Describing it as "aggressive, fundamentalist Christian indoctrination," Utah's Society of Separationists has denounced a Granite District elementary school for showing students a film titled "Where Jesus Walked."

Separationist leader Chris Allen raised the issue after learning that Magna Elementary School, 8500 W. 3100 South, had shown the video to sixth-graders on March 17."I have never seen a more serious violation of the First Amendment anywhere in the Utah schools, and I am amazed that this was condoned and approved," Allen said in a letter to school principal Barbara Thayne.

In a separate letter to Granite District Superintendent Loren Burton, Allen demanded that disciplinary action be taken against those responsible and that a public apology be issued to students and parents.

"It is religious prejudice perpetrated on atheist, Jewish and other non-Christian children and their families," Allen said. It also violates the First Amendment principle of separation of church and state, he added.

Granite spokesman Kent Gardner said the Magna Elementary teacher involved in the incident told district officials the film was shown as part of a social studies sequence broadly based on a textbook about the history, geography, culture, religions and peoples of the Eastern Hemisphere.

The class included a lecture on Hinduism by an Indian, a video on Greek mythology, presentations on ancient Roman and Egyptian religions and cultures and other pertinent studies, Gardner said.

Moreover, the teacher said the audio portion of "Where Jesus Walked" - which is drawn mostly from the New Testament - was turned down so that she could describe the scenes being shown. Having visited the sites, she was able to provide her own descriptions, Gardner said.

"She strongly and stoutly believes it was the kind of study that Utah law intended to allow," Gardner said.

And if her representation of the class is correct, the district will probably agree with her, he added.

"Our first look at this leads us to believe it was not religious indoctrination; it was not a class that simply honed in on Christianity. Rather, it appears it was part of a comparative study of ancient peoples and concepts," Gardner said. "The teacher's sequence of topics certainly sounds like it was an appropriate part of the studies."

Nevertheless, the district will thoroughly review the matter, and if the film violated law or policy, corrective action will be taken, he said.

"It is district policy to emphatically be in compliance with the law. We don't desire or need these kinds of problems," Gardner said.

The law governing the non-sectarian study of religion may itself be a problem, according to separationist Richard Andrews. He said when the Legislature amended it in 1992, it left loopholes permitting "this sort of abuse."

In a press release, Andrews said: "Two years ago religious indoctrination was strictly forbidden by Utah law. Now that the law has been changed to allow teaching `about' religion, aggressive religious indoctrination is being passed off as `social studies.' "

Andrews said lawmakers vowed the amendment would protect the schools from lawsuits, "and now it's up to the schools to prove that it will."

The recent controversies over a West High choir singing religious Christmas hymns and a Bingham High basketball coach leading a team in pre-game prayers "have given us cause to doubt (the state school system's) commitment to separation of church and state," the separationists said.

If the schools don't ban "indoctrination," the separationists intent to invoke federal law, which they said has no loopholes allowing the showing of films like "Where Jesus Walked."