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District crackdown on religious Christmas music creates uproar

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Seems like it’s awfully early for a Christmas-music controversy, but it’s always a good time to say: Score one for the good guys.

Aided by a swell of community support, the longtime director of a Wisconsin high school music department stood his ground against a crackdown by school officials on religious music for the holidays – and won.

christmasmusic1016Now, the job of the superintendent of the Wasau Public School District is under review.

Phil Buch, music director of Wausau West High School in Wausau, Wis., was ordered by a school district committee in early October to water down the religious content of songs he’d planned for the high school’s winter concert. Confusion seems to reign about what specifically Buch’s orders were, but he maintains he was told to include four or five secular songs for every one religious song.

Buch refused, and immediately suspended rehearsals of the Master Singers, the elite choral group that was to perform the winter concert.

When word of the order spread through a Wausau Daily Herald Story Oct. 4,  outrage swept through the community. Eventually, the district officials demanding the change backed down and the school board voted unanimously at a meeting Monday night to review the performance of the school superintendent in charge of the district.

One of the many things about the story that’s unclear, even in a Daily Herald recap of it that was published Tuesday, is exactly how this became such an issue in the first place. Apparently there was never a threat of a lawsuit by secular parents. There wasn’t even a formal complaint.

It seems that School Superintendent Kathleen Williams assumed that there must be a problem if there’s the hint of religion in a public school – even if that religion comes in the form of a Christmas carol sung at a “winter concert,” when everybody, of every faith, knows exactly what that “winter concert” is actually celebrating and why it’s being held when it is — regardless of the PC euphemism being employed.

“This is all part of the establishment clause. Nothing had to trigger it really. This is what music in public school or any teaching in public schools needs to follow,” Williams told a television interviewer, according to The Blaze.

“A public school advancing Christmas caroling, which is specifically associated with Christmas, which is a religious holiday … could be interpreted as endorsing a religion.”

The legalism’s are troubling enough.

What might be even worse is that, according to the Daily Herald, school officials along with Williams seemed to be assuming a drastic change in the traditional Christmas concert would go unnoticed in the community – or possibly just assuming that religion has been driven so far and so often from the public square that one more driving would pass unnoticed, or with resignation.

It didn’t. And when the man who has spent more than 30 years leading the high school band made his stand, the community stood with him.

That’s an early Christmas present by itself.


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