Since When Are Song Lyrics About Jesus Considered Religiously “Neutral”? January 4, 2009

Since When Are Song Lyrics About Jesus Considered Religiously “Neutral”?

The Christian news website OneNewsNow offers no links or citations or names for their story, but here’s what they say happened at some middle school:

As the school made preparations for its recent Christmas program, the choir director became nervous about keeping his job over lyrics to an old hymn. Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, picks up the story.

“The choir director said that you couldn’t use the name of Jesus in the song ‘The Holly and The Ivy,’ saying in fact that the song [lyrics] needed to be changed from ‘Mary bore the sweet little Jesus Christ’ to ‘Mary bore the sweet little child,'” he explains.

I searched for the story and couldn’t find any mention of it anywhere else. That doesn’t discredit it. I just find that odd…

What got to me was what Staver said about the change:

Staver stresses that schools are supposed to maintain neutrality. “To the contrary, [this school’s action] shows hostility, and that’s exactly what the First Amendment forbids. This is outrageous. We will make sure that it’ll never happen again,” he adds. “Obviously the educators need education; and if education doesn’t work, we’ll litigate.”

They’re supposed to maintain religious neutrality… so let’s sing a song about Jesus?

How does that make any sense?

If Staver wants neutrality, he should be asking for that song to be removed from the program altogether. (Why is the middle school singing about Christian beliefs, anyway?)

Of course, he won’t do that.

He got mad when non-religious Hannukah songs were sung at a school concert.

He got mad when a religion-free song to the mere tune of Silent Night was sung.

So I’m not hopeful he’ll come to his senses on this issue.

And let’s not forget: Even with the lyric change, they’re still talking about Jesus. I have a problem with that.

With so many songs to choose from for a holiday concert, is it really necessary for any choir director to choose songs about one religion…?

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  • Simply astonishing…

  • mikespeir

    I think I’ve about had enough “war on Christmas” for one year.

  • Shannon

    I am against teaching of religion at school; however, I am not against the singing of sacred songs in the right context. There has been so much great music created that happens to be about Jesus/god. I am an atheist, but I still enjoy the music. Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven; It would be sad to have that gone from schools. I doubt very much that someone would actually lose their job over the singing of Christmas carols and as an Atheist I have no problems singing the lyrics anymore than I would with the recitation of any other form of mythical poetry. The Holly and the Ivy is one of my favorite carols!
    I think this fundamentalist blow-hard is making it up to stir the pot. Unless the Christmas concert is accompanied by prayer, I have no problem with it.

  • I don’t have a problem with religious songs. Most songs aren’t suppose to document some real event anyway. I understood that songs weren’t about facts when I was a child, and I think most of my friends were the same. Come to think of it, we didn’t even really notice the message of the song unless someone took pains to explain what the song was about. So yeah, if there’s no sermon or prayer, I really don’t have a problem with that. If I had kids I’d be happy for them to sing songs about the mythology of any religion.

    Messing about with changing song lyrics to avoid the name of the fictional character known as Jesus? That’s just silly. Unless people actually think that singing “Postman Pat” is going to make children believe Postman Pat (from the English children’s animated tv-programme) is real, I don’t see why they think singing about Jesus will make children think he is real.

    Ok, let’s wage war on Christmas. I think we should have any references to Santa removed from songs that children sing in school, because it refers to a real Christian saint, and so indoctrinates children in the Christian faith. There you go.

    Silly. Just silly.

  • [T]he song [lyrics] needed to be changed from ‘Mary bore the sweet little Jesus Christ’ to ‘Mary bore the sweet little child,’” he explains.

    Does that really make the song any less religious? Everybody knows which story is being referred to even if you don’t explicitly say JEsus.

    However, this guy obviously has issues coming to terms with secularism. *sigh*

  • Jeff Satterley

    I agree with you Shannon. The music dept. in my high school would finish each winter concert with Handel’s Messiah, combining members of the Wind Ensemble, String Orchestra and Chorus. Of course it’s a religious piece, but it was about the music, not singling out a preferred set of beliefs. The groups also often played traditional Jewish songs, as well as non-religious inspired music, and no piece was ever implied to be more important than any other.

    Changing the lyrics of that song does nothing, except anger some religious folk, and probably makes the religious meaning of the song more prominent. The story is probably made up, but if not, the choral director probably made this a bigger deal than it had to be.

  • [this school’s action] shows hostility, and that’s exactly what the First Amendment forbids.

    To hear fundies say it, you’d think the First Amendment says “Christians have a right to be Christians and get in your face about it, no matter who they piss off and make uncomfortable. Also, giving the time of day to an alternately religious person, and asking a Christian politely to leave you alone are hereby defined as hostility.”

    For the last time. No laws respecting religion, and no inhibiting free exercise. That’s all the constitution says about religion. Also, Westboro Baptist is free to ruin lives, and OneNewsNow is free to print all the bullshit they want. Yeah, don’t get me started about “persecution of Christians in America.” You guys never had it so good.

  • Emily

    *rolls eyes*

    I went to a public high school (wherein a large percentage of the student body were not religious) in Canada and we sang religious songs in the choir all the time. Not only for Christmas, but for competitions and other music nights. I thought they were absolutely beautiful, much better than the Rudolph crap you sing in elementary school.

    The school shouldn’t’ve had to change the words, and also, get over it. These songs are beautiful and deserve to be sung and played.

  • pb

    When I was a precocious little eighth-grader at a public school in small-town New England, the song that pushed me over the edge was “Do Lord.” My chorus teacher always managed to sneak two or three Jesus tunes into every concert (holiday or otherwise), and I was mostly pretty placid about it. It didn’t seem worthwhile to fight “Silent Night” at Christmastime.

    But in the spring of my eighth grade year, she made us sing “Do Lord,” and I flat-out refused to get up on the risers and sing, “I took Jesus as my saviour, you take him too!” I caused a fuss and my parents backed me up. The teacher ended up withdrawing the song, but there was an uproar — I lost friends and a parent wrote a letter to our local paper saying that my parents were raising me without any values.

    A subsequent concert (in which I did not participate) featured the execrable “All in All,” which I took as an attempt to rile me up. Luckily, the song was so bad that the joke was on them.

    I have nothing against Handel or other religious songs that are historically/culturally significant or musically interesting. The problem is that many school choruses are so Jesus-heavy that non-Christians don’t even bother to join. Frankly, I think it’s a giant cop-out for music teachers to spend one of their two major concerts singing simple carols that most of the kids already know. What is that supposed to teach them, other than that their teachers love Jesus as much as they do?

  • Dan C.

    When I was in high school my principal tried to tell me that everyone, everywhere celebrates Christmas. Everyone. In the entire world.

  • Aj

    The song didn’t need to be changed but if anyone wanted to do that it’s not hostile. I don’t think schools should be celebrating Christmas, but Christianity is too entrenched in the culture to ignore everything with it in. Staver seems to be demanding singing songs involving Christian stories. That’s obviously not neutral and against the First Amendment, another stupid Christian that doesn’t know the meaning of both.

  • ONN and similar “news” sites typically cite no references for their claims. This is because much of their stuff is completely fabricated. They also like to cherry-pick parts of true stories/real research to suit their agenda, and giving links to the original would allow people to see what portions of the original they chose to ignore. I’m glad you pointed out Staver’s blatant hypocrisy. It’s just like his ilk to scream for “religious freedom”, but theirs only.

  • Cynical Jones

    ONN and similar “news” sites typically cite no references for their claims. This is because much of their stuff is completely fabricated. They also like to cherry-pick parts of true stories/real research to suit their agenda, and giving links to the original would allow people to see what portions of the original they chose to ignore.

    I came here to say something similar. I’ve run across someone promoting the Liberty Counsel like crazy somewhere else. I’m thinking they are making up their “cases”.

  • Freak

    Derek: The constitution proper says that there may be no religious test as a condition for holding public office.

  • Kate

    Things like the religious songs at the winter concerts were the reason I quite the choral music department at my school system when I was younger. Every single year we sang “Go Tell it on the Mountain” and other such blatantly Christian songs. I wouldn’t have had such an issue if other faiths were represented. But they weren’t. One year we briefly considered a Jewish song, but since it was in Hebrew, many of the students found the words “too difficult to pronounce”. When a friend of mine (a wiccan) and I refused to participate in the christian portion of the program, the director gave us an ultimatum. We could either deal with it, or quit. I don’t regret walking out on it.

  • JSug

    Well, we sang a great mix of songs when I was in HS choir. Christian, non-Christian religious, and completely non-religious. Some of my favorites were blatantly Christian in nature, but they were also musically interesting and important works. Like Beethoven’s Halleluah from Mount of Olives. That one still gives me a great feeling when performed well with full orchestral accompaniment (what the heck, here’s a link). But then, we had a choir director with really good taste. He would never have thrown anything in simply because it was promoting Christianity. And he usually let us have some say in what we were singing, giving us several options to choose from as a group when preparing for a concert or contest.

  • logicalath

    It just won’t stop. Religious people, particularly christians in the USA, (and others such as muslims, etc. in the Middle East) all know that what they preach/sell is pure BS. So when you are trying to sell something that is pure BS you have to push, push, push, push, push.

    You see it particularly in schools where the majority of teachers are of course christians. They cannot leave well enough alone and let people choose to go to their religious ceremonies wherever they are presented. They know that “their” particular religion cannot sell itself because it is simply a fabrication. So, like any product that is pure BS, they have to sell, sell, sell, etc. They can’t have “prayer” in class so they have “moment of silence” (same thing). They can’t use jesus in a song, so they slip in some other term or phrase that everyone knows means the same thing. ANYTHING they can come up with that is of THEIR desire to force their religion down other peoples’ throats. With these people it is like some kind of mental illness. They simply cannot stop trying to sell their BS to others.

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