Christmas dissonance

November 17, 1995|By Mona Charen

RACHEL BAUCHMAN, a 16-year-old sophomore in Salt Lake City, Utah, feels religiously persecuted.

As a member of the high school choir and the only Jew, Miss Bauchman objected to having to sing two Christian songs for the school's graduation ceremony. She demanded more ''balance'' in the musical selections. This was declined.

School administrators next tried to finesse the problem by permitting Miss Bauchman to skip choir rehearsals and sit in the library (while still receiving a grade of ''A'' for music). Miss Bauchman was not satisfied, and so she did what any healthy, patriotic American teen-ager has been taught to do -- she sued -- and a court enjoined the school from permitting the Christian songs.

Many American Jews would side with Miss Bauchman. They have been persuaded that Jews are in danger in America if any expression whatsoever of Christian spirit is permitted in the public domain. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, argues that the Utah teen-ager's struggle is linked to the ''larger struggle to protect minority rights".

Stretched rights

But that is stretching the concept of ''rights'' beyond any reasonable interpretation. Miss Bauchman's rights were in no way endangered by being asked to sing a couple of Christian hymns. And, unless the Supreme Court finds a right to sing in high school choirs in the Constitution, her rights would certainly not have been implicated if she had exercised the option of sitting out choir practice in the library.

Rights are not the issue in her case -- feelings are. As events unfolded, when the graduation concert was finally performed, members of the audience -- angry that the court had interfered -- began to sing one of the forbidden Christian songs. The choir joined in, and Miss Bauchman left the stage, feeling, as she later told the New York Times, ''extremely horrible".

Poor Rachel Bauchman. She was ill-served by her family, the Jewish community and the legal system.

Large segments of the Jewish community teach their children assiduously not the tenets of their own faith but the flawed lesson that they have a constitutional right to be shielded from any expression of religion at all, particularly Christianity. They are aided and abetted in this by tame courts and judges who have agreed thoroughly to secularize every aspect of life that can be called ''public".

But a Christian looking at Miss Bauchman's behavior might reasonably conclude that she (and her co-religionists) are intent upon preventing the majority from being what they are. Though Jews bristle at this wording, this is, historically, a Christian nation.

Protestant founders

It was founded by devout Protestants because they were devout Protestants. To its eternal credit, it has made room for Catholics, Jews and manifold others not just as tolerated minorities but as full citizens.

It is impolite, not to say ungrateful, for a young woman in Miss Bauchman's position to insist that the school choir refrain from singing Christian hymns. It is she who should defer to the feelings of the 99.9 percent of the students who are not Jewish, not the other way around.

I recall what it felt like to be a Jewish student (though far from the only one) asked to sing Christian songs in which I did not believe. Sometimes, for the sake of my integrity, I would not sing certain words. In a choir of scores of kids, the absence of one voice during the words ''Christ is our Lord'' would never be noticed. That was how I remained true to my beliefs.

It is never religious Jews who bring cases like this, challenging the constitutionality of creches or carols. Religious Jews are so well grounded in their own faith that they do not feel threatened by that of others. It is secular Jews who worry about what Christmas carols will do to their children.

But, with all due respect, that is their problem, not the Christian majority's. If Jewish parents want their children to feel more secure in their identity, they should steep them in Jewish tradition and learning rather than sending them into the world to play Grinch.

7+ Mona Charen writes a syndicated column.

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