Elementary school students in Johnson County, Ky., performed a version of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” purged of Bible verses after the school district barred religious references in holiday programs.
School district officials censored the Thursday night performance of the play at W.R. Castle Elementary School, along with other Christmas productions, after receiving a lone complaint about mentions of religion in school programs, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.
Principal Jeff Cochran rid the script–based on the classic 1965 “Peanuts” TV special–of the key scene where the character Linus recites a passage from the Bible detailing the birth of Jesus to explain to Charlie Brown “what Christmas is all about.”
Cochran did so after Johnson County Schools Superintendent Thomas Salyer notified him that Christmas programs had to “follow appropriate regulations.”
Another school reportedly replaced the hymn “Silent Night” with a Christmas rendition of the rap song “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae),” which is full of nonsensical rhymes.
Salyer said in a statement that the district’s holiday programs would comply with federal law, which he said prohibits teachers and faculty from promoting a specific religion at school:
The U.S. Supreme Court and the 6th Circuit are very clear that public school staff may not endorse any religion when acting in their official capacities and during school activities. However, our district is fully committed to promote the spirit of giving and concern for our fellow citizens that help define the Christmas holiday.
Salyer told the Herald-Leader that he was “acting on the advice” of his lawyer and state officials.
“We are just trying to meet the letter of the law,” he said.
Protesters congregated outside Johnson County school district offices for three days following Salyer’s announcement, criticizing his decision to expunge religious references from all Christmas programs.
Lawyers from the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter to Johnson County school officials Tuesday urging them to reinstate the deleted Bible verses (Luke 2:8-14) from the production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” It read in part:
There is no violation of the so-called ‘separation of church and state’ by allowing children to learn about theater and the origins of Christmas through participating in a stage version of this beloved program that contains the same religious elements as the television version.
ADF’s lawyers said courts consistently have ruled that Christmas programs in schools can include religious references, concluding that “there is no basis” for a district’s censorship.
“The school district completely misunderstands the First Amendment,” senior counsel Jeremy Tedesco said in a statement.
The nonprofit legal group represents Joey Collins, whose daughter was cast in Castle Elementary School’s version of the Peanuts play.
The superintendent’s decision drew praise from the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, however.
“It appears the Johnson County School district is committed to honoring its constitutional obligation to protecting students’ freedom of religion and belief,” spokeswoman Amber Duke said in a statement provided to the Herald-Leader.
“School involvement in the planning and promotion of a religious play after receiving a complaint from a concerned student or parent would show disregard for every student’s right to remain free from government- imposed religious viewpoints.”