A school in the Danish town of Graested has sparked controversy after it decided to cancel a traditional Christmas service due to the presence of students of immigrant backgrounds.
The Gribskolen school came under a storm of criticism from parents of local children, education officials and leading Danish politicians after it announced that the annual traditional service at a local church will be scrapped since not all students are Christians.
“We took the decision because we have children of different faiths at the school than Protestants,” the school’s principal Marianne Vedersø Schmidt wrote in a letter to parents, as reported by The Daily Caller, citing local broadcaster TV2.
Schmidt contended that the decision may have been overdue as she considers the Christmas service to be “preaching,” which is prohibited under the country’s education law. She further noted that it should be “up to the individual families whether they wish to participate in private.”
The local pastor who was scheduled to perform the service condemned the move saying Christmas was being “drained of its deeper meaning.” The decision was also denounced by Health Minister Ellen Trane Norby, who contended that “teaching the cultural values and knowledge connected to Christmas is an essential part” of the school’s duty to spread education.
Some have accused the school of double standards, considering that it held a “Syria Week” last year, when students learned about the Muslim faith, ate Syrian food and tried performing Syrian dances.
“I don’t see why our tradition has to be taken away from us, just because someone else at the school believes in something else,” Mette Brüel-Holler, a parent of two enrolled daughters, told TV2.
“I come from a small community, where the church is important, and these traditions are beautiful. I remember enjoying them myself as a child, and they are a fundamental part of Christmas,” the parent added.
Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who grew up in the town and attended Gribskolen as a child, took to Facebook to plead with the school for a “re-do.”
Gribskolen board leader Charlotte Orland Pedersen stressed that the Christmas service was not canceled specifically to appease Muslim students, noting that at least eight different faiths are represented among the pupils.
The chairman of the School Leaders Association, Claus Hjortdal, pointed out that there is no provision that requires a church service at the end of the term, adding that many schools do not have one at all.
The local school board has called for an emergency meeting to determine if a compromise can be made on the matter, but the board said that they have no means of forcing Gribskolen into a decision.