The inclusion of Christian singer Lauren Daigle in a New Year’s Eve celebration has sparked a dispute between New Orleans’ mayor and several state officials.
The controversy began when the Grammy Award-winning artist was announced as a performer in the Dec. 31 broadcast of ABC’s Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve, which will be broadcast live from several locations, including from New Orleans’ Jackson Square.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell criticized the inclusion of Daigle, saying the singer had placed the city’s residents at risk of COVID-19 by performing at an outdoor worship protest with worship leader Sean Feucht. The worship service in the French Quarter was conducted without a permit, Cantrell said in a letter to Dick Clark Productions.
“She harmed our people, she risked the lives of our residents, and she strained our first responders in a way that is unconscionable – in the midst of a public health crisis,” the Dec. 9 letter said. “This is not who we are, and she cannot be allowed to represent New Orleans or the people she willfully endangered.”
Daigle “cannot and should not be rewarded with national media exposure,” Cantrell wrote.
The mayor asked that Daigle be removed from the lineup.
On Monday, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry defended Daigle, saying he was “shocked and dismayed” by Cantrell’s comments. Landry said Daigle had “encountered the protesters” while riding her bike and agreed to “sing one song with them.” Daigle is a Louisiana native.
“The Louisiana Legislature reinforced the rights of individuals to worship freely by adopting the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act,” Landry wrote in a letter to Daigle. “... State and federal law protect your right to assemble in a public square to worship and protest. United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch has recently explained that the ‘Government is not free to disregard the First Amendment in times of crisis.’ ... Additionally, you are entitled to protection from tortious interference with your private contractual relationships.”
Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser also criticized the mayor.
“The last four years the State of Louisiana and Louisiana Office of Tourism has sponsored ABC’s ‘Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve’ broadcast to millions of viewers from the iconic Jackson Square at midnight CST after the ball drops in New York, promoting the City of New Orleans and our state,” Nungesser wrote, according to WDSU. “After 4 years of record-breaking tourism welcoming over 53 million people to Louisiana, we thought it was important that we highlight our state and our Ambassador, two-time Grammy Award-winning singer, Lauren Daigle. We were also planning to honor healthcare and essential workers.
“Lauren is also the state’s voice of the Sunshine Tourism Recovery Plan. Tourism is the 4th largest industry in our state generating over $19 billion in revenue for our economy,” Nungesser wrote. “It is vitally important we reintroduce Louisiana to the country and the world as a safe and enjoyable destination post-COVID-19 with the only live broadcast in the U.S. The 6-minute live presentation would have included videos promoting every corner of the state. We bought the rights for Lauren to record her rendition of ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ written by the late great Louisiana Governor Jimmie Davis. The centerpiece of The Sunshine Plan Recovery Plan launch is joy found in life and life and travel throughout Louisiana. At midnight Lauren would have led the nation singing ‘Auld Lang Syne.’
“The state was willing to move the location to a riverboat anchored in Gretna with New Orleans as the backdrop. Mayor Cantrell then sent a letter to Dick Clark Productions asking them to exclude Lauren from any New Year’s Eve production,” Nungesser wrote.
“I am shocked and disappointed that the Mayor would attack one of our own in this manner.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Jason Kempin/Staff
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.