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Sunday, July 9, 2006 - Page updated at 06:20 PM


Online only letters to the editor

"Ave Maria" controversy

Editor, The Times:

I find it more than a little ironic that the Nurre family is suing the Everett School District because the Henry M. Jackson High School band was not allowed to play "Ave Maria" at graduation ["Teen sues district after 'Ave Maria' silenced," Times, News, July 1].

In December 2004, I attended a holiday concert at Jackson High School because my daughter was in the band and the only holiday music played celebrated the birth of Jesus.

In more than two hours, we did not hear a single piece of music representing any other faith.

Now, the Nurres defend their frivolous lawsuit by claiming that the students voted to play "Ave Maria." In a school where most students are Christian, is that so surprising?

Public schools also have a duty to protect the beliefs of those who are not in the majority, a fact that the Nurres, their legal representation, and Jackson High School have — at various times — selectively chosen to ignore.

— Margaret Harada, Woodinville

I wholeheartedly support the separation of church and state. For example, I believe we should revert to the pre-1954 version of the Pledge of Allegiance that doesn't contain "under God." But as a music educator, I cannot condone the suppression of art and artistic expression.

This beautiful arrangement of "Ave Maria" is performed without words, and is one of many pieces performed by public school ensembles that are chosen by educators based solely on musical content and merit. Most of these works can be found on national- and state-prescribed music lists.

Regarding the use of religious music in the schools: "It is the position of MENC: The National Association for Music Education, that the study and performance of religious music within an educational context is a vital and appropriate part of a comprehensive music education. The omission of sacred music from the school curriculum would result in an incomplete educational experience."

— Carla Geiger, Seattle

I can already hear the outcry from the Christian majority about the Everett School District's decision to not allow "Ave Maria" to be played at graduation ceremonies. And I agree that the students admired the piece for its glorious music, and never intended it to be a religious statement.

But that's missing the entire point. "Ave Maria" is a religious song; a Catholic/Christian song praising the mother of Jesus. That was its sole purpose by composers of the various versions.

Personally, I love the music. As a Jew, I can choose to ignore the words and just enjoy the music for its beauty. But the key word here is "choose" — I would never want it forced upon me in a government sponsored or school function.

By today's standards, the Pilgrims were pretty fundamentalist Christians. Yet, having been persecuted by the government-sponsored majority religion in England, even they knew the danger of mixing religion with government, and took strong steps to ensure it would not happen in this country.

Today, we are fast approaching government-sponsored religion again, by people and politicians who think their religion is the only path to spirituality. They name-call those who disagree with them as heathens, immoral materialists, or worse.

I consider myself to be a fairly spiritual person and I attend reform Jewish religious services regularly. But there are many paths to spiritual enlightenment.

My problem exists with those who are not tolerant of my beliefs. I would fight to the death to preserve their right to believe what they wish, or not believe in religious tenets at all — some of my dearest friends are agnostics or atheists, but they live exemplary lives. I don't think that kind of tolerance would be reciprocated by many so-called "Christians." When religion becomes all about proselytizing instead of doing good deeds and living a moral life, we've lost sight of what's important.

So to those of you who think, "What would it hurt to play 'Ave Maria' at commencement ceremonies?" It would hurt a lot of people.

It would insult those with different beliefs. It would point out those who chose to leave as "different," often leading to abuse or teasing by classmates. It would take us one step closer to reading a specific religion's text in the classroom — something that should never be done again in a public school.

The majority of Americans are Christians, but a democracy is only as strong as how it protects its minorities.

— Carol Cohen, Bremerton

Five years ago in Afghanistan, the Taliban demolished centuries-old Buddhist statues in the central province of Bamiyan to stop the worship of false idols. Last month, the Everett School District prevented seniors in the wind ensemble at Henry M. Jackson High School from playing an instrumental version of "Ave Maria" during commencement, allegedly because the song was too religious for a school-sanctioned event.

There is an eerie similarity between the rationale and the effects of these two events. In both cases, the world is diminished by intolerance and becomes a more drab and colorless place. The difference is, in the case of the Everett School District, there is the irony of practicing intolerance and conformity in the name of tolerance and diversity.

Religion is a part of the shared human experience. For atheist and believer alike, the cultural and historic existence of religion in all its diversity suffuses our lives. There is no need to fear its existence.

If children make Tibetan prayer wheels in art class, the state is not mandating they become Buddhist. If they study the teachings of Gandhi, the state is not forcing them to convert to Hinduism. If they play "Ave Maria" or hear a sermon by Martin Luther King, Jr., the state is not requiring them to embrace Christianity.

There's a lot of talk about all the wonderful benefits of diversity, and yet there is remarkably little discussion on what diversity means. Here is a clear example.

Diversity means that atheists, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus and Pagans can all enjoy a beautiful piece of music like "Ave Maria" at a high school commencement ceremony without fear that the state is using it as a pretext to establish a state religion.

— Will Cummings, Kent

Kathryn Nurre's parents deserve scolding for encouraging litigious action in the Jackson High School case. Have they considered the cost of their lawsuit to the Everett School District may very well divert funds from student programs — most likely the arts?

Creative fields are fraught with compromise. The Nurres should pick their battles and fight them by positive means, not with a frivolous lawsuit that damages the school district and ultimately, their daughter.

— Annette Bauman, Seattle

I heartily applaud Kathryn Nurre for filing a lawsuit against her school's superintendent. Dr. Carol Whitehead's decision to ax an instrumental version of "Ave Maria" — the senior musicians' choice for graduation — is another ridiculous example of "allow no state-sponsored religious teaching" at a school event.

More students and their families should stand up against the encroachment of their freedoms and rights against those public servants who seek to impose their own anti-Christian views.

— Terri Hartsock, Kirkland

Vicki Nurre: What part of the word "no" don't you get: the N or the O?

You've done your daughter a horrible disservice for suggesting that she sue a school administrator who set and held a boundary.

As an educator, a parent and a community member, I set and hold boundaries every day for myself and for my students. Although it would be nice to have things "my way," I keep the larger community in mind, and strive to contribute to the whole.

It's sad that valuable tax money — set aside to increase the capacities of our youth — will now be wasted on a petty complaint.

— Teresa Piddington, Seattle

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company