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Education Reporter

Schools Censor U.S. Religious Holidays, Historical Documents
In a year of court challenges to teacher-led recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance and a school's display of the Ten Commandments, some public schools did their best in late 2004 to spare pupils from exposure to God in the context of Thanksgiving, Christmas and historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence.

Maryland school administrators proudly reported that religion does not figure in their approach to teaching about the origins of the American celebration of Thanksgiving. In fact, the teachers don't even mention that the Pilgrims thanked God.

Nor do they quote George Washington's 1789 proclamation establishing Thanksgiving Day, which stated: "It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor." (Capital News Service, 11-22-04)

Wordless songs banned too! 
The latest casualty of the Christmas season is instrumental-music renditions of Christmas carols, which were banned in the South Orange/Mapplewood, NJ school district. The district had already nixed the singing of Christmas carols since the early 1990s.

Moreover, the famed Columbia High School concert choir in that district, which used to perform great choral classics such as Handel's Messiah and Judas Maccabaeus (which deals with an ancient Jewish hero), is now limited to mediocre generic seasonal tunes like "Winter Wonderland" and "Frosty the Snowman." (nypost.com, 11-19-04)(See Focus for other examples of Christmas censorship.)

Even American historical documents that mention God have raised controversy. A California 5th-grade teacher filed a federal lawsuit in November challenging his principal's ban on his use of handouts with excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, "The Right of the Colonists" by Samuel Adams, the 1682 "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania" by William Penn, and George Washington's prayer journal.

Steven J. Williams, an evangelical Christian, is represented by Alliance Defense Fund in his suit against the Cupertino district. "It's a fact of American history that our founders were religious men, and to hide this fact from young 5th-graders in the name of political correctness is outrageous and shameful," said his attorney, Terry Thompson. "The principal seems to be systematically censoring material that refers to Christianity and it is pure discrimination." (Reuters, 11-24-04)

California's Education Code allows "references to religion or references to or the use of religious literature . . . when such references or uses do not constitute instruction in religious principles . . . and when such references or uses are incidental to or illustrative of matters properly included in the course of study."

Tennessee's solution 
The Cupertino problem probably could not arise in Tennessee, which passed a law in 1993 affirming that teachers in public schools may use historical documents that mention God. It specifically lists the following documents as permitted for classroom use and for posting in public school buildings:

  1. the national motto
  2. the national anthem
  3. the Pledge of Allegiance
  4. the Constitution of Tennessee
  5. the Declaration of Independence
  6. the writings, speeches, documents and proclamations of the founders, presidents of the United States, or the founders or governors of Tennessee
  7. opinions of the United States and Tennessee Supreme Courts
  8. acts of the United States Congress and acts of the Tennessee General Assembly.

Even service academy e-mail is being censored for religious content. Air Force Academy officials took action twice last year to crack down on religious references in e-mails by cadets and staffers. In March, they admonished cadets for using academy e-mail to encourage people to see Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ." In the fall, the Air Force Academy prohibited the practice by some staffers of putting Bible verses at the bottom of their e-mails. (Associated Press, 11-19-04)

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