attorneys.

Mark Justice Montgomery, Pastor Montgomery s 26-year-old son and a member of Pawn, said the separation between church and state needs to be more clearly defined so situations like the band s don t continue to occur.

I think it s important to fight it because the school needs to understand what they can and cannot do, Mr. Montgomery said. We want to avoid litigation, but we will take it to the next step.

Contact Erika Ray at:eray@theblade.comor 419-724-6050.



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