Dance Teacher Fired for Using Religious Music in Class Goes to Trial

El Cajon, CA – A dance teacher , who was terminated from her job after a complaint was made that she used religious music in her instruction, is in trial this week. The single complaint which cost the teacher her job came from a school staff member rather than a parent or student. In addition to secular music on the day in question, the instructor, Kathy Villalobos, used a rendition of Dona Nobis Pachem, Canon in D and O Si Funi Mungu. Dona Nobis Pachem is a baroque piece by J.S. Bach and is sung in Latin. O Si Funi Mungu, which is translated as “Praise God,” is sung in Swahili, though the song has some English interspersed. Though the 15 stanza song is predominantly in Swahili, one stanza mentions Father, Son and Holy Spirit. An attorney for the Lemon Grove School District, Dan Shinoff, cross-examined the teacher on her views of the Trinity. The jury sat attentive as the songs were played in court last week. Villalobos then testified as to the educational purpose for the selections.

Despite emails and testimony to the contrary, the District is claiming that Villalobos was not fired because of the religious music but for reasons such as pupil attendance class scheduling. Yet, the school is inconsistently claiming that it was justified in firing Villalobos to prevent a violation of the separation of church and state. “It is clearly constitutional and legal for a teacher to use both religious and secular music as a part of instruction,” commented Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute.

Villalobos’ lead attorney in the case is Karen Milam, PJI Senior Counsel who directs the southern California office. Assisting her in the trial is PJI attorney Matthew McReynolds. The trial, now in its second week, will likely go to the jury on Thursday. California law which allows instructors to use non-proselytizing references to religion while teaching, specifically identifies dance instruction as an acceptable subject for use of such references.