Dawn Eden, a longtime music writer and now a copy editor at the New York Post, today celebrates her first appearance on an op-ed page with her witty piece "The Grinch Who Stole Messiah." Eden criticizes the South Orange/Maplewood School District's policy of banning religious music -- now including instrumentals -- during students' holiday concerts.
Eden is a Christian, which is clear in her Dawn Patrol blog, but for this commentary she draws instead from her family's Jewish heritage:
Don't get me wrong. I'm glad I missed the era of institutionalized celebration of Christianity in schools. Back when my Jewish father went to public school, it wasn't unusual for the kids to have to sing hymns like "Onward Christian Soldiers."
Even when I was growing up -- under the modern rules that require religious music to be presented in a secular setting, as an expression of tradition rather than a devotional exercise -- it wasn't always easy being a Jewish kid in the chorus. The Christmas songs went on about Jesus, while the Hanukkah music usually got no deeper than "dreidel, dreidel, dreidel."
As Eden points out in her blog item about this same story, all-out bans on religious music have attracted criticism from the Anti-Defamation League, The American School Board Journal, the National Association for Music Education and the First Amendment Center. But Eden shows that a principled atheist also can see the folly of such policies:
Even First Amendment lawyer Ron Kuby, an avowed atheist, is on the side of the angels. "Unfortunately, it's always easier to stifle the speech than to risk a lawsuit," he says. "But this serves no one's interest. It infuriates the religious community without any corresponding benefit to maintaining the separation between church and state."