By Anne O’Connor
GROTON — A former school committee member has faced threatening phone calls after her letter to Americans United for Separation of Church and State resulted in the cancellation of an Easter Mass performance of the Groton-Dunstable Regional High School Chamber Chorus at St. Anthony’s Basilica in Padula, Italy.
“They say it’s because I’m Jewish,” said Leslie Lathrop, who filed the complaint. “I’d do the same for any religion.”
Her goal was to make the school district and community understand that they cannot pick and choose which parts of the U.S. Constitution they adhere to, she said. Children are more impressionable and arranging for them to sing at a religious service, in this case the Easter Mass during a school-sponsored tour of Italy and Croatia, implies that the school endorses a religion, Lathrop said. That would violate the “endorsement clause” in the first amendment which states that government cannot endorse a religion.
“I have no objection to kids singing in a basilica,” she said. But singing during a Mass is a different thing.
Her objection has a history. This is not the first time she has objected to the group singing at a Mass.
“I really think it was the district that set the kids up for disappointment, not me,” Lathrop said.
After the 2014 trip, she saw the chorus had performed at a Mass in Italy and thought it was inappropriate. The then-principal agreed with her and told her it would not happen again, she said.
When she saw the 2017 performance listed on a fundraising flier this fall, she contacted both the new principal, Michael Woodlock, and then-Superintendent Kristan Rodriguez. Neither one got back to her as promised.
“I got a little frustrated,” she said. That is when she reached out to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In November, the Washington, D.C.-based group sent a letter and after consulting with legal counsel, the district canceled the performance.
When that happened there was a bit of suspicion that the complaint came from her, Lathrop said. “I ‘fessed up to it. It was the right thing to do.”
Since then, she has been forced to screen her calls and made a complaint to the police department about threats, she said.
“I’m very sad about the reaction of the community,” she said. “It’s been very nasty.”
Lathrop said her Jewish faith has nothing to do with her objections. She’s not a fan of any religious involvement in public life.
When an interfaith group wanted to put a Jewish sukkah, a temporary hut used during the festival of Sukkot, on the town common, she objected. It should be on private property. “Oh, you’re right,” they responded to her.
When the new high school was built, she advocated for a change in the mascot. The Crusader, with a cross on the shield, was religious in nature to her. Another school committee member criticized her for this, saying something about Muslims getting killed, Lathrop said.
In what Lathrop called a baby step, the cross was removed from the logo.
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