Dec. 14, 1907: L.A. Schools Ban Mention of Christ at Christmas (Uh-Oh)

Note: This is an encore post from 2006.

Dec. 14, 1907
Los Angeles

The madman who calls himself the superintendent of the Los Angeles schools has touched off an absolute firestorm of anger by ordering teachers not to mention Christ during Christmas pageants or other festivities.

“The town was agog with it yesterday,” The Times said. “It was the talk among both ministers and laymen of the 200 and more churches in Los Angeles.”

The order produced what a teacher called “a pagan celebration.” The Times said: “One little girl went home crying and said to her mamma: ‘We’re not to sing anything about Christ; there might be some little children there who do not believe in Christ, and so we’re not to sing anything about Him.’ ”

The superintendent’s order was not written, but made in a statement during the Dec. 5 meeting of school principals. An anonymous school official told the paper: “He said we were to make [Christmas] an occasion of good cheer; that the city schools are not Sunday schools. He did not say it in so many words, but the interpretation of myself and practically all the principals was that we were to see to it that no reference was made to Christ.”

“The supervisor of music in the city schools rose to her feet and stated that she did not know that such was the position of the managers of the schools; that she had been explaining ‘The Messiah’ to the children, not thinking it possible that there could be any objection to it, and she wished to know what she should do.

“To this the superintendent made reply: ‘Well, you must use nothing that will give offense to anyone.’ It was apparent all the way through what he meant to convey, and many principals, like myself were almost afraid to say anything yesterday.”

The Boyle Heights Men’s Meeting issued a resolution, calling the order “unnecessary, uncalled for and therefore a gratuitous insult to the faith of a great majority of the patrons of our schools” and urged the board of education to ensure that such an affront never occurred again.

The Times raged in a news story, describing the offense: “That the superintendent of the Christian schools of a Christian city in a Christian nation should unwarrantably forbid the teachers to make the Messiah a feature of the exercises celebrating His birthday—that the Christ significance must be left out of Christmas in exercises not a part of the legal school curriculum, but coming after the close of school—it was this that aroused the Christian people of Los Angeles to indignation.”

The superintendent replied, charging the newspaper with false accusations, explaining that there was feud between him and Gen. Otis of The Times. The superintendent, in editing a guide book for Los Angeles, had edited the general’s essay on “industrial freedom” so that it was suitable for print. Otis retorted that “no one should edit his material but himself.”

As for what was construed as an order, the educator said: “I did make a request, which from year to year has been made in the city and which, I understand, is made in practically every city of the land that the teachers should, in arranging their exercises remember that the public schools are secular schools and that only those forms of religious reference which give offense to no one have any place in them.” He also cited the California Constitution’s ban on the use of public money for a sectarian or denominational school.

The superintendent survived this crisis and lasted three more years at the Los Angeles schools. In 1918, he was inaugurated as head of the Los Angeles State Normal School, the beginnings of what became UCLA. Eventually a campus building was named for him.

And when Ernest Carroll Moore died in 1955, he was eulogized by The Times, which once called him “erratic and untruthful” with “long, dull, callous ears,” as a distinguished educator and scholar.

Moore resigned as UCLA’s provost in 1936 so that “I can spend my last days in teaching.”

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1907, Education, Music, Religion and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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