Perplexing questions on Christmas music and public schools

You never know what style of seasonal music a major artist will perform for a Christmas album. It is the season for artists from all genres to come together. Some artists will perform Christian music, some classic seasonal songs and others will create something new.

We all share in the season singing both Christian and Santa Claus songs.

A federal lawsuit has been in progress for several years in New Jersey against a school which banned religious Christian music in all district schools. The case was recently heard before the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. Below is a 2006 excerpt from the case when it was filed in appellate court after a district court had rejected the initial claim:

“Plaintiff, Michael Stratechuk, is the father and legal guardian of two minor children who attend school in the South Orange-Maplewood School District. He filed suit against the District because of what he believes to be an unconstitutional policy of banning religious music in the District’s public schools. According to Stratechuk, the policy conveys a government sponsored message of disapproval and hostility toward religion (specifically Christianity) and deprives his children of the right to receive information and ideas.”

Last month the appellate court upheld the district court ruling, saying in summation:

“We do not doubt Stratechuk’s sincerity and commitment to the position he vigorously asserts in this litigation. But the overriding consideration for this court is that the School District administers public schools, and there are constitutional principles that govern the actions of public schools that do not limit private schools. Certainly, those of us who were educated in the public schools remember holiday celebrations replete with Christmas carols, and possibly even Chanukah songs, to which no objection had been raised. Since then, the governing principles have been examined and defined with more particularity. Many decisions about how to best create an inclusive environment in public schools, such as those at issue here, are left to the sound discretion of the school authorities. We see no constitutional violation in Policy 2270 (the school policy) or its application in this case. We will therefore affirm the decision of the District Court. (Click here for a full summary of the appellate court ruling.)

The ruling could obviously be debated indefinitely.

I don’t want to make this into a stereotypical religious and political debate. I don’t have the theological background. However, I do genuinely find the topic interesting and perplexing.

According to a 2007 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 78.5 percent of Americans are Christians.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume all 78.5 percent favor Christmas music. Should the majority rule, since most of the tax dollars are hypothetically coming from self-identified Christians?

In a society quick to pursue lawsuits, schools err on the side of caution and shift to politically neutral. Should we consult schoolchildren who are under informed and too immature for such a sensitive issue? Should we ask for a majority consensus among each area’s residents?

Being politically correct to all people all the time is impossible. Christmas music is about celebration. If you are a Christian, it clearly celebrates the birth of Christ. If you are an agnostic or atheist, I believe it celebrates Santa Claus.

As Christians, we should speak to unbelievers with love and patience. No one has ever converted to Christianity by being smacked over the head with a Bible.

Christ himself revolted openly against the merchants turning the synagogue into a marketplace. Therefore, as Christians should we revolt, turn to God in prayer, boycott, or just passively observe?

We should not confuse endorsement with exclusion. To endorse only Christianity is as unconstitutional as excluding Christianity. Is this a case of exclusion?

In my opinion, no one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.

Be the light and stand for Christ in love and peace, speak out against injustice in a biblical manner, pray and let Him do the rest!

I don’t have all the answers; I therefore invite your opinions.

Be First to Comment

  1. I just read your article on seasonal music, and then saw this one. In the first I read, (which I think you wrote second), you noted the difference between religious and secular music. But in this article, you state, “Christmas music is about celebration. If you are a Christian, it clearly celebrates the birth of Christ. If you are an agnostic or atheist, I believe it celebrates Santa Claus.” I think you might agree that it depends on whether Christ or Santa Claus is in the words of the song. As a former public school principal, I have just submitted an article which relates to some of the questions you raised in this post. I hope you’ll read and comment on “Allah is God in Indiana public school”.

    December 16, 2009

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