Barry Saunders

Want to hear the school choir? Don’t be overly religious – Saunders

The Apex Christmas Nativity Celebration at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Apex features more than 600 nativity scenes and musical performances. Wake County school choirs were barred from performing at the event last weekend.
The Apex Christmas Nativity Celebration at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Apex features more than 600 nativity scenes and musical performances. Wake County school choirs were barred from performing at the event last weekend. Forrest Anderson

Kids, listen to Uncle B.S.

If you play this thing right, you may never have to go to school again – except to eat lunch, clean out your lockers and to pick up your diplomas.

Student choirs from four Wake County schools were scheduled to participate last week in the Apex Christmas Nativity Celebration, but NO-SAFEWAEA – the National Organization to Stop Anyone From Ever Worshiping Anything Ever Again – raised a ruckus that could be heard in the heavens.

Oops – as far away as Clayton.

Actually, it wasn’t NO-SAFEWAEA, but the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, that put the kibosh on the annual holiday event – proving that cheese isn’t the only thing coming out of that state.

After the students were forbidden to participate because the school board’s law firm, Tharrington Smith, accurately concluded that the ceremony was unconstitutionally akin to religious recruitment, there was the predictable hullabaloo about a “war on Christmas” and political correctness – whatever the heaven that means.

School spokesman Tim Simmons told me that students and schools aren’t forbidden to participate in celebrations that have religious themes, as long as the purpose for the event isn’t to proselytize unto others.

The lawyers – and the school board for acceding to this lawyerly wisdom – probably headed off a lawsuit. Simmons said everything was Kool & the Gang – the choirs would’ve been able to perform – until a church member made a video explaining “the purpose of the event.” In doing so, Simmons said, the pastor “makes it clear that as part of this great opportunity, you get to provide religious testimony.”

Everything was cool with the lawyers and the choirs would’ve been able to perform until a church member made a video explaining that part of the purpose of the event was to provide religious testimony.

“If I go to a Christmas event and they happen to have a nativity scene but the rest of the event is pretty secular – you know, it’s children singing songs – then you’re not in a position where you’re endorsing a religion,” Simmons said. “When you send a school to an event in which the intent clearly includes something like what was explained in the video, which is, ‘Hey, there’s an opportunity to testify’ – from the lawyer’s perspective, you’re on the wrong side of the line.”

In response to a question from me, Simmons noted that “you could argue that any nativity scene would be an endorsement of a religion, but that’s not how the courts look at it. It has to be more overt than that.”

Video courtesy of Cedar Behnke

Now, here’s how students can dramatically reduce their number of mandatory school days and tests. A popular restaurant has as its motto “It’s always Friday somewhere” or “in here it’s always Friday” or something. (Dang, maybe it isn’t so popular.)

Likewise – at least for the purpose of making school less intellectually burdensome – it’s always a religious holiday somewhere, to somebody.

Try this, kids. The next time a teacher flummoxes you with a pop quiz on the mating habits of the musk ox in colonial America or something for which you haven’t studied, you can flummox her and become a hero to your similarly unprepared classmates.

Sorry, Miss Fulton. Today is Irving R. Feldman’s birthday, and the Constitution states that no tests shall be administered on the date celebrating Irving R. Feldman’s birthday.

Simmons said such incidents “are not very common” and are handled on a case-by-case basis.

“The teachers try to be sensitive in those situations,” he said. “The question here (with the nativity celebration) is whether you can send four schools” to a program with the expressed aim of providing religious testimony.

Get angry at the Wisconsin folks at the Freedom From Religion Foundation all you want. Vow, even, to never again eat cheese – unless it’s in macaroni and cheese; hey, we aren’t fanatics. Still, the U.S. Constitution is unequivocal and clear: Keep religion and the state separate.

That doesn’t mean the attendees at last week’s nativity celebration had to be deprived of the sweet, soothing sounds of the school choirs.

How about if the students never actually attended the nativity celebration, but observed the invisible “wall of separation” about which Jefferson wrote by standing out on the sidewalk and singing their secular songs loudly?

Simmons said the songs didn’t have to be secular because “a lot of religious songs have historical value to them – ‘Handel’s Messiah’ and ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ are pretty historical pieces of music.’ You don’t have to stick to singing ‘Frosty the Snowman’ or whatever.”

Cool, but to be on the safe side of the Professional Opponents Of Proselytizing – POOP – who comprise Freedom From Religion, let’s stick with non-religious fare.

Choir director: Alright children, PROJECT!

We wish you a merry whatever it is y’all are celebrating in there

We wish you a merry whatever it is y’all are celebrating in there

We wish you a merry whatever it is y’all are celebrating in there

And a Happy New Year.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9

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