Several years ago, a long-time friend of mine, who teaches music at a well-regarded government high school and is a devout Christian believer, told me that her principal instructed her for the high school’s “Winter” Festival concert that she should be very careful to downplay the religious themes in any Christmas carols. Since Jesus Christ is, as we all know from the aphorism, the reason for the season, she decided that she was going to follow the principal’s instruction to the letter. So, when the choir sang the traditional Christmas hymn, Joy to the World, she had them sing the following lyrics:
Joy to the World, the hmmm is come!
Let earth receive her hmmm;
Let every heart prepare hmmm room,
And hmmm and nature sing,
And hmmm and nature sing,
and hmmm, and hmmm, and nature sing.
Joy to the World, the hmmm reigns! . . .
Fortunately, the music teacher had tenure. This appeased the concerns of the principal, but actually drew more attention from students and parents, and may have caused some to think more deeply about the true meaning of Christmas, and the radical nature of what it means for God to enter into human history. Recently, a similar situation occurred recently in Wausau, Wisconsin. Wausau School District administrators left music teachers with little option but to cancel a number of upcoming Christmas choir performances because the administrators severely restricted their ability to include traditional Christmas carols. This took place because a district attorney suggested that the Master Singers, an advanced choir at Wausau West High School, would need to exclude all religious Christmas songs from their numerous holiday performances, or alternatively, perform four other types of songs for every religious Christmas song included in the concert. (Where did that rule come from?) As a result, the Master Singers temporarily disbanded, and music educators at the elementary level also postponed a number of choir concerts until the spring. I don’t know whether this was done as some form of protest, or simply to avoid the “taint” of Christmas in their choir concerts, but the school board’s decision drew strong parental and student objections.
But then, the school board got a “lawyer letter” from the Alliance Defending Freedom (“ADF”). The ADF letter reminded the school board 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.” The letter went on to observe that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit has ruled “that there is no constitutional objection to students in public schools learning and performing religious songs ‘presented objectively as part of a secular program of education.’” Then, the ADF letter concluded that “Federal courts have recognized that the vast majority of high-quality choral music is religious in nature. As a result, they have refused to second-guess music educators’ curricular choices and place numerical quotas on the religious pieces that school choirs may perform.” In an interview regarding this matter, ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco observed:
Misinformation about the First Amendment is frequently what leads to censorship of constitutionally permissible and culturally significant songs performed during Christmas concerts. Americans are free to communicate what Christmas is about during the Christmas season, and that includes singing Christmas carols at public schools.
As a result of parental objections, buttressed by the lawyer letter, the Wausau school board has voted to reverse that decision, and gave authority over the concerts back to music educators and school principals, thereby restoring the Christmas (oops, holiday) concerts. A December 2011 Rasmussen poll found that 79 percent of American adults believe public schools should celebrate religious holidays. So American Christians, please rejoice and sing our Savior’s praises heartily this Christmas season, in government schools and elsewhere, for truly we celebrate the coming of true Joy to the World, for the Lord has come and our Savior reigns!