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Legal matters: Adapting to Jehovah's Witnesses

Hello Listers:

I want to thank you for the large number of replies to my query and for the
direction they provided.

To summarize:

1. Speak with the family in regard to their expectations and beliefs
in terms of textual expression. The J.W. belief system has basic tenents
but some issues may be a matter of personal conscience.

2. Music that speaks of Christ or the celebation of Christmas even in a
secular fashion is generally problematic. Also, works that come from a
particular relgious tradition; for example, "Dona nobis pacem" due to its
Roman Catholic origins.

3. Rehearsal as well as performance of said works are both problematic.

4. Alternate activities may need to be employed to keep the student
involved during rehearsal periods of questionable repertoire.

5. Uniform concert attire does not seem to be a problem.

I spoke with the student's family and found them to be most helpful in
detailing their concerns and desires. Further, they did not expect that the
repertoire would be altered to meet the needs of their child.

The family also asked if it would be helpful if their daughter would
withdraw from choir for the fall semester and re-enter in the spring. I had
suggested that we should try to keep her in class and that any other
decision would be premature. I stressed to the family that I would endeavor
to keep her involved in the work of the program so that she would feel that
she was making a contribution and "earning" her grade.

I am certain that we will ecounter new challenges in this matter but at
present, feel that we have arrived at an equitable solution.

Lastly, inquiries by other students as to the varied curriculum and
seemingly special treatment of the young woman will be addressed privately
so as to protect her privacy.

Thank you again for your assistance.


Dana W. Taylor

on June 24, 2002 10:00pm
A J.W. student of mine in middle school is not permitted to wear pants/trousers of any kind. Our uniform includes strictly black pants, but she wears a skirt. Other than a little complaining about wanting to wear skirts too, the other students understand and it looks fine as long as everything else conforms to the uniform.
on October 2, 2002 10:00pm have some really good information on your site. I am one of Jehovah's Witnesses with a nine year old son in Public School. I have met with each of my son's teachers before the start of each school year. He is in 4th grade and all of his home room teachers have been excellent, making accomodation above and beyond what I would expect them to do.

His music teacher, however, is a different matter. After 4 years, I finally have received a written "Music Plan" which excuses my son to another classroom during 6 weeks of the year when class focuses on religous or patriotic holidays. He reads at an 8th grade level and his 2nd grade teacher has offered to have him help her students with reading during this time period. The other day, his music teacher asked for suggestions on what song to sing from the classroom. One little girl suggested God Bless America. According to my son (who was quite upset about it later) she then said in front of the class "I would like to sing that, but we can't because Donny is here and he's not allowed to sing it." During and after class, this incurred comments from classmates ranging from "Thanks a lot" to "You are ruining it for everyone." Should not teachers be excellent examples in tact and tolerance?

Am I overreacting or should this have been handled privately without making this kind of statement in front of the class? I have got to be honest, I am at the verge of hauling my attorney in there and putting a cease to these kinds of comments, just the latest in a long string of questionable comments and events.

Please, one of you who is on the other side of the issue, please respond.

Thanks so much.

on October 3, 2002 10:00pm
I don't know the whole history you've had with this teacher, so it's hard to have an opinion on how you should respond to this. I don't know if you've brought the principal in, for example. While I totally agree that the teacher was tactless and should have handled it another way (such as singing the song while whispering to your son that he didn't have to participate), I don't think it's something worth bringing in an attorney over.

> Please, one of you who is on the other side of the issue, please respond.

I hope by "other side" you just mean someone who is a teacher and not someone who is in opposition to you. I'd like to think we're all in agreement that you and everyone else should be able to exercise their religion and that singling a student out for potential ridicule due to their beliefs is an improper action.

on August 2, 2004 10:00pm
You probably need to just enroll your son in a private J. W. school, because while the teacher may be so mindful or "tiptoeing" on you son, the other students may be missing out on some other songs they want to enjoy too. It is like one person or "the rest of the class". Isn't that a little unfair for them too?
on October 18, 2007 10:00pm
Starting in the mid 1900s, the U.S. Supreme Court made a 180 degree turn, as if all the sudden they knew something all previous courts did not know, and embraced the general principle to be applied to all decisions that the majority must kowtow to the sensitivities of the minority.

Let there be in a classroom one child of parents who are Jehovah's Witnesses, atheists, Wiccans, Muslims, etc. (note the commonality), and the beliefs and desires of the other 30 or so children are completely ignored as irrelevant.

I for one could care less that the JW, Wiccan, or Muslim child has their feelings hurt. Too bad! Better one hurt child than thirty.

Its time that the majority stood up for their own rights, while they still have some rights to preserve.

And for all those liberals out there who are chomping at the bit to crucify me and my "ignorance", then have at it based on the knowledge that I was reared as a Jehovah's Witness myself. The "abuse" I suffered as a child should be blamed on my JW parenst and grandparents, not the majority of citizens who simply want their own children to be reared as the majority should decide.
on November 27, 2007 10:00pm
I am so sorry for the rudeness of the people answering. I hated as a child watching my JW friends being ushered into another room so my class could stuff cupcakes in our faces and run screaming around the room (a Christmas party I'm sure Christ would have approved of in these other parents' opinions) I think the excess and gluttony of school celebrations encourages all kinds of negative behavior and intolerance is one of those. All of my JW parents have been very open with information to help me plan and have not at all expected the other kids to bend over backwards for them. But with the thousands of songs in the world this teacher had to throw a childlike hissy fit in front of the class over God Bless America. I've subbed in schools where it is played over the announcements after the pledge. (I always like to remind people that "under God" was added to the pledge during the cold war in order to separate ourselves from the Godless communists we feared so much)I agree that she could have sung the song, but just given a knowing wink to your son to show she understood if he sat this one out. Unfortunately, Christmas starts right after Halloween now a days, so JW kids (and all others) are coloring turkeys and Santa coloring pages for months in elementary schools all over the country.

I ran my classroom with a little more focus on education and sensitivity towards all my students and no parent felt like their child missed out because of another child. Maybe the behavior of my parents is why I had such understanding and sweet children.
on November 29, 2007 10:00pm
Hi all. I arrived at this site after doing a search for Jehovah's Witness and public school choral music. If anyone has any suggestions for how to deal with the situation I find myself in, I would love to hear them.

I am a high school chorus teacher. I have two Jehovah's Witness students in the Advanced Chorus at my school. Every year, the county performs a major work for All-County chorus. This year, the music was the first part of Handel's Messiah, with orchestra and soloists. We had to prepare everything from "And the Glory" to "His Yoke is Easy" plus the obligatory addition of the "Hallelujah Chorus" at the end of the performance. The performance was held in the sanctuary of a local church because no school faciltity is large enough to host such an event. I mentioned my concerns about my Jehovah's Witness children at the meeting of the county choral directors, but the majority voted to perform Faure's Requiem for All-County next year, in the same church. These types of works demand hours and hours of rehearsal time in class - hours in which the JW kids can't participate.

The two Jehovah's Witness students auditioned for All-State Chorus. They weren't selected to sing because they weren't good enough, but if they had been good enough to go, about 50% of the music that will be performed at All-State this year is sacred. If they had made it, they wouldn't have been able to rehearse or sing in half of the concert.

Our Fall Concert was 100% secular. Our Winter Concert will have two Christmas songs on it - "Children Go Where I Send Thee" and "O Holy Night." The rest of the program is music like "Amor de mi Alma" by Randall Stroup, "Blow, Blow, thou Winter Wind" by John Rutter, etc. The 70 other students in my Advanced Chorus want to sing more Christmas music. We are invited to sing Christmas concerts all over town, but I just say we aren't doing that and go on.

I am taking some students from my chorus to hear the Kings Singers this weekend. The Jehovah's Witness students wanted to go until they learned that the Kings Singers were presenting a "holiday" concert. They told me they weren't allowed to attend. They're missing an unbelievable opportunity to hear one of the best singing groups in the world.

This spring, my chorus is going to New York. We will do all the tourist things, like the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building, and will be performing a 30 minute program at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It is the week before Easter, and the Cathedral is quite specific about the kind of music they want performed in their sanctuary.

I wanted to do one of the harmless competitions in New York, like Heritage or North American, but the only week my principal would approve for the trip is the week before Easter, and there are absolutely no competitions in New York that week.

Knowing this was the destination, and that we were performing at the Cathedral of St. John, one of the Jehovah's Witness students and her mother still want to go on the trip. Similar to the preparation of the Messiah, a 30 minute performance for the cathedral is going to involve most of January and February to prepare.

I am not locked into a performance at the Cathedral of St. John - if anyone knows of performance venues where we could sing a largely secular program with accoustics like we would have in the cathedral (which isn't likely). I am not interested in traveling half-way across the country with a truly wonderful chorus to sing in Central Park or on the steps of the Statue of Liberty.

Anyway - I feel bad for the Jehovah's Witness kids because they want to be part of our Advanced Chorus, and yet they can't take part in any of the extra opportunities - like All-County or All-State chorus, or the Kings Singers, or a performance in the world's largest gothic cathedral - etc.

All-County and All-State music is selected because of it's historical and musical significance. The Kings Singers aren't going to change their repertoire for the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Am I too concerned about what these children can and can't do?

Also - any suggestions (amd contacts) for a really nice performance venue in NYC that could be mostly secular?
on February 29, 2008 10:00pm

I understand your concern, but being a JW, my brother and I had natural talent for singing. You don't have to feel bad, because I made my choice at the tender age of 14, entering the 9th grade that being a JW is what I wanted to do, I was not prodded by my parents at all. I wanted to sing in the chorus, but almost similar to your chorus, I learned there was no longer a jazz chorus, it merged to all gospel, with performances at churches. I knew, at 15, that it would be a conflict of interest for me. As a young person, I was a little disappointed, naturally, but I could still sing. I continued on my own to learn and pursue singing on my own and observed many performances that did not conflict with my personal beliefs, and learned much from it.

My advice is when you look at your kids who are JW's don't view it as a matter of what the can and cannot do. It's a way of life for us, there are some things we just simply don't do, not because of trying to be strict or rigid or someone threatens us, the decisions are made on our own based on our own consciences. I'm in my mid-thirties and I cannot look back and say that I missed out on anything. Some other witnesses and I also had a band we formed and have had a chance to perform.

And just to explain why we don't sing gospel songs is because much of the gospel, many have their own interpretations of their religious devotion in the songs they write and sing. Some of those interpretations involve ideas that might not match that of the exact bible text, it's how they feel about god or the bible. So, when we sing songs to God, it is based on actual scriptures we put faith in and the words are not a person's interpretations, it is based on the actual scripture, so we prefer to sing our own religious songs.

I admire how concerned you are for them and I can tell you, as long as you let them know what is involved in each performance or event, they will have the knowledge to make their own decisions. Some teachers I had did some amazing things I will never forget in respecting my feelings on some matters. I appreciated that more than anything and I didn't feel singled out and isolated. So if you keep the positive outlook of helping them be involved in as much as you possibly can, they will not even think about what they won't do. I hope it all works out.

You know, here in the New Orleans area there are some nice events, there is a zoo-to-do celebration at the Audubon zoo, a french quarter festival around april, and some other festivals where you might be able to perform, it's just an idea. I hope everything works out well!
on May 15, 2008 10:00pm
Being a JW is a choice and a conviction that will require a sacrifice. The decision a JW child or family makes should never dictate the curriculum or choices made for the "rest of the group". How can we as choral educators imagine a choral education that eliminates all religious texts? It is simply too outrageous.....

I grew up with students who were called "holiness". Part of their belief system included a specific dress code. Never did they expect to participate in cheerleading, dance or athletics. It would have been unthinkable to change uniforms for these activities in order to accomodate "holiness" students. It was their choice and their sacrifice to make. I feel the same about choral music and JW students. They choose. They sacrifice.