A prominent atheist group has lodged a complaint to an elementary school in Tennessee after a music teacher taught her class a portion of George Frideric Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus."
The East Tennessee chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) recently sent an email to Linden Elementary School Principal Roger Ward after the group was informed by concerned parents that Handel's historical composition, which has biblical references, is being taught at the school.
"While this music may be beautiful and even inspirational for Christians, it is not acceptable for broadcasting to the entire student body at Linden Elementary," Chapter President Aleta Ledendecker wrote, as reported by The Oak Ridger.
"In consideration of all the possible choices of music, this piece with its distinctly religious content can be interpreted as proselytizing. Such actions are clearly prohibited by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution," she added.
In the email, Ledendecker included a link to FFRF's "Top Ten Public School State/Church Violations" page, which was then cited by Ward to defend Linden's use of the piece, including the website's statement that courts considered the "proportion of religious songs sung compared to secular."
"Handel has been the composer that students are studying for the past three days and will continue to be the composer for the next two," Ward explained.
The school principal noted that the composition was only taught at the school for one week out of the 36-week school year, and that only 20–30 seconds of the piece was used.
"If a curriculum is balanced, the inclusion of some classical sacred music in an educational context may not convey endorsement," the principal stated, quoting from the FFRF's website.
Bruce Lay, executive director of school leadership for Oak Ridge Schools, said that the matter has already been turned over to the school system's lawyers.
Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers told The Oak Ridger that Ledendecker had sent a request for public documents regarding the music curriculum, and that the school system is now in the process of responding to the request.
Ledendecker confirmed that she had made the request, and noted that she is now trying to find out how the music was selected and how it fits in with the curriculum.
She noted that she is still waiting for a response to the request and said that she still does not know if there are any legal issues at this time.
Ledendecker further explained that her group prefers not to go to litigation and that she prefers a "peaceful, cooperative solution" that will satisfy the parents, as well as separation of church and state issues.