Yet another school district’s decision to crack down on religious Christmas music is already beginning to capture national attention. Just two weeks after Wausau School District in Wausau, Wis., battled over the very same issue and inevitably stepped away from a proposed ban, a New Jersey district has decided that faith-based tunes have no place in public elementary schools.
On Oct. 18, Bordentown Regional Schools Superintendent Constance J. Bauer released a brief statement about religious songs on the district’s website. Bauer noted that some of this traditional music was recently questioned and that, after a review, officials have decided to remove religious Christmas songs from winter concerts.
“The matter has been taken under review by the district solicitor, who issued an advisory letter that in light of a New Jersey ruling: Stratechuk v. Board of Education of South Orange-Maplewood School District, 577 F. Supp. 2d. 731 (D.N.J. 2008), that religious music should not be part of the elementary program(s),” she wrote.
The case Bauer referenced was one in which a different New Jersey school district previously placed restrictions on religious music in public schools back in 2004.
A parent challenged these provisions in court, but as the Associated Press reported in 2010, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia upheld the ban; the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
Bauer’s statement pledged that, despite the ban, the district will continue to celebrate cultural diversity.
“It remains the District’s mission to celebrate the rich and wonderful diversity of our children and community and hope that the joy shared through our numerous winter programs will continue to be cherished part of your family traditions,” it continues.
The decision is already getting some major pushback. On Monday, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative legal group, sent a letter to the Bordentown Regional School District claiming that officials there have an improper understanding of the legal precedents surrounding the presence of religious songs in public schools.
“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 reads.
The text urges the district to remain neutral toward religious music and to refrain from demonstrating a “unconstitutional hostility toward songs with religious origins.”
“Music educators, administrative should which choral pieces—secular sacred—are best-suited the and “teach [students] variety skills (i.e. sight reading, intonation, harmonization, expression),” the ADF letter continues.
The legal firm is requesting a response from the district by Nov. 1 and is asking that the decision be reversed. It’s likely critics will see this as yet another example of the so-called War on Christmas.
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