Franklin Graham, the president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, is warning Christians they must stand up for their beliefs or their religious freedoms will be lost.
He was commenting on Facebook about a Mississippi high-school band that was barred from performing the traditional hymn, “How Great Thou Art,” in their half-time show Friday night.
The hymn was regularly sung by George Beverly Shea at the opening of Billy Graham’s evangelistic events for nearly six decades.
“If ‘How Great Thou Art’ is banned, does that mean ‘God bless America’ is off limits as well? And probably Lee Greenwood’s … ‘God Bless the USA’ too?” Graham wrote. “I guess any other name except our Lord’s would be acceptable in a song for the band!”
He continued: “What are we allowing to happen here? We’re going to have to stand up for the faith or we’re going to lose every freedom we have as Christians. Remember, it begins with just one person, but it takes all of us – praying, living out our faith, and standing firm.”
The Rankin County School District told the Brandon High School band it could not perform the hymn due to an order by U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves prohibiting “prayer, religious sermons or activities in any school sponsored event,” Fox News reported. Reeves ruled in July that the district violated a 2013 agreement in a case brought by a student who complained of Christian meetings on campus. The judge ordered the district to pay $7,500 in fines in July for allowing a Christian minister to pray at an awards ceremony.
School Board President Ann Sturdivant told the Clarion Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi, that because of the court order, the board “had no choice” but to bar performance of the hymn.
Reeves wrote in his order that schools “owe a duty to all students to refrain from conduct which gives the appearance of advocating a particular religion.”
“In fairness to and protection of all, they must remain neutral. This same duty is owed to the parents who submit their children to the protection of educators, entrusting that they will sharpen their academic minds.”
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The judge, whose decision was posted online by the American Humanist Association, said there were even more allegations. The school also allowed the Gideons to hand out Bibles to students.
The American Humanist Association represented the student who objected to the prayer by Rev. Rob Gill, a pastor of a local Methodist church.
The judge also threatened to fine the school $10,000 should there be another occurrence.
Consequently, the band director informed students they would not be able to perform the half-time show after months of preparation.
“When I picked the half-time show in late February of last year it was with full administrative support, but the Rankin County School Board has decided that we are not allowed to perform the half-time show due to recent court rulings,” the email from band director Tim Cable said.
Friday night, however, the community sent a message to the judge, as Fox News commentator Todd Starnes reported.
“During half-time of Friday night’s game – a lone voice began to sing the forbidden song,” he wrote.
“Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee,’ the singer sang.
Graham picked up the story.
“It began with just one person. After Brandon High School’s band was unbelievably banned from performing ‘How Great Thou Art’ at half-time during Friday night’s season opening football game, some in the crowd decided they weren’t going to just sit by and take it. There was a hum, and then one person stood and began singing. Then one by one, hundreds of people stood up in the stadium and together they sang the ‘forbidden’ song – ‘How Great Thou Art.’ Good for them!”
Starnes said it was clear the people thought “a message had to be sent to the likes of Judge Reeves.”
Brittany Mann told Starnes she witnessed the moment of defiance.
“We were just sitting there and then one by one people started to stand,” she said. “At first, it started out as a hum but the sound got louder and louder.”
Mann described it as a “truly incredible” moment to watch hundreds of people singing together in the stadium.
“At that moment I was so proud of my town – coming together and taking a stand for something we believe in,” she said. “It breaks my heart to see where our country is going — getting farther and farther away from the Christian beliefs that our country was founded on.”
Starnes commented: “Oh what a sight it must have been – as hundreds and hundreds of people stood together and with one voice – sent a message to Judge Reeves.
He said the “time has come to put an end to their cultural jihad.”
“I hope the Rankin County School Board will reconsider its decision and allow the marching band to resume performing ‘How Great Thou Art,'” he said.
“And should Judge Reeves make good on his threat to financially punish the school district, I will personally pay the $10,000 fine.”