Silent Night for Holiday Concert In School
The Circuit Court of Appeals in the Third Circuit has ruled that it will be a silent night when it comes to religious music in the South-Orange Maplewood School District. The Court has decided that any concert in school will be governed at the discretion of the school district board and their policy of complete religious neutrality.
Michael Stratechuk, the father of two students in the School District of South Orange-Maplewood, New Jersey filed the lawsuit claiming that the school district board and its policy on the performance of religious holiday music violates the Establishment Clause and his children's First Amendment rights.
The school district board allowed holiday music to be performed during the School
District's December concerts but in the Fall of 2003, the mother of a School District student told her child's music teacher, William Cook, that she objected to her daughter playing the "Christmas Sing Along" at the December concert.
After the holiday concert did indeed contain holiday music in its repertoire that Dec. 2003, the mother sent a letter to the school district board complaining that she and other parents objected to the music selection. As a result, the school district board decided to clarify its policies regarding school concerts during the holiday season. The school district decided that celebratory holiday music would be probibited, but that religious music in general would not be.
This lawsuit was filed claiming that such a policy violated the First Amendment and the Establishment Clause.
The Court ruled that the policy was not applied with the "purpose to disapprove of religion", but rather that the school district board was trying to achieve secular purposes. The school district board was attempting to avoid government endorsement of religious holidays and a potential Establishment Clause violation.
This is the first lawsuit that actually complained that a school district board policy was "too secular". As a result, the school district board will ensure that "Silent Night" will not be in this season's concert program.
- Checklist: Freedom of Religion and the Public School System (Findlaw)
- What types of religious activities are allowed in public schools? (Findlaw)
- Holiday Decorations, and the Religion Clauses What the Rules Are, And Why the Supreme Court Was Prescient to Clarify Them Decades Ago (Findlaw)
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