It’s getting to look a lot like (dare I say), Christmas – or should we say “Mid Winter Holiday” so as to not offend anyone this year.

And while we’re at it, it’s “kvetching” season - over whether or not public schools should ban or allow religious holiday music at their upcoming concerts.

After all, what would Christmas (there’s that word again) be without the glee club singing a version of “Silent Night?” Or, just to be inclusive, should a version of “Dreidl Dreidl” be left out as well? (Just for the record, Hannukah comes early this year.)

And so it begins. No Christms carols at one Bordentown Township school – with, I’m sure, a few others to follow.

Religious songs have been removed from the winter concert program at the MacFarland Intermediate School.

District Superintendent Constance Bauer announced the development in a letter posted to the district’s website.

“Recently, some musical selections for the elementary winter concerts were questioned,” said Bauer, who did not name the song titles or who raised objections.
She also would not confirm rumors that two families met with the music teacher, or that the matter was turned over to the superintendent’s office.

The district’s legal firm, Parker McCay of Mount Laurel, determined that “religious music should not be part of the elementary program(s),” in light of Stratechuk v. Board of Education of South Orange-Maplewood School District, heard in U.S. District Court in August 2008.

In that case, a judge upheld the school district’s ban on religious music after a parent challenged it, saying it violated the First Amendment. The policy reads, in part, “Religious music, like any other music, can only be used if it achieves specific goals of the music curriculum,” and, “Music programs prepared or presented by student groups as an outcome of the curriculum shall not have a religious orientation or focus on religious holidays.”

As for whether the development will be formalized by the Board of Education in a resolution, Bauer said that the district’s policies are being reviewed and that the agenda for the Nov. 13 meeting is still being drafted.

Her letter concludes, “It remains the district’s mission to celebrate the rich and wonderful diversity of our children and community, and hope that the joy shared through our numerous winter programs will continue to be a cherished part of your family traditions.”

The situation has drawn both critics and supporters, who have contributed to online discussions on social media sites for the township and city, and on the Burlington County Times’ Facebook page.

Claudia Schanil, a parent of MacFarland students, applauded the decision and said she is in favor of the separation of church and state.
“If you want your child to be enriched with a religious education, pay for them to go to a religious private school. A church, a temple, a coven and a home are all the place for religion, not a public school,” Schanil said.

Jack McDonald, whose children have graduated from the district, disagreed with the measure. He pointed out that only two families complained.

“They’re upsetting the whole community,” McDonald said.

The conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom is battling the Bordentown district's choice, though. It fired off a letter asserting that district official misunderstood the court ruling.

"We write to explain that every federal court to examine the issue has determined that including Christmas carols and other religious music in school choir programs fully complies with the First Amendment and to urge you to immediately rescind the new policy instituted by administrative officials."

The letter went on to say that in 1993 a federal court in New Jersey upheld the Cherry Hill school district's "policy of including religious symbols and objects in calendars and displays that the district produced for Christmas and other seasonal events."

Why even bother having a Christmas concert without Christmas carols?

Oh sure, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” might make for a nice reminder of the holiday – until, of course, someone complains about the “saintliness” of old St. Nick. Then even the mentioning of his name, the jolly old sort that he is, will be banned!