And the Catholic League launched a boycott against Wal-Mart for replacing "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays," and yesterday resolved a dispute it had with the Lands' End clothing catalog for using the word "holiday" instead of "Christmas." Similarly, the group Concerned Women for America has issued a "naughty or nice" list of retailers "showing which businesses are honoring the reason for the season (the birth of Jesus), which ones are not and which have mixed records."
Various municipalities also have been criticized for lighting public "holiday trees" rather than Christmas trees.
When it comes to schools celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, the widely held standard is a 1980 court ruling, Florey v. Sioux Falls School District, which was upheld by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling says that religious songs can be a part of school concerts as long as secular songs are, too. So "Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful" would have to be followed by something like "Frosty the Snowman" or "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
"It's fine for the public schools to observe the religious holidays in an academic and objective manner," said Jeremy Leaming, spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "It's not fine to do so ... in a way to advance a specific religion."
"You can include 'Silent Night,'" he added. "Just don't put on a concert that looks like something your local Baptist church would be putting on. Public schools serve kids of many different religions and no religion at all."
Messer said parents and students have enjoyed past performances of "The Little Tree's Christmas Gift," and no one has complained before. Traditional carols will be sung by students as well during the program.
She says she does not fault the father for his feelings. "I don't think it's taking things too far," she said. "I believe they're totally entitled to their opinion."
Staver said if the school does not respond to Legal Counsel's request for the program to be changed, "we will file suit" -- possibly today. Messer would not comment on the district's response but said the show will go on.
"We are planning to present the program," she said.