Wednesday, December 01, 2004


In another outrageous misapplication of free-speech rights in public schools, a student band in South Orange / Maplewood, N.J., may no longer play instrumental Christmas music by order of their Scrooge-like administrators.

The lyrics were censored in the 1990s, along with religiously-oriented images like stars and dreidels in the concert programs. But now, kids aren’t even allowed to THINK the words to those songs, much less hum or sing them.

But isn’t that the law? You know, the separation of church and state? No! And those who think so are full of . . . well . . . reindeer doo-doo.

According to the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Lynch v. Donnelly, Christian and other religious symbols, wording and celebrations are A-OK for public-school use as long as they are not the entire focus. The birth of Jesus Christ and the stories behind Christmas songs and traditions are all A-OK for discussion in class, the subject of essays when students choose the subject matter, for music and on stage without fear of litigation, as long as common-sense rules are observed.

Examples: schools can have a crèche, as long as they have other symbols of the holiday’s cultural and religious heritage. Kids can distribute religious Christmas cards or tracts on school grounds as long as it’s not during instructional time. Schools can call their December concerts ‘’Christmas’’ concerts and don’t have to resort to euphemisms such as ‘’winter’’ or ‘’holiday’’ for their parties and programs, Donnelly held.

The courts have said over and over that there’s legitimate educational purpose for acknowledging Christmas in the public schools. As long as the religious symbols are ‘’presented in a prudent and objective manner’’ and are truly linked to the cultural and religious heritage of the holiday, they’re A-OK. That was the ruling of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals against the ACLU in upholding an excellent school district policy on religious holiday celebrations in Florey v. Sioux Falls School District.

Christian music in a concert or school pageant is fine, too, but it would be wise to include an appropriate mix of secular and religious songs, and an appropriate mix of different faiths among the religious songs, religious liberty attorneys advise.

Any student who wishes to opt out of any activities must be allowed to do so without any penalty whatsoever.

But, kind of like some of those Christmas gifts that you open and say, ‘’What is it?’’ for some puzzling reason, more and more educators are confused on these points, thinking that it’s safer and better to just skip Christmas and pretend it doesn’t exist, than to put up with the occasional frowny heckler from the no-fun, misinformed, litigious Left.

It’s alarming, this war against Christmas in our schools. And it seems to be accelerating. Here’s a sample of what’s going on around the country, reported in a Nov. 24 article by Don Feder, “Public Schools and the ACLU Play Scrooge This Christmas,’’ on www.FrontPageMag.com:

-- Last year, a kindergartener at a school near Portland, Ore., was told he couldn’t bring cards with a religious message to a school Christmas party. When a teacher noticed that Justin Cortez’s cards contained the name of Jesus, she confiscated them and forwarded them to the principal, who sent them to the superintendent.

-- The New York City school system allows menorahs and Islamic symbols in holiday displays, but not nativity scenes.

-- In 2002, the mother of a student in the Del Mar Union School District in San Diego was told she could no longer read a Christmas book to her child’s fourth-grade class, and at the Sage Canyon School, teachers were ordered to remove jewelry with a Christmas theme.

-- Also that Christmas, instructors at an elementary school in Sacramento were told not to use the word ‘’Christmas’’ in the classroom or in written material.

-- In Yonkers, New York, public school employees were ordered to purge holiday decorations with religious themes.

-- According to Rev. Jerry Falwell, a New Jersey middle school cancelled a field trip to attend a performance of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

-- Last year, the Elbert County Charter School in Elizabeth, Colorado had a holiday program that included what Feder sarcastically called ‘’such proselytizing anthems’’ as ‘’Jingle Bells." The ACLU and Anti-Defamation League threatened to sue unless the program was cleansed. A joint letter from the censors to the principal claimed, ‘’Jewish students no longer feel safe or welcome’’ at the school. The letter demanded that the Elbert County Charter School ‘’take immediate steps to comply with the constitutional separation of church and state.’’

Well, as Feder pointed out, there IS no such thing. That’s not in the U.S. Constitution and government censorship of Christmas actually violates the precepts of the First Amendment. As Feder notes, no federal court has ever held that Christmas carols, Christmas decorations, Christmas cards, Christmas books, or Christmas greetings constitute a violation of the Establishment Clause.

So what are parents and taxpayers to do?

Well, if you never tell Santa what you want, you’re not as likely to get it, are you? So the obvious answer is for the silent majority to speak up, and tell school boards and school administrators that Christmas is legal and good for our kids, so let’s bring it back. We want it.

A great tool for informing educators about this important issue is offered by Gateways to Better Education, www.gtbe.org

For $4, you can buy a nice, eight-page card with the legal documentation about how Christmas observances are legal in schools. The card contains the Sioux Falls religious celebrations policy upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court, and some lesson plan ideas. The cards are suggested for teachers, school administrators, school attorneys . . . and send a copy to your local ACLU office, in the spirit of giving and unity and kindness and truth. . . .

. . . well, what do you know? In the spirit of Christmas!

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