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Ohio holiday program no longer overtly sectarian (March 2024)

FFRF coached the Ohio-based Oak Hill Union Local School District on acceptable holiday choir programming for students after it learned of a school’s Christian-heavy program. A concerned district parent reported that the holiday program on Dec. 13 at Oak Hill Elementary School featured primarily Christian songs. Per the concert’s program, the first-grade concert featured six songs, five of which were Christian-based. The program additionally featured an image of the biblical manger scene, depicting the Christian story of the birth of Jesus Christ. The fourth-grade concert featured exclusively Christian songs, with the program also featuring a nativity scene. “Teaching public school students Christian worship music in a devotional manner violates the First Amendment,” FFRF Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote. After receiving the state/church watchdog’s letter, Superintendent Susan L. Oppenheimer contacted FFRF to inform it that teachers would be instructed on the school policy more closely. “It is apparent to the district, after review of this matter, that certain staff could benefit from a reminder about board policies and guidelines,” Oppenheimer wrote. As part of these guidelines, principals have been instructed to review and approve programs for holiday concerts, and elementary music teachers will be instructed specifically to plan holiday concerts with a mix of secular songs and songs from various religious traditions instead of overtly Christian traditions.