Judge to Hear TMLC Challenge to New Jersey School District’s Total Ban on Religious Music

Today, July 31st, at 10:00AM EST, a New Jersey Federal Court will hear oral arguments in a legal challenge to a public school district’s policy totally banning Christmas music, including simple instrumentals without words, during year-end celebrations in its schools. 

The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan filed the federal lawsuit on the grounds that the school district’s ban on religious music conveys a government-sponsored message of disapproval and hostility toward religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Law Center, commented, “The New Jersey school district’s anti-religious policy is yet another example of the militant hostility that many public schools have towards Christians and Christmas.”

Robert Muise, the Thomas More Law Center attorney who will argue the case commented, “The Constitution prohibits school districts from adopting policies that disfavor religion.  Contrary to popular myth, our Constitution does not require complete separation of church and state; it affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any.  The school district’s policy is plainly unconstitutional.

The case was filed by the Law Center and the American Catholic Lawyers Association, on behalf of Michael Stratechuk, who sued on his own and on behalf of his two school-age children on the grounds that the policy deprives the Stratechuk children of the right to receive information and ideas, an inherent corollary of their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and academic freedom. 

On September 30, 2005, the district court dismissed the Law Center’s complaint, claiming that the Law Center failed to state a claim under the United States Constitution.  The Law Center appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and the Circuit Court reversed the district court, vacating the lower court’s decision and remanding the case for further proceedings. 

In its opinion, the Third Circuit held that “[b]ecause a categorical ban on exclusively religious music, enacted with the express purpose of sending a message of disapproval of religion, appears to state a claim under the First Amendment . . . , we conclude that the complaint . . . survive[s the] motion to dismiss.”  The Third Circuit also awarded the Law Center its costs for having to bring the appeal.

The New Jersey School District policy at issue in this case was previously featured in a book, The War On Christmas, by Fox News anchor, John Gibson.

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