Prompted in part by my series of articles about the promoting of Christianity in Lebanon Schools, the Lebanon Daily Record ran a survey asking people to vote on the question “Do you believe that children should be able to sing religious songs during Christmas programs at public schools?”
Unsurprisingly, nearly 75% of respondents voted “yes.”
To this very simple question “yes” is the correct answer. That may seem like a surprising statement coming from an atheist like myself, but it is a perfectly valid statement. Some songs are religious in nature, but that in and of itself is not a reason to exclude them from holiday programming.
The question in the Lebanon Daily Record poll arose out of my general accusation that the school is actively promoting the Christian religion. Because my accusation was general in nature, it is necessary to be more specific. So here it is: the instructors of the various music programs in the Lebanon R-III School District are selecting program music based on their personal religious beliefs and then imposing those beliefs on children.
Let me cut off my critics at the pass by saying that my accusation is not a criticism of the religious songs themselves, but is rather a criticism concerning the motivations behind the song choices. There is a distinct difference between the two. Silent Night, for example, is a perfectly valid song selection depending on the motivations of the person selecting it. It is more important to examine why something was selected rather than just what was selected.
A public school holiday program can include religious songs and still have those songs be an ethically sound choice (the fact that R-III calls it the “Christmas program” is worthy of attention). So instead of asking if the school should prohibit religious songs, the proper question to ask is “should school officials be allowed to select religious songs based on their personal religious preferences?” Or, better yet, should public schools perform programs that appear to be obvious endorsements of religion?
As I’ve made clear previously, there is a strong circumstantial case to be made that the Lebanon School District is engaging in actions that imply an endorsement of Christianity. Singing Christian religious songs in a church on Sunday, as the High School Choir was required to do, seems to be an endorsement of that religion. I cannot imagine any thinking person disagreeing with that statement.
Now, to be fair, it is entirely possible that the teachers and other officials are not fully conscious of what they are doing. At the lower-levels of school administration, teachers and principals, I doubt there is any conscious nefarious purpose. Nonetheless, as government employees it is their duty to be conscious of the message they are sending to the community and to the children. As for the higher-ups, like R-3 Superintendent Duane Widhalm, there is, in my opinion, no excuse for allowing even subconscious religious indoctrination to continue once it has been brought to their attention.