A school district in New Jersey that already excludes the word "Christmas" from its calendar of events for December is banning religious Christmas music during winter concert performances at its elementary schools, according to a religious freedom advocacy group.
Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter Monday to the Bordentown Regional School District after administrators pointed to a New Jersey court ruling that states religious music should not be a part of elementary school programs.
"Schools should not have to think twice about whether they can allow students to perform Christmas carols," said ADF Legal Counsel Matthew Sharp. "Courts have unanimously upheld their inclusion in school productions – even when songs deal with Christian themes that are naturally a part of the holiday."
The ADF letter explains 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." As a result, the First Amendment requires that the district "remains neutral towards religion and refrains from demonstrating an unconstitutional hostility toward songs with religious origins."
The letter also explains that "the cultural and educational merits of Christmas carols and other religious songs are well established." One federal appellate court, for example, "recognized over thirty years ago 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….' Music educators, not administrative officials, should choose which choral pieces--secular or sacred--are best-suited to the occasion…."
"Misinformation about the First Amendment is frequently what leads to censorship of constitutionally permissible and culturally significant songs performed during Christmas concerts," added Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. "We urge the Bordentown Regional School District to rescind this new policy and permit religious music to be included among the many non-religious songs performed at school concerts."
Perhaps ironically, in a public letter from Constance J. Bauer, Ed.D., the district's Superintendent of Schools, that calls for the ban, she concludes, "It remains the District's mission to celebrate the rich and wonderful diversity of our children and community and hope that the joy shared through our numerous winter programs will continue to be cherished part of your family traditions."
The district's calendar for December marks dates for "Winter" and "Holiday" concerts," a "Breakfast with Santa and Santa Workshop," a staff "Holiday Sweater Contest," and what has more often become the norm for school districts nationwide, "Winter Recess."
A Rasmussen poll, taken in December 2011, found that 79 percent of American adults believe public schools should celebrate religious holidays.
A response from the Bordentown Regional School District could not be obtained because of its office being closed at the time of this article's publication.