A group of Georgia high school students opted not to sing at an Augusta VA hospital after being told they could not include religious carols in their Christmas program.
Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center told The Augusta Chronicle
that it is becoming stricter in enforcing its rule against religious Christmas carols in public patient areas because it doesn't want patients who aren't Christian to be offended.
"Military service veterans, male and female, represent people of all faiths," hospital spokesman Brian Rothwell said in a prepared statement. "It is out of respect for every faith that t
he Veterans Administration gives clear guidance on what 'spiritual care' is to be given and who is to give it."
Alleluia Community School students have caroled at the hospital for years, and have included songs that refer to the birth of Jesus, said Principal Dan Funsch.
"This is not a religious proselytizing, evangelistic issue, Funsch told The Chronicle. "The song 'Joy to the World' is as much a part of the holiday spirit as the Christmas tree."
The school planned to sing as it always has, Funsch said, until a high school senior was told by a hospital official that Christian songs would not be allowed. The school attempted to contact the hospital but received no reply.
So, when the group showed up to sing anyway, it was handed a list of 12 approved songs, all of which were secular in nature, such as "Jingle Bells" and "Frosty the Snowman."
Because of time constraints and not being familiar with some of the songs on the approved list, the students declined to sing, and cancelled the performance for this year, Funsch said.
The group was offered the option to sing in a chapel or day room, Rothwell told The Chronicle.
"From our point of view, the purpose of Christmas and its carols is to celebrate and honor the birth of Jesus, and if that goal is taken from us, it is an issue we do not want to be a part of," Funch said. "We do not think it is a good idea to systemically weed out religious Christmas songs from being sung in certain places."
The ban comes as many conservatives decry what they term the "war on Christmas." Fox News host Bill O'Reilly had an annual show-to-show debate
with "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart on the issue this year.
CNN's Dana Bash brought up the subject with Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., and wished him "Happy Holidays."
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