The flap over a public school choral group turned away from a Georgia VA Hospital at Christmas has taken a new twist. The Augusta Chronicle is reporting today that the hospital has a “caroling deal” in the works that would limit schools to singing only non-religious Christmas carols at the hospital.
Five days before Christmas 2013 choral students from Alleluia Community School in Augusta were told they had to perform music other than what they prepared due to a five year old policy the hospital was enforcing that banned religious music in public areas. The story went viral as charges of first amendment abuses were levied in the media, resulting in a Congressional review of VA Christmas policies.
Amongst the songs the group tried to perform were Silent Night, Joy to the World and O Come All Ye Faithful.
“Military service veterans, male and female, represent people of all faiths,” hospital spokesman Brian Rothwell said in a statement. “It is out of respect for every faith that The Veterans Administration gives clear guidance on what ‘spiritual care’ is to be given and who is to give it.”
Alleluia Community School Principal Dan Funsch said he was sad to hear that the Veterans Affairs hospital’s “spiritual care” grants holiday exemption only to Frosty, Rudolph and the secular characters that make up the 12 Days of Christmas.
“This is not a religious proselytizing, evangelistic issue,” said Funsch, arguing that Christmas songs are broadcast during the holidays on area radio stations and in local retail outlets. “The song Joy to the World is as much a part of the holiday spirit as the Christmas tree.”
Funsch said the peculiar part of the policy is its recent enforcement.
Rothwell could not provide the date the VA’s ban on religious Christmas songs took effect, but Funsch said that in 2011 and 2012 his students were welcomed without hesitation at the Augusta VA’s Uptown campus as part of a yearly caroling the school does on its last day of classes before the holiday break.
This year, however, when they arranged to sing at the medical center downtown, an official from the hospital’s volunteer services division told a high school senior that he and his classmates could perform only secular songs because of policy.
Funsch said that because of time constraints and unfamiliarity with some of the songs provided by the VA, his high school students decided – on principle – to forgo this year’s caroling in hopes of finding a suitable location to sing their songs next year.
The principal said his students were disappointed with the decision but glad to see their administrators stood up for what they felt was right.
Funsch added that his middle school students were allowed to sing at Georgia Regents Medical Center with no problems.
Other VA hospitals in other parts of the country reported other incidents of Christmas censorship, supposedly because of the policy. A Dallas area VA hospital refused Christmas cards from kids because they used the words “Merry Christmas” and “God Bless You”.
The Congressional VA Committee was besieged with complaints but the apparent “negotiations” limiting public performance of religious-themed Christmas music only points to more of the same in VA hospitals and threatens to broaden the issue and the controversy during the 2014 Christmas season.
It is curious to us that two public institutions oppose each other in this instance — an interesting issue that will likely, someday, end up in front of a judge.