Debating Christmas Celebrations in Public Places

ByABC News
December 7, 2004, 3:17 PM

MAPLEWOOD, N.J., Dec. 7, 2004 — -- Members of the Columbia High School brass ensemble were not allowed to play Christmas carols at their holiday concert this year -- not even instrumental versions.

At a school board meeting Monday night, parents and students alike expressed their outrage.

"This is censorship at its most basic level and political correctness to its extreme," said student Ryan Dahn.

"When you close that door you are supporting ignorance, and I think it's a very sad thing," said parent Melanie Amsterdam.

The controversy is by no means an isolated case. The role of religion during the Christmas season is a source of annual angst. But this year, people in "red," or Republican, America -- particularly Christian conservatives -- are in an unprecedented uproar.

They are sending letters to public schools in Chicago, where the words "Merry Christmas" have been excised from a popular song; boycotting Macy's, which has removed "Merry Christmas" signs from its department stores; and protesting the exclusion of a church group from Denver's annual Parade of Lights.

"What they don't understand is that by not wanting to offend anyone, they're excluding a huge group of people, and that is all of those of the Christian faith," said Doug Newcomb, business administrator of the Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, Colo.

Attorney Demetrios Stratis, affiliated with the conservative civil liberties group Alliance Defense Fund, is one of 700 Christian lawyers across the country poised to pounce on such cases.

"We just don't believe that you need to stamp out religion in the public square," he said.

There are those in Maplewood -- and in "blue," or Democratic, America generally -- who say religion should be a private matter.

"Holiday celebrations where Christian music is being sung make people feel different," said Mark Brownstein, a Maplewood parent. "And because it is such a majority, it makes the minority feel uncomfortable."

But Eric Chabrow, who is Jewish, says his son, Sam, should be able to play Christmas songs in the high school band. Chabrow is a part of "blue" America and generally supports the separation of church and state.