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Ban on school Christmas carols upheld

Associated Press Modified: October 5, 2010 at 3:58 pm •  Published: October 5, 2010

"You're not even going to allow the instrumentals of the music that doesn't contain the words," Muise said. "People in the audience would sing the songs in their minds?"

The case was brought under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which requires the government to be neutral toward religion, Muise said.

"The whole idea of diversity and tolerance, you learn those traits by understanding other people's traditions and religious traditions," he said.

The South Orange-Maplewood policy, which says its goal is to "foster mutual understanding and respect for the right of all individuals regarding their beliefs," permits religious music to be taught in the curriculum. But the music cannot be used to celebrate religious concepts, events or holidays.

Muise said by banning it from performance, the district essentially kept religious songs out of the curriculum because "teachers tend to have students learn in class what they're going to perform" at a concert.

He also said that despite the district's stated policy, prior to 2004 some holiday concerts did contain Christmas music. In 2003, for example, according to the petition, one holiday concert included "Joy to the World," ''O Come all Ye Faithful," ''Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" and "Silent Night."

He said the policy also prohibits "any printed programs for any holiday concert to have any graphics which refer to the holidays, such as Christmas trees and dreidels."

(Jeanette Rundquist writes for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J. Whitney Jones contributed to this report.)