Many Arizona public elementary schools' winter concerts do not have children singing about angels Bethlehem, or the little Lord Jesus this year. Instead, it's "Frosty the Snowman," "Winter Wonderland," and "Jolly Old St. Nicholas."
Teachers say the refocusing of music sung at schools is part of a growing effort to be sensitive to an increasingly diverse student population. Some programs that include Christian music such as "Silent Night" or "Away in a Manger" this holiday season will also typically include songs from other religions in an effort to keep every concert balanced.
Peter Gentala is the legal counsel with the Center for Arizona Policy in Scottsdale. He says suppressing references to Christ during the Christmas season violates students' constitutional rights of free expression.
"What we're dealing with is a generation of officials in the public school system in this country who really don't understand what the Constitution requires," Gentala says. "And if a group comes in there with mistaken interpretations of the law, they're extremely susceptible to making that policy."
And according to the attorney, that policy is increasingly in evidence in schools across the state as the trend of secularizing Christmas continues to spread. He notes that some schools have even renamed the holiday, giving it names like "Winter Sparkle Season" or "the Winter Solstice," and have excluded all references to Jesus from school Christmas concerts.
But Gentala contends such actions are unnecessary, since they are definitely not required by the Constitution of the United States. Also, he feels the removal of Christ from Christmas as a school policy could initiate a dangerous, escalating pattern.
"Once you start doing that where do you stop?" the legal counsel asks. "Do you start correcting children inside your school when they say 'Merry Christmas' to one another?" He goes on to wonder whether school officials might actually consider stopping kids mid-greeting to tell them, "No, this is the Winter Holiday season. We don't say Christmas in this school."
Gentala is concerned that current policies in many Arizona public schools could lead to this sort of thing. He says, "It's something that, once you start moving in that direction, once you start chipping out the bits and pieces of the holiday that you don't like as a government official, there's no logical stopping place."
The Center for Arizona Policy has sent a legal memorandum about this issue to 560 different school districts and charter schools in Arizona in an effort to prepare school officials with answers to fend off complaints from anti-Christian groups. Gentala contends that America's founding fathers would never have advocated the kind of censorship of Christmas that is now going on in many U.S. schools.
Center for Arizona Policy (www.azpolicy.org)
© 2004, Agape Press