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Area school choirs to sing at Grotto

Concerts start today at Northeast Portland sanctuary

More than a handful of area school choirs will be singing at the Grotto’s annual Christmas Festival of Lights, which kicks off at 5:15 p.m. today, Nov. 27, at the Catholic shrine, formally known as The Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, located at 8840 N.E. Skidmore St., Portland.

The festival comes on the heels of a controversy that erupted earlier this year when the Portland Public School District decided to forbid choirs from participating in the festival because it faced the threat of litigation by an anti-religion group.

In a 4-3 decision earlier this month, the Portland Public Schools Board voted to uphold the district administration’s decision to ban school choirs from performing. The decision’s supporters contend performances in such a religious setting violate the Constitution’s separation of church and state.

The district’s decision to bar the choirs came after it was the subject of two critical letters since 2013 from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based atheist organization that claimed it was responding to a complaint by an unidentified source about public school choirs singing at the festival.

Public school districts in the East Multnomah County area, however, have decided to continue to allow their students to perform, and the festival features the following choirs and music groups on the following days and times:

Tuesday, Dec. 1: Corbett High School Strings at 5:15 p.m.

Friday, Dec. 4: Centennial Concert Choir at 6 p.m.,

Mt. Hood Community College Choirs at 8 p.m.

Friday, Dec. 11: Centennial Middle School Middle C’s at 6 p.m.

Thursday, Dec. 17: Gresham High School Concert Choir at 8 p.m.

Estacada High School Choir & Brass at 9 p.m.

Festival facts

WHEN: 5-9:30 p.m. Nov. 27 to Dec. 30. Closed Dec. 25.

FEATURES: Light displays, puppet shows, petting zoo and Christmas carolers.

COST: $10, $9 for seniors and military personnel, $5 for children 3 to 12, free for children 2 and younger.

INFO: 503-254-7371, thegrotto.org.