AUGUSTA, Ga. (CBS Atlanta) – An Augusta hospital has adopted a new policy banning Christmas carolers from singing religious songs in public patient areas.
The Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center announced the new policy Monday according to the Athens-Banner Herald.
“Military service veterans, male and female, represent people of all faiths,” hospital spokesman Brian Rothwell said in a statement according to Athens-Banner Herald. “It is out of respect for every faith that The Veterans Administration gives clear guidance on what ‘spiritual care’ is to be given and who is to give it.”
A group of high school students from Augusta’s Alleluia Community School were prevented from singing traditional holiday songs that honor and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ to veterans by the medical center last week.
The school principal, Dan Funsch, told the newspaper that he was disappointed that the Veterans Affairs hospital’s “spiritual care” grants holiday exemption only to secular characters that make up the 12 Days of Christmas.
“This is not a religious proselytizing, evangelistic issue,” Funsch explained, arguing that Christmas songs are broadcast during the holidays on area radio stations and in local retail outlets. “The song Joy to the World is as much a part of the holiday spirit as the Christmas tree.”
The principal noted that the peculiar part of the policy is its recent enforcement.
The hospital spokesman could not provide an accurate date of when the ban began, but Funsch stated his students were welcomed with open arms in 2011 and 2012.
“We regret any inconvenience or misunderstanding that this (policy) creates,” Rothwell said. “VA policy is welcoming but respectful of all faiths and the protection of each veteran’s right to religious freedom and protection from unwelcomed religious material, to their individual beliefs.”
Now, this holiday season, a student was told by a hospital official that he and his classmates could only sing secular songs because of the policy when they were arranging to come sing at the medical center.
Funsch said that when school administrators tried to confirm the new policy Thursday, the hospital did not return their phone calls.
When the students arrived to sing at the hospital Friday, they were given a list of only 12 Christmas songs that the hospital’s Pastoral Service had “deemed appropriate for celebration within the hearing range of all Veterans,” the Athens-Banner Herald reported.
Due to time constraints and unfamiliarity with some of the songs provided by the hospital, the high school students decided not to sing this year at the hospital in hopes of finding a suitable location to sing their songs next year, Funsch explained.
He added that his students were extremely disappointed by the hospital’s decision, but happy that administrators stood up for what they felt was right. Funsch did state that his middle school students were allowed to go caroling at Georgia Regents Medical Center with no problems.
“From our point of view, the purpose of Christmas and its carols is to celebrate and honor the birth of Jesus, and if that goal is taken from us, it is an issue we do not want to be a part of,” he said. “We do not think it is a good idea to systemically weed out religious Christmas songs from being sung in certain places.”
-Regina F. Graham