"Joy to the World" is once again an acceptable holiday message in one New Jersey school district.
After much debate and international attention, the Bordentown Regional School District has changed course and decided that its public schools can deck their halls with Christian Christmas songs in their holiday concerts this year.
Last month, the school district banned all religious Christmas carols in upcoming holiday concerts after some parents in the community deemed such songs inappropriate.
After the ban generated significant controversy, Bordentown Superintendent Constance J. Bauer released a brief statement late last week stating, in effect, never mind.
"In reviewing additional legal considerations and advice on this matter and the expressed sentiments of the community at large, I have reconsidered the decision on the musical selection for the upcoming winter programs so that pieces with traditional and historical religious origins will be permitted," Ms. Bauer said. "Concurrently, the board will continue its review of the larger policy implications for the future."
The Alliance Defending Freedom is an activist group that helped lead opposition to the carol ban.
In a letter written to Mr. Bauer and school board President Lisa Kay Hartman, the alliance wrote 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."
Matthew Sharp, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom said the exclusion of Christian Christmas songs negatively affects students, parents, music teachers and communities as a whole.
"The main [opposing argument] we see is that this violates the separation between church and state," Mr. Sharp said.
Over the past 30 years, a growing number of Americans are labeling themselves as nonreligious. According to the poll Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism, since 1972, the number of atheists globally has nearly tripled.
With this surge of atheism has come a strong push to reduce or eliminate all forms of religion from America's public schools. The New Jersey school case came just as the Supreme Court was taking up a case involving the propriety of saying prayers before government functions such as town council meetings if it might offend non-Christians or nonbelievers.
Mr. Sharp, however believes "It's always a dangerous thing to bring up the idea of offensiveness," because it is virtually impossible to cultivate cultural and religious diversity without offending someone.
Mr. Sharp also points out that it is entirely constitutional to include religious songs in holiday performances.
"Our approach is to educate, and we start with what the courts have said," he said.
In a previous case concerning Cherry Hill Township School District's policy, a New Jersey court found that "Christmas and Chanukah are celebrated as cultural and national holidays as well as religious ones, and there is simply no constitutional doctrine which would forbid school children from sharing in that celebration, provided that these celebrations do not constitute an unconstitutional endorsement of religion and are consistent with a school's secular educational mission."
Said Mr. Sharp, "I would encourage people everywhere to stand up for these songs. ... I think they should be encouraged by what happened in Bordentown."
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