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The Granite School District on Monday banned classroom use of the film "Where Jesus Walked," thus resolving a conflict with a watchdog group that keeps an eye on First Amendment separation of church and state issues.

District officials sent home a letter with sixth-grade students at Magna Elementary School recapping the conflict that began Friday when the Society for Separationists learned teachers had shown the film in mid-March as part of social studies curriculum. After reviewing the film Monday, officials decided that the one-hour film produced by United Christian Production should not be shown in classes, Magna principal Barbara Thayne stated in the letter."I do not believe that there was any intent to indoctrinate the students in a particular belief," she wrote. "I think the teachers made an innocent mistake in choosing this film. . . ."

In a separate written statement, district spokesman Kent Gardner called the film "inappropriate" for the classroom and agreed that it includes religious doctrine.

Chris Allen, Utah director of the Society of Separationists, said Tuesday he was satisfied with the district's response.

"The school and the district are behaving responsibly," said Allen. "The main thing is that they aren't going to use the film anymore, which is crucial - that kind of religious emphasis simply isn't appropriate under the law."

Also in her letter, Thayne responded to written criticism from Allen on Monday about the district's handling of the incident.

Allen first learned of the film last week and wrote to Thayne demanding a public apology, disciplinary action against those re-spon-sible and an evaluation of laws governing non-sectarian religious study.

He wrote to Thayne again Monday after learning the child whose parents first told him about the Christian film reported that one of the teachers delivered a "40-minute tirade" in which she vilified the student and "used her position of trust to incite the class against the student who told on her."

Thayne reassured students and parents that she welcomes feedback about curriculum. "I hope you understand that it was OK for someone to complain about the showing of the film. Those who complained should not be criticized for doing so," she said.

Stepping over the lines regarding church and state issues is fairly typical, said separationist Richard Andrews. "The teacher coming back and complaining to the class . . . that isn't typical. The school should've avoided that."

All district disciplinary action is handled privately, Gardner said.

Andrews and Allen both are on the national board of directors for the Society of Separationists. The group has about 1,000 members in Utah.

The incident should serve as another kind of lesson for teachers and the district, Allen said.

"There's all this concern about how schools need to teach about values," he said. "What we're talking about here is the first rule of the First Amendment, the separation of church and state. It's the foundation of all religious freedom. Schools need to be teaching this stuff.

"Maybe if they were teaching it," he said. "The teachers would know it too."




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