Mass. Public School Chorus Cancels Easter Trip Over Lawsuit

School administrators received a letter from Americans United for separation of church and state

The voices of Groton Dunstable High School students won't be heard at a basilica in Italy.

The Groton Dunstable Chamber Chorus has canceled its Easter Mass performance at St. Anthony's Basilica in Padua, Italy.

The performance was part of the chorus' tour abroad in April.

"It's about a 10 day trip," said Michael Woodlock the high school's principal. "It's through parts of Italy and Croatia."

School administrators, along with legal council, made the decision to cancel the mass performance after being threatened with a lawsuit for violating the separation of church and state.

"In my opinion it's not a violation," said Woodlock.

In November, school administrators received a letter from Americans United for separation of church and state.

Part of the letter states: "We write to inform you that taking public-school students to worship services as part of a public-school activity is a flagrant violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."

"It's the fact that they're participating in a mass," said Leslie Lathrop who contacted the AU with concerns.

She said after seeing a flyer for the chorus' performance she reached out to the high school asking it to cancel but never heard back.

"This is not the first time," said Lathrop.

She said in 2014 the chorus performed at a mass.

Lathrop raised concerns with the school's previous principal, who said it wouldn't happen again.

"When an event happens repeatedly it's been determined that this can have the effect of making them think that, that is the established religion," said Lathrop.

The chorus, which has performed at events like the London Olympics, was hand selected by the basilica.

The principal said canceling the event to avoid a battle in court had to be done.

"Whether or not they're going to perform there, it's still a huge honor that they were picked," said Woodlock.

Lathrop said she didn't do this for attention.

She said she did it for the student who one day would feel like they couldn't speak out against participating in a similar performance.

"I really feel badly but they're going to have an amazing time on this trip," said Lathrop.

The chorus is still looking to replace the canceled show.

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