SOUTH JORDAN — A Bingham High School production of "Dead Man Walking" is under fire from a conservative lobbying group over claims the play contained inappropriate content.
The play was performed in March. But the Utah Eagle Forum issued a statement Wednesday condemning the production and demanding an apology to the community from the Jordan School District.
"There's a lot of parents who are upset and they feel alone," said Dalane England, Eagle Forum vice president over issues. "They're very concerned for their children."
But those parents are anonymous. Included with the Eagle Forum statement were the objections of five parents — two of whom did not attend the performance — and one student, all of whom cited language, subject matter and topics discussed in the play as inappropriate for students.
District officials said that out of approximately 700 individuals who saw the production during its four-day run in March, only one person anonymously contacted Jordan District to express concerns. District spokesman Steve Dunham said the remainder of complaints have come from individuals outside of the Bingham community.
In the statement, the Eagle Forum objects to the use of mature language and racial slurs in the play, as well as its discussion of rape, religion and capital punishment.
England said the group came forward at the request of parents whose concerns she said were ignored by school and district officials.
Dunham said the play was approved by Bingham's administration as well as a committee of parents and community members. The play is based on a book of the same name, which received district approval for classroom use prior to Bingham's production.
"Bingham High went to great lengths to ensure all of the participants were comfortable with their parts and lines in the play; in fact, the student who played the lead role was given the opportunity to edit any of the lines he was not comfortable with," the district said in a statement prepared by Dunham. "No other participants in this optional activity had offensive language."
England said she has talked with several parents and students she said were shocked and appalled by the play's content. She specifically mentioned teenage actors smoking fake cigarettes on stage, using strong language and citing biblical passages to debate the morality of the death penalty.
"We don't appreciate the Bible being used in that way," she said.
Dunham said one student appeared on stage with a fake cigarette tucked behind his ear, but never removed it from his ear or put it to his lips. He speculated that much of the objections to the play stem from individuals who did not attend Bingham's production.
"They are basing this off of a national production of the play," he said.
In their statement, district officials also emphasized that "Dead Man Walking" was an optional extracurricular activity.
The Eagle Forum statement repeatedly objects to a perceived one-sided political bias regarding capital punishment in the play's storyline. The group also takes particular offense to an execution scene in the play where a man is strapped to a cross-shaped table in an apparent allusion to a crucifixion.
The Eagle Forum is requesting an apology from the district as well as an explanation to students for what it called the biased message delivered to them by the play.