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Wis. school allegedly strips Christ from ‘Silent Night’

Updated Dec. 16, 2005

RIDGEWAY, Wis. (BP)–An elementary school in Wisconsin allegedly is teaching students a rewritten version of “Silent Night” for its winter program, with all references to Christ removed, only to be replaced with winter weather themes.

The conservative legal group Liberty Counsel says that Ridgeway Elementary School — located approximately 30 miles west of Madison — is asking students to memorize “Cold in the Night,” sung to the tune of the popular Christmas carol “Silent Night.” Liberty Counsel also says the school has decorated its classrooms with Santa Clauses, Kwanza-themed items, Menorahs and a “Labafana” — which Liberty Counsel says is a Christmas witch — but has no Christmas decorations.

“Cold in the Night” reportedly is part of a play, “The Little Tree’s Christmas Gift,” that other schools have used in the past

Liberty Counsel, which represents a student’s parent, says it will file a lawsuit if the situation is not addressed. The group sent a letter to school administrators.

“When a school changes ‘Silent Night’ to ‘Cold in the Night’ and secularizes the lyrics, it is hostile to Christianity, and its actions violate the First Amendment,” Liberty Counsel President Mathew Staver told Baptist Press.

“The law is clear that Christmas is constitutional, and when a public school intentionally mocks Christian Christmas songs by secularizing their content, they cross the line from being neutral to putting itself in a hostile position.”

A request by Baptist Press seeking comment from a Ridgeway Elementary School administrator was not returned.

Staver said the school’s actions violate both the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees and the religious free exercise clause.

According to Liberty Counsel, the lyrics of “Cold in the Night” are:

Cold in the night, no one in sight

Winter winds, whirl and bite

How I wish I were happy and warm

Safe with my family out of the storm

“It’s about a cold winter night sung to the tune of Silent Night,” Staver said. “When you hear this song sung, it’s the traditional Silent Night hymn.”

The first verse of Silent Night traditionally reads:

Silent night, holy night

All is calm, all is bright

Round yon Virgin Mother and Child

Holy Infant so tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace

Sleep in heavenly peace

“The war on Christmas has reached the level of the absurd,” Staver said. “This year has illustrated that fact.”

The lyrics of “Silent Night” were written by Austrian Joseph Mohr (1792-1848). Franz Gruber set the lyrics to music. The song was translated into English by John Freeman Young in 1863.

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  • Michael Foust