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  Religious Freedom
December Dilemma

Public School Students Performing Religious Music


Introduction
Religion in the Classroom
Holiday Assemblies
Performing Religious Music
Holiday Displays
School-sponsored singing of religious music poses slightly different concerns because so much choral music is religious. 15 Due to the dominance of religious music in serious choral music and the legitimate secular reasons for having public school students sing choral music, courts have been more lenient about allowing public school choirs to sing religious music. 16 Additionally, forbidding choirs to sing any music that is religious has been found to be hostile, not neutral, toward religion. 17 Therefore, it is usually permissible to allow public school groups to sing some religious music as part of a choral performance.

However, to avoid First Amendment violations, school choirs should not sing only religious music and should not focus on a particular holiday or denomination. Also, similar to school assemblies and other activities, school officials should allow public school children to be excused from singing religious music without fear of embarrassment or peer pressure.

For instance, at a winter public school choral concert, it is permissible to include some songs based on holidays such as Christmas or Chanukah. However, it would not be appropriate for a public school choir to perform a concert dominated by the songs of a single religious tradition.

It is also not appropriate for public schools to lead students in singing prayers, just as it is improper for schools to lead students in spoken prayer. 18 Courts have found no distinction in singing versus speaking prayers and have found that songs which "call on God for His blessing and contain an avowal of divine faith," are not appropriate for public school students to sing. 19

Public school students may be allowed to perform at churches, synagogues or temples because courts have recognized that these venues often provide excellent acoustics and atmosphere for the singing of choral music. However, a public school choir should not sing at exclusively religious sites or only at venues of a particular denomination.

As with other public school activities that involve religion, school officials and parents should consider the effects of teaching religious music to impressionable young children.

 

 

Related Materials
Teaching about Chanukah

Recommended Children’s Books for Holidays/Celebrations

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