Active RNS subscribers and members can view this content at the RNS Archives website.

It's Reformation Day! The Cardinals are blue, but that's because of the Red Sox. Pope Francis will be giving out more red hats in February, reshaping to future of Catholicism heading toward the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. A Jesuit and an Atheist get civil on MSNBC of all places. We debate Halloween, and roundup the morning's best tweets.

Categories: Culture

David Gibson

David Gibson

David Gibson is an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He is a national reporter for RNS and has written two books on Catholic topics, the latest a biography of Pope Benedict XVI.

6 Comments

  1. “Cue my rant: a New Jersey school district is banning religious songs at the winter holidays, a word that derives from ‘holy days.'”

    I commented more fully on the linked article itself, but I’m not sure what you feel compelled to rant about. If you don’t like the idea of legally-mandated inclusivity in tax-payer-supported public schools, you’re free to send your child to a private, religious school (with your money).

    If you’re actually going to use the etymology of the word “holiday” to complain about this, then let’s talk about how the term is applied to Halloween, New Year’s Day, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Arbor Day, etc. All of those occasions have become far too secularized and divorced from their religious roots, right? *cough*

    • My inclusion of Halloween on that list, by the way, was intended as a particularly pointed challenge to your definition of “holiday,” since it obviously has religious roots that are very different from the ones whose omission you’re decrying. Just how egalitarian are you willing to be?

  2. David Gibson

    David Gibson

    Article author

    Michael, I’m willing to be very egalitarian. That’s my point. I don’t see why excluding things that may (or may not) have a religious connotation to students is a good thing. The more the merrier, as far as I’m concerned. It’s about educating children. Trying to have holidays that elide the reason for the holidays is kind of an Orwellian approach to history, seems to me.

    • Thanks for your reply, David. All other things being equal, I would agree with you: “The more the merrier.” We certainly cannot expect (nor should we try) to purge the Commons of everything that “may (or may not) have a religious connotation” to someone. After all, a serious Pastafarian might decide that the presence of a colander in a public school kitchen is an affront to his religious sensibilities and a violation of the Establishment Clause. We have to set boundaries somewhere.

      But we’re not dealing with that kind of vagueness here. “Silent Night”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”, etc., aren’t songs that “may (or may not) have a religious connotation” for some students; their *primary purpose* is to convey a specific religious message, and that is exactly why such songs cannot be endorsed by a public school. As I noted elsewhere, this school district’s choice to ban all religious music was quite pragmatic. The only other equitable approach would be for each school in the district to balance out any Christian music with an equal amount of music that represented every other faith group at the school! The criteria for determining “representation” would naturally be contentious, and such an approach would also lead to some epically long concerts. Thus, banning religious music altogether is simply more practical.

      Lastly, if the events in question were still called “Christmas concerts” (or the like), I would agree that purging all religious references from the program would be Orwellian. However, the district is calling these “winter concerts,” and that makes them secular (as they legally must be in this context).

      You’re right that this is about educating children — in an equitable, nurturing, and inclusive environment that does not favor one child over another. Imagine being one of only a few Jewish children in a particular public school, at an age when you are just beginning to figure out your identity and beliefs. Now, imagine being forced — by virtue of your required choir class — to sing a program of songs declaring Jesus Christ as Lord. Do you think that would seem equitable, nurturing, or inclusive to you?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments with many links may be automatically held for moderation.