A Catholic school in North Carolina is cancelled today, February 8, over protests after a gay city council member was invited to speak at a planned Black History Month event.

Immaculata Catholic School, in Durham, sent a letter home to parents on Thursday letting them know the school would be closed the following day after learning that several groups intended to protest in response to Councilwoman Vernetta Alston’s participation in the planned event, which was to honor African-American women. Alston is an alumnus of the school.

“As a pastor, I cannot place our Imaculata students into this contentious environment,” wrote Immaculata Catholic School Pastor Christopher VanHaight (pictured below) in the letter, apologizing for any inconvenience the sudden closure might cause, WRAL reports.

Alston said she was “deeply disappointed” in the decision.

“Immaculata is a religious institution, and I believe strongly in the freedom to believe and worship how one chooses, even if a belief conflicts with something fundamental to my own life,” Alston said. “That said, adherence to that basic principle means that I can freely say that the church, by depriving the students at Immaculata of the chance to honor black history, and in doing so, condemning the lives and rights of the LGTBQ community, is sending a sad, regressive and life-altering message to our children.”

“Let us use this moment to embrace the spirit of Black History Month and your celebration by letting the sacrifices we are being asked to make right now motivate us to examine our values, stand up for all of the things we believe in even when we differ, and discover the strength in our shared voices and in our shared history.”

“Immaculata is a fantastic place and we are welcoming and we want and hope, as a committee, that we can still have a conversation with church officials and we could eventually re-invite Ms. Alston. I know she said she would still be interested in coming, despite all this,” said Danielle Sutton, a member of the school’s African-American Heritage Committee, which organized the event.

“The real issue here is a decision to cancel the speaking engagement of an accomplished, well-respected, local black female leader who also happens to be an alumna of our school—a product of Catholic education—and how that decision does not reconcile with our community values,” the African-American Heritage Committee said in the statement.

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