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High School Choir Director Hatches Bold Plan to Fight Back After District Cracks Down on Religious-Themed Holiday Music

"A public school advancing Christmas caroling, which is specifically associated with Christmas, which is a religious holiday, which could be interpreted as endorsing a religion."

Photo Credit: ShutterStock.com

TheBlaze's Carly Hoilman contributed to this report.

A battle over religious music in Wausau, Wis., led Phil Buch, the chair of Wausau West High School music department, to temporarily disband the Master Singers music ensemble in a bold act of defiance.

The choir director's bold move came after district officials recently proposed that the number of faith-based songs this holiday season be cut down in the ensemble's upcoming December show.

When members of the school board notified Buch that he would have to revise his set list for the winter concert, he simply refused. Local media initially reported that officials sought out a specific arrangement for song selection -- four secular holiday tunes for every religion-themed song -- but that detail is also unclear.

Buch, who said he would have had to change his entire concert program "dramatically" in order to comply with the new requirements, simply decided instead to postpone choral activities until further notice. His action sparked nation-wide attention.

With a stalemate and a national controversy now brewing, the district will hold a "special board meeting" on Thursday evening, reports WAOW-TV. Superintendent Kathleen Williams will be among those in attendance.

So far, the district leader has publicly expressed support for the proposal to limit faith-related music, citing constitutional law as the basis for her stance.

"This is all part of the establishment clause. Nothing had to trigger it really; this is what music in public school or any teaching in public schools needs to follow," Williams told WOAW-TV.

The choir traditionally performs Christmas carols at numerous locations in Wausau and students were already scheduled to perform at 15 locations in December. This, though, was suddenly deemed problematic as it could make it appear as though the school is endorsing a specific faith.

"A public school advancing Christmas caroling, which is specifically associated with Christmas, which is a religious holiday, which could be interpreted as endorsing a religion," Williams continued.

It is unclear why this these concerts are now under scrutiny.

In a statement on Oct. 8, the superintendent made some clarifications and denied that a set ration of religious songs versus secular tunes was established by the district's music committee. She called previous claims and media reports surrounding this claim a "misunderstanding."

In the statement, Williams also seemingly attempted to temper critique, writing, "Secondary school winter concerts will continue to contain a mixture of secular and non-secular music very similar to the mixture of music from previous concerts."

She was slated to meet with Buch on Wednesday to hash out the details, however there is no information surrounding whether that meeting unfolded.

In response to a request for an interview, Buch told TheBlaze that the district is not allowing him to speak with media about the matter. Requests for comment from the district have not been returned.

Reaction has been diverse. Many are praising the potential removal of faith-based music, while others are outraged.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a church-state separatist group, plans to write a letter thanking the district for its efforts to cut back on faith-based holiday music.

While the organization claims it had no involvement in sparking the debate, co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor stood in support of Williams' concerns.

Photo Credit: ShutterStock.com

"There can be a fine line, and we understand in some instances there can be sacred classical music in the schools but it’s so easy for something like this to turn into a message of indoctrination,” the atheist leader told The Post Crescent. "When you have a chorus going out to 15 places to sing religious music, it really does give the appearance that the school is celebrating Christianity."

But while the FFRD is content, school board member Pat McKee is frustrated over the controversy and the method through which school leaders attempted to change policy.

"There was a complete disregard for the established process for implementing change of this magnitude within the district," McKee charged. "In times of unrest such as this, we need leadership and that has been totally missing since this began."

The school board member said that he has repeatedly asked about how grievances began, but claims Williams has avoided answering. At a meeting slated for Thursday night at Wausau East High School auditorium, officials will discuss and debate the issue. Perhaps it is there that he will get his answer.

The controversy, of course, is far from over.

According to some of Buch’s former students on RateMyTeacher.com, the choir leader was never one to hide his religious convictions. Students have commonly described him as “very religious,” or “overly religious,” but just as many have deemed Buch, who is also an adviser for the Wausau West High Bible Club, “inspirational.”

Image Credit: ShutterStock.com

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Follow Billy Hallowell on Facebook and Twitter.

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