Public School Students Can Sing Religious Songs, Iowa Board Rules

Should Public School Students Sing About Jesus?

According to the Iowa State Board of Education, this is not a problem, as long as the song is chosen for its educational value rather than to promote Christianity, reports the Associated Press..

The decision this month by the Iowa board of directors came after parents of a student in the New Hampton Community School District, which has 1,400 students, raised concerns about the students performing Christian-themed songs while holding hands and “circling” members of the audience. The state board decision upheld the New Hampton school board’s decision that the performance was appropriate.

Three of the eight members of the state council voted against the decision. But a judge ruled that the songs were not selected to advance Christianity. The choir also performed songs that did not have a Christian theme and songs from countries around the world, according to the AP. Students had the opportunity to listen to religious song.

The role of religion, a perennial problem in public schools, is particularly confusing for music teachers. Sacred music constitutes a substantial part of the classical repertoire.

The public position of the National Association for Music Education is that learning and performing sacred music is a necessary and appropriate part of music education, and that its inclusion does not violate the First Amendment, which calls for the separation of Church and State . But he says that the goal of educators must be secular in nature; that the effect of the activity should not celebrate or inhibit religion; and that it should not involve entanglement with religious groups or organizations. The association draws a comparison between students learning pieces from a Bach Mass and architectural students studying Renaissance cathedrals.

The Freedom of Religion Foundation has a list of questions that community members or concerned parents can ask to help determine whether sacred music is used appropriately, including the ages of the students involved and whether the performances are explicitly linked to religious holidays or held in religious places.

But the lines are not always clear. In 2009, a court ruled that a Washington school district was within its rights to decide that a wind ensemble could not perform a version of “Ave Maria,” a setting for a Roman Catholic prayer, during a high school diploma. This case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which refused to reconsider the case in 2010..

One of the songs in question in the Iowa case was “In This Very Room”. Sample lyrics, via the Des Moines Register: “For Jesus, Lord Jesus, in this very room …” But New Hampton isn’t the only high school choir that performed the song. Here’s a version performed by a high school choir from across the state of Arkansas..

An interesting result of the New Hampton case: The school district has created a new diversity committee, according to the Des Moines Register.

Ruth R. Culp