By Pat Maurer
Gospel Singer Kenneth Selvia, who performs as Kenny Rae around the area, said he was told that he couldn’t perform at the Veteran’s program at Clare Schools November 12 because he had been asked to sing “How Great Thou Art” by some veterans.
Selvia said he had met “a couple of veterans” at a local restaurant recently and they said it would be nice if he would sing at the event. “I didn’t think it was a big issue,” he said.
He said he contacted High School Principal Lee Turner to ask him about singing and told him what song he wanted to sing, and that “the principal just said ‘no’.”
“He didn’t hurt my feelings,” Selvia said, “but I feel this is very important to them [the veterans].”
This [event] is supposed to be for the veterans,” he added. “It shocked me that he [Turner] would think someone would be offended by me singing a gospel song to the vets. I wasn’t going to preach, just sing a song.”
He went on, “I am a Viet Nam vet too. I earned the right to sing a gospel song if I want. It kind of hurt me. If you are going to salute the vets, don’t they have a right to hear what they request? I don’t understand this. If someone did complain about it, we wouldn’t do it again. I feel bad that I can’t do something for the vets when they asked me to.”
He said, “You know they are trying to take the Pledge of Allegiance out of schools, that have take prayer out of schools and now they wonder why our teens get into trouble…”
Turner said the conversation wasn’t really about the separation of Church and State or about what Selvia wanted to sing. He said, “My conversation with Mr. Selvia, which took place about a week ago, began with him asking to sing at the Veteran’s program. I told him that our vocalists were all former, or current students and staff members and that our program was already set for this year.”
He continued, “Then I went on to tell him [Selvia] that if he were to sing at the event sometime in the future, we would have to be careful of the musical selections because of the laws and issues of ‘Church and State.’ He thanked me for returning his call and then I invited him to the program and luncheon November 12. That was the substance of our conversation.”
Turner said, “I hate to see anything negative about this program. We have put a lot of time and effort into saying ‘Thank You’ to our veterans.”
Superintendent Doniel Pummell said that although the “church and state” issue really isn’t relevant in this issue, all of the high school students are required to attend the Veteran’s Day Program. “It isn’t just a community event held at the school. It is a school event.”
In response to Selvia comments to the Review, Pummell said, “Our Veteran’s Day Celebration is just that… A Celebration of our Veterans. Mr. Lee Turner is the man behind this stellar event. Each year Mr. Turner determines the theme, guest presenters and the order of events. This year all those that are to share music talents are Clare Graduates! Exciting that we have such a wealth of talent to celebrate right in our own backyard. I am honored to support this event for a second year as Clare’s superintendent. My grandpa and father were both in the military. It is a time to remember and a time to cherish our freedoms. I thank Mr. Turner, the high school staff and all those that will attend and contribute to this amazing community event.”
In a letter to the Editor that ran in area papers a couple of weeks ago, Turner said, “All veterans of past and present active or reserve military service residing in the Clare area and their guests are cordially invited to attend the Clare High School program starting at 9:30 the morning of Monday, November 12th. They are asked to contact the high school at 386-7789 to provide their names and branches of service so that a roster and lunch plans can be made.”
He also wrote, “The program will include instrumental selections by the Clare High School Band and vocal selections by current and former students and staff. Three area veterans will join State Representative Joel Johnson in making short presentations. Several inspirational videos will also be presented. The luncheon will follow. Prior to the start of the program the Clare VFW will replace the flag in front of the school. The Mt. Pleasant Army Recruiting Station and the CMU ROTC program will provide the color guard. Sound Productions will provide audio and video support.”