It’s the holiday season — a time of joy, giving and, of course, parents outraged about the prospect of religious symbolism appearing at the elementary school their children attend.
Such is the case at Chief Charlo Elementary School in Missoula, Montana, where a group of protesting parents is so irate about the songs selected for the school’s holiday music program they are contemplating legal action, the Missoulian reports.
There’s been no lawsuit yet, but the parents have sent an anonymous letter to the superintendent of the Missoula County Public Schools district. They say the collection of songs is improper, unconstitutional and a form of bullying. Particularly galling to the parents are references to God and Jesus.
“With many of the children in our neighborhood up here being Jewish and Buddhist, as well as a few Muslim and atheist students, we were assured that this year it would be a secular program,” the letter read, according to the Missoulian. It was signed, “concerned parents.” There were no specific names.
The previous year, the unsigned letter said, young children sang lyrics about “their lord,” which caused discomfort among some parents as well as students.
“We have no problem with it being called a Christmas concert, it’s just the fact the material should be secular,” the missive continued. “Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. These are things that offend no one.”
According to the Daily Mail, the parents say their children are “forced to be reformed to what is seen as the majority.” They worry that their kids could be “singled out” or “targeted” if they don’t want to participate.
The letter even suggested that a holiday concert for grade school kids can rise to the level of rank intimidation.
“Bullying is such a hot topic, yet that seems to be what is occurring here,” the dispatch said, according to the Daily Mail.
This year, each of the two concerts at Chief Charlo Elementary – one in the morning for younger kids and one in the afternoon for older kids — featured a repertoire of songs from a variety of cultural traditions.
According to the Missoulian, kids in kindergarten through third grade performed “Joy to the World,” “Up On a House Top,” “Jolly Old St. Nicholas,” “O Christmas Tree,” “O Come Little Children,” “Deck the Halls,” a Polish lullaby (with lyrics that serenade baby Jesus), a Hanukkah song, a pinata song, a Nutcracker song, and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
The fourth and fifth graders in the afternoon sang “Season of Bells,” “Dreidel Spins,” “Good Christian Men Rejoice,” “Merry Merry,” “Jolly Old St. Nicholas,” and “Go in Peace.”
“Every year, there will be some kind of complaint about the Christmas music,” John Combs, the school district’s fine arts director, told the Missoulian. “We hear it from both sides. It’s too secular or it’s too sacred. There’s always something wrong with it.”
“I’ve learned in the years I’ve been doing this that you can’t win,” he said.
“If someone is really upset at singing a song, nobody makes them do it,” Combs added, according to the Daily Mail.
If the threatened lawsuit by the unnamed parents materializes, it would face substantial legal hurdles according to David Cortman, an attorney who specializes in the First Amendment at Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative-leaning nonprofit.
“It doesn’t create a constitutional crisis to sing Christmas songs at Christmastime,” Cortman told the Daily Mail. “If every time there was a piece of art or classical musical with a religious theme, we censored it, we would be eliminating much from the students’ education.”
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