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Is religious music permissible?

Q: I teach chorus and vocal music in a public high school. I get conflicting opinion about whether I can have the chorus perform religious music, such as Christmas carols. I love the repertoire and think students learn a great deal from performing it. But I worry that the religious content may make some students uncomfortable.

A: Religion is a sensitive topic when dining in polite company and in the public schools. But even judges and lawyers appreciate good music. A lot of choral music has religious content, so you have a good secular purpose to having students perform it. The use of religious songs in a school concert does not constitute an unconstitutional endorsement or establishment of religion.

On the other hand, you are wise to be concerned about students who may not be comfortable performing songs with religious content. Students who choose not to sing religious songs should not be penalized or have their grade lowered. Be sure that students are not ostracized or harassed because they are of another faith, or choose not to sing religious songs.

Last, but not least, make sure you comply with relevant school board policies or administrative directives. Many school divisions require teachers to submit classroom materials for approval, or list the books, movies, and other content teachers can use in class. Your local school board can exercise its authority over curriculum by restricting performance of religious songs in schools. Your right to free speech (or appreciation for good music) does not allow you to override a school board decision.
I hope your concert is a big success!


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