In 2007 Cedar Wood Elementary school was just one of many schools that changed their Christmas musical programs under fear of possible complaint or litigation. In Cedar Wood's case the change was in response to the district being sued for including the Ave Maria in a graduation ceremony the year before. This case is by no means unique, and it underscores the importance that teachers must place on basing their music selections on a firm curricular foundation. These types of challenges have become more and more common in the sixty years since the 1948 Supreme Court ruling that religious instruction in public schools was unconstitutional.
Is Sacred Music in a Public School Concert Illegal?
The Music Educator's National Conference (MENC) has just published a new discussion on the topic of Sacred vs. Secular and a person can tell from the comments that the topic has touched a large percentage of teacher's lives. They also have a very useful and informative official statement about the use of Sacred Music In The Schools, including citations of court cases such as a 1971 opinion by Chief Justice Warren Berger that set forth these basic questions as a partial litmus test as to whether or not sacred music should be allowed to be used in a particular instance (quoted from the MENC article):
1. What is the purpose of the activity? Is the purpose secular in nature, that is, studying music of a particular composer's style or historical period?
2. What is the primary effect of the activity? Is it the celebration of religion? Does the activity either enhance or inhibit religion? Does it invite confusion of thought or family objections?
3. Does the activity involve excessive entanglement with a religion or religious group, or between the schools and religious organizations? Financial support can, in certain cases, be considered an entanglement.