For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)
When news of a controversy surrounding the Junior Service League Christmas play and the Webster Parish School System reached our office Thursday, I was more than a little disturbed by it. I, like many others, was a bit miffed at the entire ordeal.
At the center of the controversy was a two-minute mention of Jesus, reporting of that mention to school officials, discussions about the removal of the mention, and subsequent prohibition of public school students to attend the play.
“How can they require the elimination of the mention of Jesus in a Christmas play? The very word ‘Christmas’ proclaims Christ,” I said to myself.
My emotionally charged response probably mirrored many in our community.
When the Junior Service League released their statement via social media, I was impressed with the magnitude of professionalism exhibited, and the steadfastness of the group in their commitment to keep “the reason for the season,” a part of the play.
With that release, and the thousands of views it had already attained, I knew this story would be “all over the place” by morning.
Social media erupted with responses, surprising no one. Name calling, pontifications about religion, and other negative tones were used over and over. Yes, some understood the situation, and were supportive of all involved, but those comments were the exception.
Late Thursday night, I spoke to Superintendent Johnny Rowland by phone. On the other end of the line was not someone who relished in this decision. In fact, he was as upset as anyone.
The court order prohibiting the endorsement of any religion, real or perceived, took away any choice in the matter. The only options were to eliminate the references or prohibit student attendance.
Congressman Mike Johnson’s office referred me to Johnson’s and Attorney General Jeff Landry’s “Student’s Rights Review” in the matter. While not making an official statement, that reference backed up the school system’s decision.
The excerpt from that guide said, “A public school can refer to ‘Christmas’ and ‘Easter,’ have a Christmas/Easter party, and include Christmas/Easter music, art, or drama in a school play or performance, if the intent is to recognize a legal public holiday and teach history or cultural heritage. The purpose may not be to advance a particular religion.”
In the aftermath of the play controversy, there are those who have targeted school officials that reported the play to administration. Nowhere did anyone say that a complaint was made, but rather the reporting of a potential legal problem for the schools was properly brought to leadership.
Is it possible for all sides to be right in this situation? I think so. The Junior Service League was right to stand by their beliefs. Those who reported the play did what was proper protocol. School administrators took the proper action.
However, people want to assign blame. They need a name or entity as an outlet for their anger. They need a villain.
In this situation, the villain is not the school system, those who reported the play, the Junior Service League, or any other person. We, as a nation, have long removed ourselves from our Christian roots, and the ripple effect is just now being felt in our day-to-day lives.
Freedom of religion has morphed into freedom from religion, and the only solution will have to come at the federal level — perhaps even a constitutional amendment.
In the meantime, let us remember the enemy is not our brother or sister in Christ. Our enemy is not those who wish for the absence of all religious references. Our enemy is not those in position of power in our school system. The very Bible to which we adhere has a clear picture of the “real enemy.”
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Ephesians 6:12 (KJV)
David Specht is editor and publisher of the Minden Press-Herald.