Friday, September 18, 2009

Use Religious Music for School Dance Class = Lose Your Job?

A dance teacher in Lemon Grove, California, had her job threatened. What was her crime? Using music that had religious meaning as part of her musical selections for the students to dance to. Religion has motivated some magnificent music in our (Western) civilization. A music class could not do justice to its subject without including some religious music. The teacher is being defended by the Pacific Justice Institute, a non-profit group.

Her choices of music seem in keeping with California law and with guidelines distributed by the U.S. Department of Education.

As I said in a previous post:
In this case, as in so many, the metaphor "separation of church and state" was invoked by the schools as justification. That was a phrase used by Jefferson to explain an aspect of the First Amendment, but Jefferson himself used the phrase "freedom of religion" much more often. In any case, the First Amendment puts a prohibition on Congress, preventing them from making a law establishing a national religion. Some people believe the 14th Amendment passes this prohibition "down" to state law makers.

So even if that is all true, does a dance instructor choosing music that has a religious meaning amount to establishing a law? And does it equate to a state law? If so, that's one powerful dance teacher! I wouldn't want to upset her.

Read more here:
Pacific Justice Institute


LexAequitas said...

Do note that that's just why SHE says she was fired. It's not why the school says she was fired.

History Matters said...

Thanks, Lex. You are correct that the school system says she was fired for other reasons. However, I noticed the district spent a lot of time speaking to the religious music issue and said she could only use religious music if it were more broad based. To me it sounds like there is an issue in that area. In any case, she claims she will appeal it. Perhaps more definitive facts will come out at that time.

LexAequitas said...

Appeals aren't supposed to introduce new facts, just to review conclusions of law.

"The teacher is being defended by the Pacific Justice Institute, a non-profit group."

Technically this is incorrect, since the teacher is the one filing the suit (i.e., she's the plaintiff, not the defendant, and is thus not "defending".) It's a minor point, but remembering it will improve your discussions of cases.

Your overall argument concerns me more, though. If the First Amendment doesn't apply to states and state actors such as the Superintendent and there is no "separation of church and state" it would mean he may permissibly fire her for using the religious music, though he wouldn't be forced to fire her or prohibit her from using it.

Brandon said...

Most music is spiritually (or at least socially/morally/politically) motivated. That is what music is. It is a tonal expression of society. The first music ever written and created was sacred/spiritual music. Most classical music is actually sacred music (Bach was a church music director). To require teachers select music that is "not religious" in nature is absurd and nearly impossible, not to mention counter to the very nature of music in the first place.
Worship Accompaniment Music at