'Happy Holidays Charlie Brown'? So what happened in that Kentucky play?

So what happened? What did Linus van Pelt say?

I am referring, of course, to the controversy that unfolded this past week in Johnson County, Ken., where school officials -- after receiving complaints from some in their community -- removed the speech by Linus at the pivotal moment in an elementary school production of "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Click here for the previous GetReligion post focusing on the Lexington Herald-Leader coverage of this Christmas wars showdown.

Here was my main point in my previous post: If Linus could not recite the key lines from the Gospel of St. Luke -- in response to Charlie Brown's anguished cry of "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" -- then what was Linus going to say? It appeared, in previous coverage, that no one asked that question.

In the comments on that previous post, several readers tipped us off to what happened. So here is an update from the Herald-Leader, to stay with the same news source used before.

Though Johnson County school officials deleted a Bible passage from a student production of A Charlie Brown Christmas despite protests, several adults in the audience at Thursday’s performance recited the lines normally spoken by the character Linus, a video shows.
The scene at W.R. Castle Elementary School followed a firestorm of controversy in Johnson County this week.

And there is more information later:

Castle Elementary principal Jeff Cochran said in an interview Thursday that as instructed by school officials, no student in the play performed the scene in which Linus recites the passage from the Bible in explaining the meaning of Christmas:
“Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the manger. And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.’ ”
But people in the audience recited the lines, Cochran said. ... After that, “there were a few more lines in the play, and that was the end of it,” Cochran said.

Now, this story does a good job of quoting church-state activists on both sides of this issue, with feedback from the Arizona-based legal organization called Alliance Defending Freedom organization on the side of those seeking the exercise of religion and ACLU Kentucky speaking for those who believed that leaving the play intact, in a public-school context, would have violated the separation of church and state.

So I have no journalistic complaints there. It's clear, to readers, that the all-too-familiar Christmas wars debate continues in the American public square.

I am curious about one thing: What if the school simply canceled the performance, rather than edit the play? What if they had moved it to another venue, with only parents present for the performance (without the participation of school staff)?

Also, as several GetReligion readers noted, did the school leaders receive legal permission from the publishing company to alter the contents of the play? I know that it is customary to do that. (I know that because Christian colleges and universities often seek and receive legal permits to make slight changes in plays that involve large amounts of, well, F-words other than "fundamentalist.")

In this case, however, we were not talking about making a slight change in the play. The speech by Linus is the turning point in the story. It is the whole point of this classic work from Charles "Sparky" Schulz. Schulz said so.

So what was Linus going to say, in the zero-Bible performance?

We still don't know. The Herald-Leader story tells us only what happened, in terms of the adults in the audience reciting the missing lines from the play. We still don't know if school officials had planned to insert content to fill that crucial gap in the plot.

Again, raise your cyber hands if you think that would have been an interesting question for journalists to have asked.

Maybe there wasn't going to be a safe, generic, non-biblical speech. Maybe the plan was for there to be a long silence -- in which citizens on stage and in the audience could THINK the lines -- and then proceed with the end of the play, as if the lines HAD been spoken? That's an awkward First Amendment solution.

Now, I have another question. The classic version of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" ends, after the children are reconciled, with the cast shouting "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!" and then singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."

Now, that hymn is full of dangerous trigger language as well (as shown in the extended YouTube clip at the top of this post):

Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled."
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

So this raises another question. What happened at the end of the play? Did the children shout "Merry Christmas Charlie Brown!" and that was that? Or did they say "Happy Holidays Charlie Brown"? Did the cast sing the Christmas carol? Did some folks in the audience sing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" to continue their rebellion?

Perhaps I should state my ultimate journalistic question this way: Did reporters actually attend the play to witness what happened, on behalf of readers, and then ask questions?

Please respect our Commenting Policy