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Arguments are scheduled Monday in the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia on a school district’s decision to censor Christmas carols – even holiday melodies without words.
Attorneys with the Thomas More Law Center say they will argue to reverse a lower court ruling affirming a policy in the South Orange-Maplewood School District that banned the music after someone complained.
The law firm says the school’s ban was specifically aimed at preventing Christmas music, including simple instrumentals without words, during holiday concernts. The district had allowed the performance of traditional Christmas music for more than 60 years but in 2004 suddenly banned it.
“This blatant anti-Christian policy is yet another example of the total and militant hostility that many public schools have towards Christians and Christmas,” said Richard Thompson, Thomas More’s president and chief counsel.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Michael Stratechuk and his children in the district. According to the lawsuit, the school district’s ban on religious music conveys the impermissible, government-sponsored message of disapproval of and hostility toward religion in violation of the Establishment Clause. The ban deprives the Stratechuk children the right to receive information and ideas, the suit asserts, an inherent corollary of their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and academic freedom.
“Christmas is a national holiday, and religious music in the public schools is one of the rich traditions of this season,” said Robert Muise, the Law Center attorney who will argue the case. “Those that are hostile to these traditions hide behind the mantle of ‘tolerance,’ only to promote intolerance.
“We learn to understand and respect traditions, customs, and beliefs not by being offended or threatened by the traditions of others, but by understanding the meaning of such traditions and why they have the capacity to inspire,” he said.
The New Jersey school district policy at issue in the case was featured in a book, “The War On Christmas,” by the Fox News Channel’s John Gibson.
The district’s decree ordered that only selections such as “Winter Wonderland” and “Frosty the Snowman” would be allowed, with a complete ban on tunes about Jesus and even Santa Claus.
The high school’s brass ensemble had to rebuild its repertoire, the Martin Luther King Gospel Choir was ordered not to perform and printed programs were edited to remove any “graphics which refer to the holidays, such as Christmas trees.”