PAINTSVILLE, Ky. – Charlie Brown’s buddy Linus believes Christmas is about the birth of Christ, glory to God, and peace on earth.
Johnson County Schools officials believe Christmas is about “the spirit of giving and concern for our fellow citizens.”
Superintendent Thomas Slayer last Friday cut all religious references from student plays based on the iconic American story “A Charlie Brown Christmas” after a single complaint from the public triggered a review of all Christmas programs in the district, the Herald-Leader reports.
That means W.R. Castle Elementary students performing “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on Thursday are banned from acting out the most important part of the play.
When Charlie Brown questions whether anyone really knows what Christmas is all about, Linus recites:
Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the manger. And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.
That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
Castle principal Jeff Cochran told the news site the scene was axed after Slayer sent a message to him and others on Dec. 11.
“As superintendent of Johnson County Schools, I recognize the significance of Christmas and the traditions and beliefs associated with this holiday. Over the past few days, there have been several rumors indicating that there would be no Christmas plays this year at our elementary schools. I want to clarify that all programs will go on as scheduled. In accordance with federal laws, our programs will follow appropriate regulations,” Slayer wrote.
“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.”
The decision enraged many local parents, and dozens showed up at the board of education building Monday and Tuesday to voice their opposition to the scrub down.
“We as parents, as a community, we feel this is wrong, beyond wrong,” local Linda Conley told WSAZ.
“If they want to take Christ out of the Christmas plays, then they’re just plays,” pastor Tom Winston added.
Slayer alleged the religious references in the Charlie Brown production would expose the district to potential lawsuits, so he was just doing what’s best for everybody, WSAZ reports.
“We don’t want to do anything that will cause harm to our district or our children here in Johnson County Schools,” Slayer.
The nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom disagrees with the district’s interpretation of the law, and sent a letter on behalf of parent Joey Collins calling on district officials to not “give in to the demands of a single complaint.”
“Through its annual broadcast on network television, ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ has reached an iconic status in our nation similar to that associated with many other Christmas traditions,” the letter read, according to WSAZ.
“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.”
“Schools should not have to think twice about whether they can allow students to perform a classic Christmas production simply because it contains biblical references,” ADF legal counsel J. Matthew Sharp said in a statement.
“‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ has become an iconic Christmas story and tradition. Are school officials going to start demanding that other classic productions, such as Shakespearean plays, be censored just because they contain religious references?”
The ADF also offered the district legal assistance to defend against potential lawsuits if officials reverse course.
Slayer assured WSAZ the district will continue to hold Christmas celebrations, and schools don’t have to remove decorations – officials are only removing everything with “religious references.”
“People aren’t thinking about Christ any more, like they should,” a protester told the news site as she stood along the road in front of the district with dozens of others toting signs.
“Christ is the reason,” she said. “Christ is the reason for the season.”