Minor Music
Listen. Learn. Create.
Sacred Music in Public Schools
Categories: Christmas, Concerts, December

The way we see it, there’s only one reason school officials oppose Christmas music at their annual holiday concert: Ignorance of the law.

So, let’s start with the law of the land. The United States Constitution, specifically the First Amendment, assures that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

(Now let’s step aside as the legal types duke out the particulars of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.) We can, for the sake of brevity, reasonably accept that the government does not tell us who, how or if we should worship.

On a practical level, let’s also agree that it is the duty of the public schools to provide our children with a complete education. To that end, the Supreme Court of the United States maintains that, “one’s education is not complete without a study of … the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization.”
United States Supreme Court Justice Clark in Abingdon v. Schempp

Hopefully, for the parents sitting in countless American public school auditoriums in the coming weeks, these accepted truths will guide those who design the holiday programs performed by our children. Minor Music believes that music education programs should include sacred works that are historically and musically relevant. The public school’s approach to sacred music should be academic, not devotional.

(Enter NAfME). Since 1907, The National Association for Music Education (formerly MENC), has been accepted as one of the world’s largest arts education organizations. They maintain that “the study and performance of music with religious texts within an educational context is a vital and appropriate part of a comprehensive music education. The omission of sacred music from the school curriculum would result in an incomplete educational experience.

Brooke Harman, representing Alfred Music Publishing (one of the world’s largest educational music publishers), reminds us that much of the history of choral traditions is found in sacred music. The folks at Alfred Music insist that a well-rounded music education would be vapid without religious music.

We think Charles C. Haynes of TheFirstAmendmentCenter.org, sums it up best: “The First Amendment solution is stunningly simple: Schools should plan holiday programs that are educational in purpose and balanced in content. Nothing in the First Amendment prohibits public schools from educating students about music, religious and secular, as part of a comprehensive music program that exposes students to a variety of traditions and cultures. ”

To that we say, “Amen.”

3 Comments to “Sacred Music in Public Schools”

  1. Thank you for the work you are doing…Our religious holidays guidance is found in Finding Common Ground, Chapter 10. This book is online at our web site http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org under “First Amendment publications” in the religious liberty section.

    All the best, Charles Haynes

  2. Go to our website, http://www.alfred.com, and look up “Patrick Liebergen.” He’s one of our most excellent editors of classical chorals – most of his editions would fit this category, as they are his arrangements and editions of sacred classical works. Type in “Liebergen,” in the upper right, then under GENRE click on “Masterwork.” He has a wealth of incredible material in our catalog (193 entries). My favorites are his editions of Mozart’s “Dies Irae” and Caccini’s “Ave Maria.”

  3. Pat Parris says:

    I agree that much of the enrichment of the western world can be found in its rich heritage of religious music.

    This makes a strong case for our values being established in our religious practice. Much gospel music is also rich in African American heritage. If we do not choose these selections, then we lose the values that are transmitted from them.

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