Seven organizations dedicated to upholding the right of freedom of expression today declared their strong objection to the cancellation by high school principals of three free concerts by acclaimed folk-rock artists, the Indigo Girls. The organizations also praised the many students who are protesting their schools' censorship.

A concert at Irmo High School in Columbia, South Carolina was canceled because of complaints about the duo's sexuality. Band members Emily Saliers and Amy Ray are lesbians. Principals who canceled scheduled appearances at two Tennessee schools, Germantown High in Germantown and Farragut High in Knoxville, deny that the performers' sexuality was a factor. Instead they cite the lyric "I keep fucking up," from the song Shame on You, which the duo performed at a high school in Georgia last month.

"The students should be learning that the freedom of expression is the cornerstone of our nation's democracy. But sadly the school leaders are demonstrating instead that the students' and the performers' fundamental liberties may be thoughtlessly disregarded," said David Greene, program director of the National Campaign for Freedom of Expression.

Students protested the cancellation at each school. Irmo students staged a walk-out yesterday, the day the Indigo Girls were to perform there. At Farragut High, students, carrying placards and banners, rallied Wednesday during and after school. Several student demonstrators at each school were suspended for missing classes and disrupting school.

"We are not surprised that the students have picked up on this basic contradiction between what they are taught in school and what they see authority doing to them," said Nina Crowley, executive director of the Massachusetts Music Industry Coalition. "These students are courageous in refusing to accept the decisions quietly."

The Indigo Girls apologized for performing the song at the Georgia high school and promised to omit Shame on You from future high school concerts. Apparently, however, the Tennessee principals never considered asking the duo to remove the bothersome lyric. Their quick moves to cancel the concerts only after the sexuality issue was raised at Irmo have cast doubt on their justifications.

"The students are right to be suspicious of the motives being advanced by the school officials," said Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. "Given that the Indigo Girls offered to delete any objectionable language from future concerts, it is hard to believe that there is not an anti-gay and lesbian bias at work."

The National Campaign for Freedom of Expression, the Massachusetts Music Industry Coalition, and the National Coalition Against Censorship were joined by Rock Out Censorship, Artists for a Hate Free America, the New England Free Expression Network, and the Boston Coalition for Freedom of Expression.