ST. LOUIS(KMOV.com) -- A choir made up entirely of people with developmental disabilities is struggling to learn new songs for the holidays, having being told it can no longer sing anything with a religious reference without facing a loss of its government funding.
The choir is from the "Let's Play to Grow" program, started 27 years ago as a way to help people with developmental disabilities get out of their houses and learn to socialize.
“It builds self esteem for people with developmental disabilities," said choir coordinator Claire Woodard..
The group sings just about every month in churches, schools, and senior centers and in addition to helping its members, Woodard says the performances are learning experience for the community.
"They are amazed,” she said. “We have a young man who is autistic who leads solos and they can't believe they can sing like that."
But a board member at the St. Louis Office for Developmental Disability Resources saw a flier for one of the choir's performances promoting gospel music and delivered a some bad news.
"If the choir sings songs that have Jesus, Lord, God or Christ in them they can not fund our transportation nor that part of the singing,” Woodard explained. “However, if we sing any other songs with profanity that would be ok."
Messages for the executive director and assistant executive director of Developmental Disability Resources have not been returned.
The choir is trying to learn new songs, so it can comply. In the meantime, Woodard has started a petition drive to try and get administrators to reconsider.
"How many songs do you know that [are] Christmas [songs] that don’'t have Christ in it?” she asked. “Or Lord or Jesus?"
News 4 contacted constitutional experts at St. Louis University and Washington University law schools about the issue. Washington University's expert said, from a free speech standpoint, the basic rule is government can't subsidize speech but then restrict the content of the subsidized speech.
But a SLU expert said if you look at the choir as art, a government entity can pick and choose what art it funds.