JMU Student Leaders Prohibit Religious Songs From Tree-Lighting Event

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- UPDATE (Nov. 4, 10 p.m.):

The JMU Student Government Association sent an email to the singing group "Into Hymn" saying that they may not perform Christian songs at Friday night's tree lighting ceremony." We spoke with James Madison University, and they said this was a secular event meant to include all people.

Maria Caputo is a member of the a cappella group. She said, "It's disappointing when a group can't express their beliefs or just show what they've been working on."

Hollis Young went to the tree lighting and said she understands the school's reasoning. "There's going to be a ton of different religions here, and if everyone wanted to be incorporated, that would be fine, but they would have had to reach out to everyone and see if everyone could join," said Young.

Another student suggested letting multiple religious organizations sing one song a piece. "It would kind of be a way for JMU to show yes, we accept all religions; in fact, we're going to let them perform for you," said Rachel Clark.

Young went on to say, "Everyone always feels like they're getting attacked when they're not allowed to do something like that, but I don't think they should; it's just... they way the world is."

Despite the controversy, students still showed up to enjoy the music and celebrate the holidays.



ORIGINAL STORY:

James Madison University's Student Government Association has prohibited musical groups to sing religious songs at tonight's tree-lighting event on the Quad.

Into Hymn, the only all-female Christian a capalla group on campus had originally planned to participate in the "unity" tree lighting event, received an email of approved songs to sing.

The approved list was:

"Frosty the Snowman"
"Jingle Bells"
"Winter Wonderland"
"Baby It's Cold Outside"

The group replied to the Student Government Organization informing them they were a Christian-based group and their repertoire was comprised of all Christian songs.

The group requested to sing "Mary Did You Know."

One of the SGA leaders responded to the email saying, "I’m sorry, but unfortunately this event has to be secular because it is a university event and thus a state sanctioned event. Please consider attending unofficially anyways and invite your friends as well."

University Spokesman Bill Wyatt said is was a student-led event.

SGA said it has always been a policy to make it a non-religious event to make it inclusive for all students.

SGA leaders said the tree lighting event started in the 1930s as a religious event but could not say when it became a non-religious event.

Student leaders declined to comment further or to provide an on-camera interview.