Saturday, November 7, 2009

Worst initiative nominee: Mandatory Christmas music in schools

Merry Susan Hyatt and her brother David Joseph Hyatt have received permission to gather signatures for an initiative (PDF) that would require California public K-12 schools to "provide opportunities to its pupils for listening to or performing Christmas music at an appropriate time of year," with parental notification and an opt-out form.

In other words, they want to make parents fill out and return a special form if they don't want their kids hearing at school that Jesus Christ, the King, has come.

This is the sort of issue where creating the initiative indicates a severe personality disorder; signing it indicates a character defect; but circulating the petitions just means you get a buck or two per signature, and you could give a shit less what it's for.

My favorite part, where mischief might come, is Section 52711
52711. As used in this article, "Christmas music" includes, but is not necessarily limited to, carols, songs, and instrumental works whose subject matter relates to the celebration of the Christmas holiday or to the season during which that holiday is observed.
So Christmas music is music that relates to Christmas, or winter, or not. I can see other religions demanding that Christmas music include Jewish music, or Islamic music. I imagine mandatory Islamic hip-hop, rapping for the glory of Allah. And I can't wait for the Satanists to demand music by Black Sabbath.

Or an atheist principal could say the school is satisfying the regulation by playing Jingle Bells and Winter Wonderland.

On the other hand, I don't mind Christmas music at all, even in schools, maybe especially in schools. I would mind having it and it only required, but I'd just as soon routinely play the songs of every normal religion (that's pretty much all of them, but you'd want to keep out the ones that do human sacrifices or orgies, and the financial scams).

I think whether people believe in God or don't is a genetic or epigenetic accident, so we should treat belief as we treat homosexuality or left-handedness. It's one of the normal ways people are wired, and we can't hold it against them that they have a false belief. In fact, there is probably some evolutionary advantage to the group to have some theists and some atheists. And besides, listening to Joy to the World isn't going to turn somebody into a Christian. I grew up listening to it, and I'm about as serious an atheist as you're going to find.

We added Kwanza to our school celebrations; we should add Diwali and Beltane and Eid al Fitr anybody else's celebration, and play all their religious songs, and not have opt-in or opt-out, just a routine noticing of how some of us celebrate. You don't have to believe the words to like the music.

I extend this to crèches in public squares. When a big chunk of our population have a celebration of their big holiday, why not let them do part of it in the park? Or even a small chunk. Christians can have crèches on public property if I can have a maypole, and if everybody else gets to hold their celebrations there, too, Diwali, and Beltane, and whatever. We should let them have their Christian Pride event in December, and we'll have our Gay Pride event in June on the same grounds

I'd exempt from this privilege any religion that severely outrages public decency, such as child sacrifices, but I'm not sure how to make it so my view of what is outrageous prevails. I would probably be more inclusive than some people and less than others.

So my solution is to ride the pendulum. Become increasingly lenient on what we'll allow until it gets to be a problem, and then scale it back until it starts to chafe. Rinse. Repeat. That could be a general law of how to deal with social issues.

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