On Thursday a New Jersey Federal Court heard oral arguments in a legal challenge to a public school district’s policy totally banning from year-end celebration in its schools all Christmas music, including instrumental versions without lyrics. The policy had been the subject of Fox News anchor John Gibson’s book “The War on Christmas.”
The lawsuit was filed by the Thomas More Law Center and the American Catholic Lawyers Association, who argued the ban conveys a government-sponsored message of disapproval and hostility toward religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“The Constitution prohibits school districts from adopting policies that disfavor religion. Contrary to popular myth, our Constitution does not require complete separation of church and state; it affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any,” said Robert Muise, the Thomas More Law Center attorney who argued the case. “The school district’s policy is plainly unconstitutional,” he summarized.
The case has been filed on behalf of Michael Stratechuk, who sued on his own and on behalf of his school-age children on the grounds that the policy deprives the children of the right to receive information and ideas.
In September 2005 the district court had dismissed the complaint, declaring that the suit failed to state a claim under the U.S. Constitution. The Thomas More Law Center appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which reversed the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings.
The Third Circuit Court ruled that “a categorical ban on exclusively religious music” for the purpose of sending a message of disapproval of religion, “appears to state a claim under the First Amendment,” and therefore the complaint could not be dismissed.
The court also awarded legal costs to the Thomas More Law Center for having to bring the appeal.