Chanukah Starts Tonight; Jews Oppose Observances in Public Schools

The observance of Chanukah begins tomorrow night in Jewish homes throughout the United States against the background of warnings by Jewish community relations agencies opposing any observance of Chanukah and Christmas in public schools.

Another warning to Jewish parents was the call to avoid individual representations to public school officials and boards of education in protest against Christian sectarian programs. Many of the community relations agencies coupled their statements with a reference to the United States Supreme Court decision of last June banning a Regents prayer in New York state public schools. They suggested that the problem had been made more delicate by the impact of that decision on inter-faith relations in the United States.

A typical statement was that of the Boston Jewish Community Council which emphasized opposition to both Chanukah and Christmas observances in public schools and added that where Christian holiday observances were held in public schools, “Jewish children have a right to refrain from participation.”

JEWISH CONCERN OVER RELIGIOUS PROGRAMS IN SCHOOLS STRESSED

In Newark, Philip E. Hoffman, chairman of the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Community Council of Essex County, declared that the problem was of “continuing concern” to the Jewish community. He added that public school principals and teachers frequently failed to understand the impact of religious programs upon minority group pupils or the implications of such programs for religious freedom.

In Rochester, N. Y., the Jewish Community Council stressed to Jewish parents the urgency of not undertaking “any individual action regarding religious holiday observances in the public schools, as did the Community Relations Council of the Federation of Jewish Charities of Atlantic City.

All of the community relations councils cited the Statement of Principles on Religious Holiday Observances in the Public Schools, issued by the Joint Advisory Committee of the Synagogue Council of America and the National Community Relations Advisory Council. This statement reaffirms opposition to any and all religious practices, both during holidays and throughout the rest of the school year as a violation of the constitutional principle of church-state separation.

The statement emphasizes that joint observances in schools, such as Christmas-Chanukah and Passover-Easter, are equally a breach of that principle, and that where religious holiday ceremonies are held in public schools, Jewish children have a right to refrain from participation.

SHARON BANS DISPLAY OF CHRISTMAS TREE IN SCHOOLS

A unique phase of the annual argument over such observances developed in Sharon, Massachusetts, a town of 2,800 persons with few Jews and no Jewish organizational representation. There a citizens’ committee clashed with the city’s School Committee over an order instructing the principals of the town’s two elementary and one high school to decide on whether there should be a display of Christmas trees in the schools.

In response, Christmas trees and assemblies to sing Yule carols were banned at the high school but carols were permitted at both the elementary schools. A traditional Christmas program was scheduled in addition at one of the primary schools. The principals who ordered the ban on Christmas trees said they did so because they felt such a display might be in conflict with the church-state separation principle.

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