Part two of this story (if you missed part one, follow this link) must begin with a repudiation and examination of the Lebanon School District’s statements regarding their Christmas programs. Despite our numerous attempts, the R-3 School District has ignored Ye Olde Journalist’s requests for an interview. They did, however, briefly speak with the Lebanon Daily Record, and it is with their article that I begin.
The Lebanon Daily Record reported that the R-3 District “plans no policy changes this year for its Christmas programs despite a complaint last year by a concerned parent of an Esther Elementary child about religious songs.” I have already detailed the issues that occurred last year, so I won’t do so again. I will, however, say that the issue was slightly more complicated than the Daily Record is letting on. Reading the details of the story will make that clear.
Quite comically, R-3 Superintendent Duane Widhalm told the Daily Record, “We try to remain a neutral balance there of some of each, is what we try to do there. … And not to take too many away or add too many from either side.” Firstly, I wonder which “sides” he is talking about. I wasn’t aware there were only two sides to whatever it is Widhalm is alluding to (though I have a guess).
Secondly, a look at the set list for last year’s program reveals that they do not, in fact, try to “remain a neutral balance.” (I can only assume that nonsensical quotation is meant to say that the school tries to remain a neutral party in matters of religious programming). As Rachel Rothwell quite rightly put it to the school in her original complaint, “Out of the 14 songs selected, five expose the events surrounding the birth of Christ. While the ‘Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy’, ‘Maligayang Pasko’, ‘Away in a Manger’, and ‘Silent Night’ are specific to the Christ’s birth, Luly Lullay is a Coventry Carol which speaks of the mass killing of male babies at the hands of King Herod.”
Also, on further examination, of the 14 songs selected, only one (Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel) is actually about another religion. There are, to be fair, a few secular songs like Jingle Bells and All I want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth. However, that does not take away from the fact that explicitly Christian songs were chosen for the school program with only a token mention of other religious traditions. It should also be taken into account that nearly every-single song selected – even if it isn’t religious per se – is still a Christmas song. That, in and of itself, is telling.
My brief repudiation complete, I turn to the matter at hand. In part one of this story, I said that I intended to show that the school does have a Christian motivation behind their programming selections. Information on this year’s elementary school program was difficult to come by, but I found plenty to question when it comes to the High School Choir’s activities.
Firstly, the picture below is a screenshot of the Lebanon High School Choir’s website. Take a glance and ask yourself if there is anything suspicious here:
The banner is sheet music displaying the Lord’s prayer from Matthew 6:13. Odd, no?
Scrolling down, one finds something even more strange:
Above is Mr. Tapson, the Choir Director, requesting that his students come to First Christian Church for service on Tuesday, November 24th. Of course, schools use churches all the time for programming since they have large, convenient spaces for things like concerts. However, the November 24th concert is conspicuously absent from the school’s choir schedule, shown below. Again, how odd.
Despite the absence, here is a picture posted by Lebanon Choirs on Twitter the same day, which raises even more obvious questions:
During this program, the children were singing Lamb of God, Hymn of Gratitude, Bogoroditsye Djevo (God-Bearing Virgin), and Hark I Hear the Harps. This information was posted to the Lebanon High School Choirs’ Facebook page. I’ll give you a few seconds to determine for yourself what all those songs have in common.
To be fair, perhaps that religious service – I mean public high school choir concert – wasn’t required. However, what the schedule calls the “Winter Program” (but their flyer calls the “Christmas Program”) was required.
Let’s take a moment to examine the facts of the Christmas Program (their words, not mine). Firstly, it is being held at a church, on a Sunday. Secondly, the choir is singing all religious songs (except We Wish You A Merry Christmas). In fact, they even say they are singing hymnals. Don’t take my word for it, check it out below:
Third, this program was required and made known so through threats of diminished grades:
There are now two things that must be considered in tandem: one, everything I have show you above, and two, Article I Section 7 of the Missouri Constitution, which states:
“That no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion, or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof, as such; and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.”
Given that Lebanon High School is a publicly funded school, I would say it is entirely possible that the R-3 School District has a bit of a Constitutional pickle on its hands.
Even if what is going on in the R-3 district is determined to be constitutional (or legal, which is not the same thing) a serious ethical question arises from both the evidence presented in this series of articles as well as this article I wrote for the blog Danthropology, which details further potential religious violations. The question that needs to be asked: is the Lebanon School District actively promoting the Christian religion? I do not see how anyone could conclude anything but a resounding “yes” to this question.
Taken in totality, it is quite obvious, in my opinion, that the R-3 district is being run by religious fanatics who do not know how to keep their private beliefs out of public schools. It is only a matter of time before they find themselves on the losing end of a lawsuit.