DENVER, CO—When James Harper quit the Grand Junction High School Men’s Choir over a song praising Allah, he probably never suspected his decision would become national news.
But Harper’s stance clearly struck a nerve. In Grand Junction, KREX-TV has received hundreds of comments on its Facebook and web pages after first airing the story Tuesday. The story quickly went viral after being picked up by Fox News, which has been flooded more than 12,000 comments.
Some commentators supported the choir’s musical choice. “To me, this issue isn’t about religion, it’s about free speech. I have a problem with one child making this hard for the rest of the choir and the director,” said a post on the KREX-TV website.
But most congratulated Harper for sticking up for his beliefs. “I support James in his courage to stand up and refuse to be indoctrinated,” said another commentator.
The reaction illustrates the frustration felt by many as Christians over what they see as a societal double-standard. They worry that Islam is increasingly accommodated in the name of religious tolerance even as references to Christianity are pushed from the public square.
“It’s not a tempest in a teapot, it’s a canary in a coal mine,” said John Andrews, president of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University. “The central tradition of America is Christianity, and yet the left-wing, politically correct mandate is standing that tradition on its head, so that Christian beliefs are crowded out and marginalized in favor of other beliefs.”
Harper said he decided to quit rather than sing a song, “Zikr,” with the translated lyrics, “There is no other truth but Allah” and “Allah is the only eternal and immortal.” He first raised his objections in an email to Mesa County School District 51 officials, but they backed choir director Marcia Wieland’s song choice.
“It’s a very good piece, but then once I got the translation and red through it, I became very, very highly uncomfortable,” Harper told KREX-TV. “In the Bible, you don’t worship any other God, and this is worshiping another God, even another prophet.”
He added, “I think there would be a lot of outrage if we made a Muslim choir sing, ‘Jesus Christ is the only truth.’”
The song is written in Urdu, but Wieland provided students with an English translation. The choir is preparing three pieces for a competition, the others being an Irish folk song and a Christian song called, “Prayer for the Children.”
District spokesman Jeffrey Kirtland stressed that the choir is a voluntary, after-school activity, and that no student was required to participate.
“This is not a case where the school is endorsing or promoting any particular religion or other non-educational agenda,” said Kirtland in a statement. “The song was chosen because its rhythms and other qualities would provide an opportunity to exhibit the musical talent and skills of the group in competition, not because of its religious message or lyrics.”
He also noted that “choral music is often devoted to religious themes, and the performance of songs with religious lyrics is common at choral concerts and other events at which the choir performs.”
Many of those commenting support Harper’s decision, but not all. KREX-TV reporter Matt Kroschel told “Fox and Friends” Friday that Harper has been threatened since the reports aired.
“Since the story went national, he’s started to receive threats himself,” Kroschel said. “He told me he had to take down his Facebook page because he was just getting inundated with messages and friend requests. District officials and staff members with the district also received threats.”
The song “Zikr” was written by Indian composer A.R. Rahman, who won two Academy Awards in 2009 for music composed for the movie Slumdog Millionaire. Rahman wrote the song for the 2005 movie Bose, the Forgotten Hero, he said in an email to Fox News.
“It is unfortunate that the student in Colorado misinterpreted the intention of the song,” Rahman said in the email. “I have long celebrated the commonalities of humanity and try to share and receive things in this way. While I respect his decision for opting out, this incident is an example of why we need further cultural education through music.”