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CAROLS AREN’T RELIGIOUS EXERCISE

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Every year, controversy over how the Christmas season may be commemorated by governmental institutions seems to accompany Santa Claus, the lights and the shopping. Most recently, a West High School student has voiced objections to a traditional holiday program including the singing of customary holiday carols by the school's choir.

A recent television news report on the subject failed to include any mention of an important federal court case permitting the singing of religious Christmas carols by a school choir. Florey vs. Sioux Falls School District (619 F.2d 1311 1980), a case handed down by the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, allowed to stand by the U.S. Supreme Court, permitted such music to be part of a public school's holiday program.The court ruled such music in the public school setting does not violate First Amendment religious prohibitions because singing to celebrate a holiday is not a religious exercise. What is often misunderstood by many is that all mention of religion is not prohibited in public institutions, only references advancing or inhibiting religion.

Christmas carols, according to the court, do not constitute a religious exercise, because Christmas, "has acquired a significance no longer confined to the religious sphere of life. It has become integrated into our national culture and heritage." Indeed, Christmas is wherever one goes during this time of the year. It's at the mall, on Main Street, on the radio and television, in our neighborhoods, and finally, in our schools.

The singing of religious Christmas music by school choirs also achieves non-religious, or secular, objectives. It helps students develop their musical talent and gives them many performance opportunities they do not enjoy at other times of the year. School groups celebrating the origins of Christmas by singing carols is indeed the advancement of a federal and state holiday, not the advancement of religion. If schools are not allowed to promote this holiday, then the federal government and the all 50 state governments should not be allowed to advance it by giving their employees a paid holiday, at taxpayer expense, every 25th of December.

The decision by West High's principal allowing the program to go ahead as planned should be applauded and is on solid legal ground.

Jack D. Duffy

Social studies teacher, West Jordan High School

Salt Lake City