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School choir performance canceled after complaints about Utah event’s political agenda

First Published      Last Updated Apr 15 2017 08:24 pm

Policy » The event was seen as too political; organizers say it is a celebration of heritage.

Visitors to next month's Western Freedom Festival in Cedar City can expect country music and discussions on federalism and the proper role of government.

What they won't hear are patriotic songs performed by fifth-grade students from Iron County School District.

The district was scheduled to perform a musical program, called Hope for America, as part of the festival. But school administrators and event organizers backed out of those plans Friday after receiving negative feedback from parents.

"We've stepped out of our participation," said Steve Burton, director of elementary education for Iron County School District. "It's our policy not to be involved in events that have a political agenda."




Iron County Commissioner David Miller, who organized the festival with Garfield, Beaver, Piute, Kane and Washington county commissioners and the mayor of Escalante, objected to it being described as a political event.

The Western Freedom Festival, he said, will simply celebrate the heritage and values of the Western community.

But it was a mutual decision between the festival and the school district to cancel the Hope for America program, he said.

"We don't want to put our school districts or any of our community in a place where they're uncomfortable with what we're doing."

Organizers had also intended to sponsor an essay contest for fifth-grade students throughout southern Utah.

The performance and the essay contest have been canceled, Miller said, thanks to misinformation spread by a "micro-small group" of critics.

"They're making such a big stink it's not worth it," he said. "They can have their way."

The Western Freedom Festival, to be held Oct. 23 at Southern Utah University, is set to include presentations on the impacts of environmental policy and constitutional limits.

West Jordan Republican Rep. Ken Ivory, president of the American Lands Council, is scheduled to lead two discussions on federalism and the transfer of public lands. Ivory is a key figure in the push to transfer ownership of Utah's public lands from the federal government to the state.

The festival's website says its goal is to educate the world about the negative impacts of progressive policies. The site also includes statements about the displacement of faith and conservative family values.

"We are surrounded by an ocean of public land, yet the freedom to use that land is vanishing," reads a statement attributed to Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock. "One would never think our religious freedoms would be under attack, yet we all know what has happened regarding Christian values."

Miller said the event is not intended to be political, but he said some political elements occur naturally "whenever you talk about reality.

"It's just unfortunate because the one thing that we're all going to be protective of is our kids," he said. "For [critics] to go in and make up disinformation is just terribly disappointing to me. It's very deflating."

Burton said the musical program, which fifth-graders learn as part of their Utah history curriculum, will likely be performed at a later date.

"I think it's a great program," Burton said. "It's one we're excited to do but one that needs to be a separate event to build patriotism."

bwood@sltrib.com

 

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