No “Silent Night” at holiday concert
If you are a student in the South Orange-Maplewood School District in New Jersey, you won’t hear religious selections such as Joy to the World, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing or Silent Night in this year’s holiday performances. The district does allow secular (non-religious) songs and music such as Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.
Many schools across the country strive to comply with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The month of December presents a unique challenge in balancing traditional Christian celebrations with the religions of non-Christian students. Consequently, lawsuits arguing both sides of the debate are filed.
In November, 2009, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled that the South Orange-Maplewood School District did not violate the First Amendment in limiting holiday music to secular music and song.* A parent challenged the policy arguing that it was hostile to religion and infringed on his child’s right to learn about religious music. The school does allow the teaching of religious music as part of the music curriculum.
This means that public schools are not required to permit religious holiday music, nor are they wrong if they restrict performances to secular numbers. What do you think? Should music selection be left to the school or should courts be involved? Is there a middle ground that parents and schools could agree on in fairness to all?
Update: On October 4, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal leaving the lower court’s ruling in place.
*Stratechuk v. Board of Education, South Orange-Maplewood School District (2009).