Holiday choir illustration

Holiday choir illustration Photo courtesy karavai via Shutterstock

BORDENTOWN, N.J. (RNS) Students won’t be allowed to sing religious holiday songs at winter concerts in a south-central New Jersey school district.

Bordentown Superintendent Constance J. Bauer issued a statement on Oct. 18 saying that some of the selections were questioned and that “religious music should not be part of the elementary program.”

The statement added that the district solicitor is reviewing the decision, mentioning how the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 declined to hear an appeal of a similar situation involving another New Jersey family.

Michael Stratechuk, whose children attended Columbia High School and Maplewood Middle School, sued in 2004, saying the South Orange-Maplewood school district’s ban violated the First Amendment’s freedom of worship provision.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia upheld the ban, however. The judges said public school administrations can determine which songs are appropriate according to constitutional guidelines to create a secular “inclusive environment.”

The conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom is battling the Bordentown district’s choice, though. It fired off a letter asserting that district official misunderstood the court ruling.

“We write to explain that every federal court to examine the issue has determined that including Christmas carols and other religious music in school choir programs fully complies with the First Amendment and to urge you to immediately rescind the new policy instituted by administrative officials.”

The letter went on to say that in 1993 a federal court in New Jersey upheld the Cherry Hill (N.J.) school district’s “policy of including religious symbols and objects in calendars and displays that the district produced for Christmas and other seasonal events.”

Bordetown school officials haven’t commented beyond the original Oct. 18 statement.

10 Comments

  1. If enough Bordetown voters are upset, they can initiate a recall of the board, install a new one, and replace the superintendent. To banish religious songs entirely is to deny the fundamentally religious orientation of Christmas.
    Also, with minimal planning, students and/or adults could interrupt a program at an appropriate time to lead the rest of the crowd in a hymn or two. There’s absolutely nothing that school authorities could do about it, and no civil authorities would touch it.

    • @Duane:

      1. These are “winter concerts” in a secular, tax-payer-funded, public school district. The “fundamentally religious orientation of Christmas” is irrelevant.

      2. In order to present Christian music but still comply with the court’s requirements, each school could be required to balance out any Christian music with other music drawing from every other faith group represented in that school. That might lead to some very, very long concerts, but it would solve the problem. It’s just easier to ban all religious music and avoid the hassle, which is what the superintendent did (or tried to do).

      3. In your comment, you suggest that Christian parents use “flash-mob” tactics to force their religious beliefs upon the non-Christian children and parents of the school district. In what universe would that be acceptable behavior?

      Public schools *must* be places where all stakeholders (aka tax-payers) and their children are included and represented equally — no exclusion, no favoritism, no bias. If you want a Christian concert, then you are free to send your child to a private religious school (on your dime, of course). Or, here’s an idea: Go to church.

    • “To banish religious songs entirely is to deny the fundamentally religious orientation of Christmas.”

      And in doing so not endorse Christianity through use of public funds or officials.

      “Also, with minimal planning, students and/or adults could interrupt a program at an appropriate time to lead the rest of the crowd in a hymn or two.”

      I am sure it is much more appropriate to do such things in a church. Where the people in the building are all of the same faith and do not get the impression of being excluded by their public officials.

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