BORDENTOWN, N.J. (RNS) Students won’t be allowed to sing religious holiday songs at winter concerts in a south-central New Jersey school district.
Bordentown Superintendent Constance J. Bauer issued a statement on Oct. 18 saying that some of the selections were questioned and that “religious music should not be part of the elementary program.”
The statement added that the district solicitor is reviewing the decision, mentioning how the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 declined to hear an appeal of a similar situation involving another New Jersey family.
Michael Stratechuk, whose children attended Columbia High School and Maplewood Middle School, sued in 2004, saying the South Orange-Maplewood school district’s ban violated the First Amendment’s freedom of worship provision.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia upheld the ban, however. The judges said public school administrations can determine which songs are appropriate according to constitutional guidelines to create a secular “inclusive environment.”
The conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom is battling the Bordentown district’s choice, though. It fired off a letter asserting that district official misunderstood the court ruling.
“We write to explain 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 and to urge you to immediately rescind the new policy instituted by administrative officials.”
The letter went on to say that in 1993 a federal court in New Jersey upheld the Cherry Hill (N.J.) school district’s “policy of including religious symbols and objects in calendars and displays that the district produced for Christmas and other seasonal events.”
Bordetown school officials haven’t commented beyond the original Oct. 18 statement.