Yesterday, a story out of Kentucky has gained national attention where a school district has ordered their schools to remove all religious references from their upcoming Christmas productions, including W.R. Castle Elementary School's "A Charlie Brown Christmas".
This was the result of school officials receiving one complaint from a single family in the district. What was taken out of the show as Linus' explanation of what the meaning of Christmas is all about where he quotes the Gospel of Luke.
The school district's reasoning was to abide by the Supreme Court ruling that a public school staff may not endorse any religion when acting in their official capacities and during school activities.
However, the question that remains is, does performing a theatrical production with religious themes serve as an endorsement of that religion? I tend to disagree with this notion.
As with most plays or musicals with religious themes, very few of them, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" included, outright endorse a particular religion over another. Children of Eden and Godspell were the result of Stephen Schwartz' curiosity in studying the Bible and wanting to know more about the stories within it. Fiddler on the Roof shows that the themes of love, parenting, tolerance and tradition are more universal rather than reserved for one religion. And if anything, you could say that Jesus Christ Superstar poses more questions about Christianity rather than endorsing it.
When it comes to A Charlie Brown Christmas, Linus' speech isn't an endorsement of Christianity but rather an explanation of why Christians celebrate that holiday by using a quote from the text of where the religion was founded.
You could even make the case that it wasn't even Charles Schulz' intention to endorse Christianity. While he was a Methodist Sunday school teacher for a time, Schulz himself claimed to be a secular humanist and is quoted as saying “the only theology is no theology”. So to try to prove that Schulz was endorsing Christianity would be hard to do.
The other issue that hasn't been brought up is if the school district can even legally take such a step given the license requirements of the show. I don't know if W.R. Castle Elementary School had to purchase the rights from Tams-Witmark To produce the show. But if they had, one can only imagine that making such an edit, which changes the show's meaning completely, might be an issue from Tams-Witmark's side.
While I don't know the school's intentions of performing this piece, I don't see this show as an endorsement of Christianity but rather as an explanation and response of the over commercialization surrounding the holiday.
In the end, the only victims in this are the children who have been stripped of a chance to perform on stage.