Drama students prohibited from performing because of offensive Christian message

The Cape Fear Community College drama club wanted to put on a play with religious themes.

The club's advisor said the production would violate the First Amendment.

The advisor wanted the themes "dumbed down" to avoid potentially offending someone.

Drama students were prohibited from performing a play after the club’s faculty advisor said its religious message would violate the First Amendment.

In September, Justin Graves, a student at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, N.C., presented an idea for a production to the school’s drama club which included allusions to Christian themes. According to the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), while the students in the drama club unanimously voted in favor of the play’s production, the faculty advisor, Jack Landry, said no.

“The advisor claimed that the production would violate the First Amendment if it included the religious themes, and he advised [the student] to ‘dumb down’ the religious content until it was not ‘obvious’ to avoid any potential lawsuits or ‘offending’ anyone,” ADF said in a press release. “Ironically, the advisor allowed the drama club to sponsor other productions that could potentially cause offense, including ones that included rape and incest themes.”

ADF, a Christian legal organization that advocates for religious liberties, has sent Landry a letter on behalf of Graves. In the letter, ADF says Landry has “violated [Graves’] right to free speech by engaging in viewpoint discrimination.”

“University officials, including drama instructors, should know by now that the First Amendment does not allow them to pick through student productions and purge the religious content,” Travis Barham, a lawyer at ADF, told Campus Reform in an interview.

“We’ve run into many, many university officials who seem to misunderstand the First Amendment, seem to view it as a command to purge the campus of all things religious even though the Supreme Court has said over and over again that’s not what the First Amendment requires,” Barham said. “Universities still seem to fall for this misunderstanding.”

Landry has until Oct., 10 to respond to ADF’s letter on whether or not he will decide to allow for the production of the play. If he does not respond to the letter or does not allow for the production of the student’s play, ADF said they will then “reassess” their options and do “whatever we can to make sure we protect Justin’s freedoms just like we would do for any other student in this situation.”

“What the First Amendment requires is the accommodation of religion,” Barham said. “That means they must give religious speech and secular speech the same treatment. They can’t seek out the religious stuff and try to push it off campus or silence it or somehow strip it of its religious content. Their effort to do that is actually a violation of the First Amendment.”

Mike Adams, a professor of criminology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington said CFCC has “wildly misrepresented the scope and nature of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

“If they actually believe the things they told Justin Graves, they are not mentally qualified to work in higher education,” Adams told Campus Reform. “If they did not actually believe the things they told him—in an effort to restrict his free speech rights—then they are not morally qualified to work in higher education.”

Graves, who is enrolled at CFCC as a dual enrollment student, isn’t required to produce a play for class.

A CFCC official confirmed to Campus Reform that the school has received ADF’s letter and “is currently looking into the matter.” The college declined to provide additional comment in time for publication.

Landry did not respond to requests for comment from Campus Reform.

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