A Pennsylvania elementary school canceled its annual showing of “A Christmas Carol,” which has been put on by fifth graders for decades. The school put an end to that tradition this year.
What was the culprit? Tiny Tim’s famous line, “God bless us, every one,” or so parents told reporters at the television station WHTM. Parents told the station that the play was cancelled because two parents complained about the line, supposedly for religious reasons.
“I was very surprised because it’s going on for decades and it’s a tradition at the school that everyone looks forward to,” resident Jane Burkhart told WHTM. “One little line shouldn’t ruin it for every kid. Charles Dickens is a class author, not a religious author.”
But Tom Kramer, principal at Centerville Elementary School in Lancaster County, denied this report. “One rumor we’ve been addressing is that one or two families influenced this decision,” Kramer wrote in a statement on the school’s website. “That’s just not true.”
Instead, the decision to cancel the play was “based primarily on instructional opportunities for students,” Kramer said. “Producing and performing a play is not part of the written curriculum for fifth grade,” and “preparations had evolved to take 15 to 20 hours of instructional (educational) time to produce this play. Given changes in state standards in recent years, we could not defend the commitment of this kind of instructional time to something not part of the fifth grade curriculum.”
“The teachers agreed that they did not want our students to be put at a disadvantage relative to their peers from other schools in preparation for the 6th grade; therefore the play was cancelled,” the principal concluded.
But if the play really was holding fifth graders back, why did the school keep running it every year for over 40 years? Principal Kramer’s reason makes sense in general, but it does not explain why the play was cancelled now.
Finally, his statement hinted at the reference of God. “In addition to focusing on high quality instruction, our decision is rooted in the desire to be respectful of the many cultural and religious backgrounds represented by the students attending Centerville Elementary.”
In other words, the play was cancelled because it included a mention of God, which offended some of the “many cultural and religious backgrounds.” If so, the educational criteria might just be an excuse to censor a play inspired by Western Christianity.
But, as Burkhart noted, Dickens’ primary concern wasn’t Christianity — it was class, and “A Christmas Carol” is about the generous spirit of Christmas more than any theological statement. The play is not religious, with the one tiny exception of Tim’s famous line, “God bless us, every one.”
Dickens added the line for literary effect, to make Tiny Tim one of the most memorable literary characters. Any religious content in that line is mostly cultural.
While “A Christmas Carol” is not explicitly Christian, Christianity did inspire the play. Its central message — that joy and generosity go together — flows from Jesus’ teaching that “it is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
While Principal Kramer did admit that cultural and religious reasons played a role in the play’s cancellation, he suggested that it was also due to a scheduling conflict. “We also looked at having rehearsals after school hours, but, at this time, parents nor staff members have stepped forward to take advantage of this possibility.”
“As a constitutional attorney I hate to see traditions taken away in my own community,” Randy Wenger, chief counsel for the Independence Law Center in Harrisburg, told Fox News’ Todd Starnes. “What does this communicate to our kids? It says that anything religious is really not appropriate in public life. It’s something you’re supposed to keep to yourself.”
That’s the exact opposite of the play’s central lesson — to share your wealth and joy with others. The school’s move is one big “Bah Humbug!” to the Christmas spirit.