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Religious overtones scare school into canceling Halloween celebration

Published: Friday, Oct. 18 2013 12:20 p.m. MDT

Like many holidays, Halloween has religious underpinnings. And a Pennsylvania school principal told parents that those religious roots are one reason why the school won't be holding any parades with kids in costume this year.

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Like many holidays, Halloween has religious underpinnings. And a Pennsylvania school principal told parents that those religious roots are one reason the school won't be holding any parades with kids in costume this year.

According to the ABD television affiliate in Philadelphia, the letter from Orlando Taylor, principal of Inglewood Elementary School, stated:

"Some holidays observed in the community that are considered by many to be secular (ex. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Valentine's Day) are viewed by others as having religious overtones. The district must always be mindful of the sensitivity of all the members of the community with regard to holidays and celebrations of a religious, cultural or secular nature. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that school districts may not endorse, prefer, favor, promote or advance any religious beliefs."

Parents weren't happy. One of them told the station: "Why deny our elementary school children this right of freedom of expression and celebration of American culture/traditions that most of us experienced in school?"

FindLaw.com reported that the Pennsylvania decision is not the first time a school has barred Halloween over religious concerns: "According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, in 2012, Skokie, Illinois' school district put the kibosh on Halloween 'citing religious and economic concerns.’ ”

The Las Vegas Guardian Express detailed the history and religious underpinnings of Halloween, concluding the holiday celebrated today hardly resembles the ancient "Hallow's Eve."

"It is really a bit of a stretch to call Halloween religious while teachers pass out colored candy and kids dress as dinosaurs and Iron Man," the Guardian said. "It’s not really what the Druid priests were up to, for sure."

The school district in Pennsylvania responded to the parental outrage by backing away from the religious reasons for banning Halloween celebrations at school and instead said the changes were made to maximize instruction time in the classroom, ABC reported.

"Inglewood Elementary School officials told Action News they do plan to have a fall festival celebration where kids can wear their Halloween costumes, but it's going to take place after school hours later on this (October)."

First Amendment scholar Charles Haynes weighed in on the controversy Thursday, writing in the Washington Post: "This trend to de-emphasize Halloween in elementary schools isn’t driven by fear of First Amendment lawsuits — or, at least, it shouldn’t be."

Haynes said that it's the objections of religious parents to witches, demons and ghosts that's driving public schools to "re-think Halloween." But non-religious concerns are also gaining traction, such as lost school time and the expenses of parades, parties and elaborate costumes pressuring low-income families.

"Yes, Halloween as currently celebrated in elementary school classrooms is constitutional," he wrote. "But just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right."

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com, Twitter: @deseretbrown

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